Getting a good night sleep is very important. Sleep is very important for many bodily functions. Sleep is important for memory and learning activity. Sleep is also important for your immune system. Lack of sleep can result in reduced immunity. It may even increase your risk of infections or cancer. Lack of sleep also increases the hormone gherlin, which is the hunger hormone, and hence increase your risk of weight gain. Lack of sleep even increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by increase inflammation and cortisol level. Hence sleep is a non-negotiable lifestyle necessity.
Over a period of time, disruption in circadian rhythm increases your risk of poor gut health, immune disease, metabolic disease, heart disease, hypertension, mood disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, reproductive disorders, cancers, dementia. Sleep deprivation causes stress, increased pain, poor memory. In adolescent and children, sleep deprivation increases behavioural problems, reduced cognitive performance.
The most important tip is REGULARITY – go to bed the same time and wake up the same time.
Exclude other medical conditions
There are medical conditions that may be the cause of poor sleep. This list is not exhaustive:
- Sleep apnoea
- Bruxism or grinding of teeth
- Restless legs
- Chronic pain conditions
- Urinary frequency
- Other medical conditions – thyroid, iron, anxiety, menopause, insulin resistance
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool, quiet, comfortable, relaxing.
- Choose comfortable bedding. Avoid mattress that is too firm or too soft.
- Cut yourself from outside noise or outside light.
- Aim a c
- ooler temperature in your bedroom for optimal sleep.
- Hide all clocks or screens. Avoid charging your devices in your room or next to your bed. If you can turn off wi-fi at night, that is even better.
Tips throughout the day
During the day
- Keep as active as possible. Taking time to do exercise (other than work) is helpful for physical health as well as mental health.
- Natural light first thing in the morning can help your body produce natural melatonin. E.g. go for a walk or sit in the backyard first thing in the morning.
- Avoid stimulants that may interfere with sleep, esp in the afternoon – caffeine, alcohol, nicotine
- Avoid afternoon naps longer than 30 minutes, especially late in the afternoon.
- Learn how to manage stress. For example going for walks, learning to do meditation.
- Healthy eating. Eat whole foods, real foods, avoiding refined sugars and carbohydrates can be helpful for sleep.
- Some supplements/ herbs may be helpful including melatonin, magnesium, zinc, valerian, camomile tea.
In the evening
- Avoid strenuous activities late in the evening, at least 3 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid eating at least 3 hours before bedtime. Time restricted eating also has beneficial effects on sleeping, e.g. limiting your eating window to 8 or 12 hours a day, finishing at least 3 hours before bedtime so digestion is finished.
- Do not drink large quantities of fluids before bedtime.
- Avoid alcohol, cigarettes or other stimulants, e.g. coffee, coke, tea. Avoid alcohol 3 hours before bedtime.
- Go to bed when you are tired.
- Avoiding screen time 1 hour before bedtime can be helpful. Using blue light filter glasses or computer apps e.g. f.lux, can be considered. Dim the light in the evening can be helpful.
- Herbal teas such as lemon balm, Passion flower, tulsi, valerian can be considered.
- Magnesium – either supplement or bath or oil can be helpful
- Other supplements -high dose vitamin D, GABA, lavender oil
- Establish a good bedtime routine and stick to it. Go to bed at the same time each night even on weekends. Do the same thing, e.g. brush your teeth, go to the toilet, meditate for 2-5 minutes or deep breathing exercises.
- Practicing yoga before bedtime can be beneficial for sleep.
- Watching the sunset would be a great idea.
- Reducing electromagnetic field exposure can be helpful, e.g. turn off wifi or charging devices away from bedroom.
While in bed
- Your bed is for sleeping. Avoid other activities like watching TV or reading in bed. The only exception is sexual activity.
- Don’t watch the clock. Don’t have the phone next to your bed, especially turn off notifications on phones.
- If you can’t sleep, get up, do something calm and relaxing. Wait until you are tired and try going to sleep again.
- The best time for good quality sleep is between 10pm to 2am. These hours go towards paying back sleep debt. The next few hours go towards nurturing the brain and body, ie repair and rejuvenation.
- 7-8 hours of sleep every night is optimal. Children will need 9-11 hours of sleep.
- Sleeping less than 6 hours a night, overnight, can demolish your immune system and increase risk of cancer.
- Get up the same time each morning, even on weekends. Sleeping in disrupts sleeping habits.
- Once awake, get out of bed.
- Once you get up, try to expose yourself to daylight. Getting outside to sunlight will also be helpful to help the body produce melatonin for the night time. For example, 10-15 minutes of sunlight in the morning, even if it’s just sitting in the backyard.
- Be consistent with a good lifestyle.
- Positive mindset. Practice gratitude. Take up meditation.
Other factors that can help sleep
- Eating simple carbohydrates before bed time can give you a sugar crush and hence affect your sleep
- Abnormal light exposure, i.e. not enough sun during the day or too much artificial light at night
- Preservatives or colourings in foods
- Allergic foods before bedtime
- Electromagnetic field – turning off the wifi can be a good idea
- High protein snack before bedtime
- Low Vit D
- Low magnesium
- Lack of physical activity
- Concurrent illnesses, e.g. menopause, mental health illness
Helpful tools and podcasts
Programs that may be helpful
- Overcoming Insomnia by Colin Espie book
- The Sleep book by Guy Meadows
This article does not provide treatment or individual medical advice. Please see your own medical practitioner about change in lifestyle.
I am Dr Avi Charlton.
I have a special interest in nutrition and lifestyle medicine.
You can contact me at
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