Sleep. It’s something we all need to function effectively, but it’s elusive for many of us.
We know that caffeine close to bedtime, a noisy environment, and light can affect our sleep. But what about the things you might not have known about?
Here, private health cover provider Westfield Health covers some of the most surprising things that affect your sleep and how you can prevent them from keeping you awake at night.
Too much exercise…or not enough
Exercise is one of those strange paradoxes when it comes to sleep. Exercise helps us to sleep in many ways, from tiring out our body and mind to relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression. Many people find that exercising in the morning pumps them up for the day and helps them fall asleep later at night, while others find that a post-office workout kicks off their process of winding down for the evening.
While there’s nothing wrong with exercising after work, there is a cut-off time where you should stop. Working out too close to bedtime can disturb your sleep because it energises your brain and body in the short-term. Alasdair Henry PhD recommends finishing exercise at least two hours before you go to bed, in order for your body to begin the drop in body temperature that can aid sleep.
Some of us are regularly kept up by our racing minds and things we’re stressing over. It’s one of the most common causes of insomnia. So, why are we including this in our list of surprising things that affect our sleep?
Because many of us are kept awake at night by stresses that we might not even be aware of. If you’ve spent a night tossing and turning and having strange dreams, it could be subconscious stress keeping you awake.
This kind of stress can be hard to tackle if you’re not aware that you’re stressed out. Journaling before bed can help, because you can alleviate your mind of anything that’s on it. Writing about the events of your day can help you identify any underlying stressors. Making notes on whether it’s a problem you can solve or not can help take it off your mind. If you subconsciously worry about your day at work ahead, one study found that writing tomorrow’s to-do list can be effective for helping you get a good night’s sleep.
Not having the right environment
Most of us know by now that a dark, quiet room is essential for getting a good night’s sleep because light and noise can easily disturb you. But there are other bedroom factors that could be affecting how well you sleep.
Temperature is an important factor. While it might seem sensible to have a warm and snuggly room in the colder months, this could be impacting your sleep. It’s recommended that you keep your bedroom temperature around 16-18oC because warmer temperatures could make you restless through the night. A pair of breathable pyjamas and a warm duvet will help you strike the right balance between keeping warm in the winter without overheating through the night.
What you eat and drink
We know caffeine before bed isn’t a good idea for a restful night’s sleep. More of us are also aware that a pre-bedtime alcoholic tipple isn’t a good idea, because while it might make us sleepy, it impacts the deep sleep we get. Beyond that, there are other foods and drinks that can affect how we sleep.
If you’ve ever had a craving for a late-night snack, or you’ve had a late meal, this could negatively impact your sleep. Eating food that’s high in fat close to bedtime can disturb your sleep. It’s harder to digest high-fat foods, so your body will be working around the clock to process it. Spicy foods before bed also aren’t a good idea, because they can cause a rise in temperature.
It’s also important to not go to bed feeling hungry because this can keep us awake. Snacks that can help you sleep include bananas, oats, and almonds. Alternatively, if you are having a meal later than usual, including some tryptophan-rich turkey can help by increasing your melatonin production. As for drinks, the old adage of a warm, milky drink rings true, since milk contains high levels of tryptophan. Other warm drinks can also help you relax and drift off, including chamomile tea and valerian tea, for their calming properties.
Sleep is essential for our bodies and minds, and it can be frustrating when we find that we can’t sleep well. Some triggers, like a noisy room or an uncomfortable bed, can be easy to identify. But there are also many other factors that can affect how we sleep at night. By making sure you’re exercising at the right times, clearing your mind of any stresses, and optimising your bedroom, you can help yourself get a restful and rejuvenating night’s sleep.