7 Steps to Better Sleep
By Sarah King from SK Active (image by @marceauphotography)
Do you feel exhausted, but just can't seem to get the quality sleep you want and need? You're not alone. Research by the Sleep Health Foundation has found 33 - 45% of Aussies have poor sleep patterns, with lack of shuteye leading to fatigue, irritability, weight gain, low productivity and poor performance in the gym (and that's if you make it!).
Many of my clients find nodding off a nightly struggle because of their busy lives or their brains doing mental gymnastics, instead of winding down, when they hop into bed. If this sounds familiar, then read on and try these 7 strategies for better sleep:
- Get some sunlight first thing in the morning
Exposing your eyes to natural light first thing in the morning can help reset your body clock and sleep better that night. A short 15 - 30 minute walk outdoors is the perfect way to start the day.
- Keep your caffeine intake in check
Coffee is not a food group. Blasphemy you say, but hear me out. Although caffeine has its place in a healthy diet, living on this liquid to keep you energised can backfire in the long run. This is because the stimulatory effects of caffeine can last up to six hours in some people, meaning that afternoon espresso could be keeping you up at night. You don't need to give up coffee altogether, but stick to 1 - 2 cups a day aiming to have your last one no later than 3pm. If you do need an afternoon pick me up, try lower caffeine green tea or caffeine free peppermint tea, which is shown to enhance mood and increase alertness.
- Limit your screen time
While technology has vastly improved the way we work, the amount of entertainment options we have, and how easily we can stay in touch with friends, there are downsides. Most notably the effect that blue light has on preventing the rise and release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for helping us fall and stay asleep. You'll also experience less REM sleep, the restorative part of our sleep cycle where dreaming also typically occurs.
Improve sleep quality by wearing your blue blocking Baxter Blue glasses after sunset, switching off from technology at a set time each night (around 8 - 9pm is ideal), reducing screen brightness, and warming the colours of screen by using an app such as f.lux or turning on 'night mode' on your phone if you have to work late.
- Do Yoga
High intensity exercise has its place, but if you're falling short on sleep yoga may be your best ally. A National US Survey found that 55% of people who practised yoga experienced better sleep, and 85% felt less stressed. The combination of vigorous poses like sun salutations followed by slower sequences and purposeful deep breathing helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or the 'rest and digest' part of our autonomic nervous system. This may help calm your busy mind, reduce levels of stress hormones, relieve tight muscles and ultimately get a better night's sleep.
- Eat and drink wisely
Things to avoid: heavy meals, too much sugar or spice, and more than 2 standard drinks on a school night. Instead balance your plate at dinner by filling half your plate with vegetables or salad, a quarter with lean protein, and a quarter with slow digestion carbs like sweet potato. This combination will keep you satisfied and ensure stable blood sugars throughout the night. If you do get peckish before bed, a handful of almonds or a small serve of natural yoghurt are great snacks.
- Magnesium spray
This is my secret weapon for a good night's sleep. Magnesium is used for almost every cellular process in the body, and is best absorbed through the skin. For sleep it helps with production of the neurotransmitter GABA, which helps calm the brain and nerve activity. I use Salt Lab Magnesium spray (no they aren't sponsoring me, I just love the stuff) on the bottoms of my feet and belly before bed.
- Sleep naked
Bet you weren't expecting this one! Wearing your birthday suit to bed helps your body to regulate its temperature, which results in better quality sleep. This is because your body temperature naturally decreases once you're asleep - a process that can be disrupted by heavy PJs or designer onesies. Sleeping in the buff is especially important for the boys as tight underwear can affect sperm count. And if you're cosying up to someone special it's a great way to boost your love life, due to the release of happy hormone oxytocin from skin-to-skin contact. Which can lead to the best-prescribed medicine for a good night's sleep. Don't think I need to spell that one out...
About Sarah King
Sarah is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Pilates Instructor, Personal Trainer and founder of SK Active, whose passion lies in helping people with chronic conditions, mental health or body image concerns move and live better.
She regularly speaks and writes about the benefits of exercise, a healthy diet, and a balanced lifestyle for promoting good mental health, better work productivity, and improved performance in the gym.
She offers face-to-face and online Personal Training, small group Pilates classes, and Health Coaching focusing on nutrition, physical activity, and mindset to help each individual reach their wellbeing goals. To find out more about Sarah visit her website or follow SK Active on social media: