10 Steps to better quality sleep

Adequate sleep is necessary for optimal daily performance and long-term health. This is why poor- quality sleep is often a contributing factor to many medical and psychological conditions.

Making a life-style change to improve one’s quality of sleep is a very effective way to tackle sleeping problems and day-time drowsiness. It should be the first step in the management of sleep-related disorders but is unfortunately often forgotten.

The lifestyle changes one can make to improve sleep quality and sleep duration on an ongoing basis, is called: “Sleep Hygiene.”

1. Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed at the same time every night. Also aim to wake up at the same time every morning and have a routine in the morning. Consistency with sleep times makes it much easier to fall asleep and wake easily.

2. Practice a bedtime routine
A relaxing routine before bedtime could involve a warm shower or a warm bath, going to bed with a book or writing in a journal.

3. Avoid naps late in the day
This is specifically for those who struggle to fall asleep at night.

4. Expose yourself to morning sunlight
Early in the morning for at least one hour. Allowing your brain to wake up to sunlight first thing in the morning kicks it in to its daytime circadian rhythm. Avoid direct/harsh sunlight and always remember to wear a sunscreen even if it is morning sun.

5. Reduce sources of noise and dim the lights
Two hours before bedtime will assist certain neurotransmitters to signal your brain that bedtime is close.

6. Do not drink alcohol late in the evening
Although alcohol may make you feel relaxed and sleepy at night, it does affect your quality of sleep later on.

7. Do exercise during the day
Numerous studies have shown the positive effects on quality and duration of sleep. Moderate exercise (15-30min/day) is sufficient.

8. Provide yourself with an adequate sleeping environment
In the winter, make sure that your sleeping wear is warm enough to accommodate the fall in your body temperature when you are sleeping. Hang block-out curtains so that the room is consistently dark. Use white noise if you sleep in an environment where outside sounds might disturb your sleep.

9. Work on your stress levels
Talk to friends and family or your doctor if you think that your stress levels is reducing your quality of sleep. Find ways to relax more during the day.

10. Avoid smoking, coffee and heavy meals late in the day
Nicotine is associated with lower sleep quality and more frequent night waking.

Your sleep quality should be able to improve by making these minor changes. Remember that everyone’s sleep pattern is very specific to them and that it’s not a “one size fits all.” Stress and mental health illness is not only exacerbated by poor sleep but could also cause poor sleep. Please speak to your doctor if you need additional help with sleep. It is a primary human function that should not be ignored.

Yours in health and vitality

Dr Sonia Hough
GP Cape Town

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