With the hustle and bustle of modern day life, it’s not surprising that a lot of us struggle with getting a good night’s sleep. It’s recommended that you get a solid seven to nine hours of shut-eye a night, but of course that can be difficult to fit in when there’s already so much to do in our everyday life.
If you’re looking to prioritise your sleep health, a good place to start is by considering exactly what barriers are standing in the way between you and adequate sleep. Read on for a list of the most common barriers and how you can overcome them.
Screens and other sources of blue light
The only thing that should be on your wooden bedside table at night, is a stylish reading light and a good book to read. Your phone should ideally be out of reach across the room, or perhaps even in another room entirely. Why? To keep you off your phone before sleep.
Melatonin, also often referred to as the ‘sleep hormone’, is produced by your brain’s pineal gland when your body is exposed to darkness. Melatonin is essentially what triggers us to feel drowsy at the end of the day, which then leads to a full night’s sleep. Getting on your phone, tablet or computer before bed can inhibit melatonin production, making it more difficult to get to sleep.
The best way to fix this problem is to find methods of winding down before sleep that do not include screens. Consider reading, writing, listening to gentle music, or implementing a self-care routine in lieu of spending your evenings online. Not only will you sleep better, but your days may even begin to feel fuller too.
A friend and nemesis, coffee and other forms of caffeine can be a lifesaver in the morning and a complete and utter mistake at the close of the day. For many of us, coffee is a staple in our fast-paced life, so it’s not a question of cutting out coffee, but keeping your coffee consumption under control so that it won’t go on to affect your sleep quality.
If you’re trying to wean yourself off your third or fourth daily cup, try coffee alternatives like herbal teas, decaf coffee, or even roasted coffee beans or cacao nibs. The latter two can be a healthier stand-in for your regular afternoon espresso, as you’ll be able to get your caffeine fix without the cream and sugar. Of course, it’s still recommended that you consume these alternatives in moderation as well.
If you’re looking to quit caffeine altogether and are concerned about withdrawals, be sure to talk to your doctor to ensure your quitting plan is tailor-made for you.
Just like your caffeine intake, the times at which you take your daily meals can actually have a big impact on your sleep quality too! It’s not unusual for 9-to-5 workers to take late dinners and then go to bed feeling uncomfortably full. It’s recommended that you wait at least three hours after you’ve eaten before going to bed, just to minimise the risk of spending a good chunk of the night up with an upset stomach.
On the same note, you should avoid having sugary or fatty foods right before bed too, as the high-energy content of these foods may actually keep you awake.
But we all know how tricky it can be putting together a satisfying dinner at the end of the workday. Sometimes you have no choice but to eat before bed. Just make sure that you’re eating the right kinds of foods. Try eating foods that are high in fibre like lentils, fruits, and nuts. Not only will a small quantity of these foods help you feel comfortably full, but the high-fibre content can also help regulate your morning bowel movements too.
Stress and pressure
A big yet silent player in the sub-par sleep game is stress. Stress can be an insidious presence in our lives, and for this reason, it’s perhaps the hardest barrier to overcome. But it’s not impossible.
One of the major causes of stress in our everyday life has to be making the most of our leisure time outside of work hours. Between handling house chores, ferrying the kids around, getting your food prep done for the week, and making sure you’ve crammed in enough exercise to keep your serotonin levels steady, there’s just simply not enough time for a lot of us to do all the things we want to do.
Think about what you’d like to prioritise and get into the habit of starting with the tasks or activities you want to do first. If you’re prone to overthinking, meditation or even gentle exercise can be a fantastic way of getting you out of your own head long enough for you to be able to listen to your body and respond by giving it what it needs.
It’s important that you be gentle with yourself. Life’s too short to worry, but long enough that you can feel free to spend a day to just breathe and be.
Rowdy children (and pets)
Any parent knows that just because you’re ready to go to sleep, it doesn’t mean that the whole house is ready alongside you. Having to navigate the needs of others in order to fulfil your own needs can be a minefield of stress. The solution? Daily routines.
Like us, our kids won’t feel tired unless they’ve spent enough of their energy throughout the day. Of course, it’s harder for kids to get to that point than their parents, but you can help them get there by making sure their daily schedules are packed with exciting activities. Encourage them to pick up their own hobbies, whether that be playing a musical instrument, or joining a local sports team. If you’re the parents of younger kids, take them out on regular walks after school with the family dog, and keep their mealtimes and bathtimes as regular as possible to ensure they feel drowsy right alongside you.
Speaking of the family dog, your household companions will be sure to sleep soundly through the night if they’ve also received adequate stimulation throughout the day. Take your dog out to your local dog park and make sure any cats or pocket pets are also well-handled. When it comes to boosting your sleep quality, it’s also a good rule of thumb to keep pets out of your bedroom. They are bound to disturb your sleep with their own movements, and it’s just better for your bedroom to be free of animal dander.
You should be able to see results by following even one or two of these suggestions. Be sure to keep in mind that building these healthy home habits will take some time, so be patient with yourself! Sleep will come, as it always does.
Rue Wijetunga is a writer with a great passion for sleep. She lives in Melbourne with her family, a cat named Nicholas, and a dog named Lonzo. Linkedin