The Science of Sleep: How to Sleep Better

We all know that sleep is essential. How could we not? The message is drilled into us right from our school years if not birth.

Yet, information on when we should go to bed and how to get a good night’s sleep isn’t so forthcoming. This can leave us consistently going to bed too late or not achieving the recommended hours of sleep.

So, what can we do about it? To master sleep for good, we need to understand what time we should go to sleep and how to get a good night’s rest when we do.

Fortunately, these topics are exactly what we cover below. Let’s get started!

What Time Should I Go to Bed?

Before we delve into what time you should go to bed, it’s important to clarify one thing: the best bedtime differs for everyone, depending on a variety of factors. It all depends on factors such as how active you are during the day, your lifestyle, your sleep quality, and many, many more.

That being said, there are some broad guidelines that we can all follow to ensure we’re going to bed at a reasonable time. This comes down to our circadian rhythms, sleep latency, and various practical considerations.

Circadian Rhythms & The Best Bedtime

Have you ever noticed that you wake up at a similar time on the weekends, even when you don’t set an alarm? This is because we all have our very own internal alarm clock, also known as circadian rhythms, which gets used to the times we go to sleep and wake up. This system makes us more likely to get sleepy at the same time each night and naturally wake up when our alarms usually begin to sound.

Our internal body clocks are influenced by various external factors, which can make it easier (or harder) for us to get to sleep. For example, we’re less likely to feel sleepy when it’s light outside, or the temperature is too high. So, generally, we feel our sleepiest between 2 and 4 am and then again in the early afternoon, as these are the prime times for our internal body clocks.

Being aware of our circadian rhythms can help us tune into these and go to sleep when our bodies most need it. When we align our sleeping habits with our circadian rhythms, we improve our sleep quality. So, to answer your question, “What time should I go to bed?”, go to sleep when your circadian rhythms signal for you to.

Sleep Latency & Factors That Affect This

Sleep latency is a fancy phrase for the time it typically takes us to move between being fully awake and sound asleep. Recent research from the Journal of Sleep Research identified several factors that significantly impact our sleep latency, making us later to bed than we should be. These include:

  • Caffeine
  • Screen exposure
  • Stress

These three things can increase our sleep latency, stretching the time between going to bed and falling asleep. So, to go to sleep at the best bedtime for you, ditch these habits before bed and consider doing a pre-bedtime routine for an hour before bed.

On that note, let’s explore the top tips on how to sleep better.

Top Tips on How to Sleep Better

If you’re consistently struggling to get a good night’s sleep, it’s important to consider what you’re doing (or not doing) that may be influencing this. If you’ve been asking the question, “How do I sleep better?” follow these 8 top tips:

1.     Try Relaxing Before Bed

Taking the time to relax before bed can help your body transition from go mode to sleep mode. Consider taking up an activity like reading, meditating, practising mindfulness, or taking a warm bath before trying to sleep.

2.     Stop Napping!

While daytime naps can feel great, they’re the killer of a good night’s sleep. So, if you want to sleep better at night, cut out the naps. Or if you can’t go without a nap, limit them to 30 minutes or less.

3.     Consider Your Sleep Environment

Sometimes, it’s our sleep environment that is causing the problem. So, take time to consider whether your bedroom is conducive to a good night’s rest. Is it cool, dark and quiet during the night? If it’s not, try to solve these problems as best you can. For example, invest in some earplugs, blackout curtains, or a white noise machine. If your mattress isn’t comfortable, save up for a new one!

4.     Set the Screens Aside

As we already know, spending time on screens like phones, TVs, and iPads before bed can significantly inhibit our sleep. This is because of the blue light they emit – it messes with the production of certain hormones, namely melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep.

So, if you want to sleep soundly, set the screens aside and pick up a book or do a mindfulness meditation instead.

5.     Think About Your Diet

Diet can play a big role in your sleep latency and quality of sleep. If you are in the habit of eating a big meal, drinking coffee or grabbing a sugary snack before bed, these are all likely worsening your sleep. So, consider the aspects of your diet that may be inhibiting your sleep and try to ditch them!

6.     Give Regular Exercise a Go

If you’re really struggling to sleep, one of the best ways to help yourself is through exercise. While it may be difficult to motivate yourself initially, forming a consistent exercise routine can help your body feel sleepier at night. Our bodies naturally feel sleepy at the end of the day after exercise because our muscles need time to repair themselves and grow.

However, try not to work out too hard right before bed, as this can have the exact opposite effect!

7.     Set a Consistent Sleep Schedule

Going to bed and waking up at different times each day throws our circadian rhythms right out of whack. To help you fall asleep quickly and get a solid night’s sleep, set a consistent sleep schedule and stick to it! Once your circadian rhythms get used to your new schedule, this should drastically improve your sleep.

8.     Get Professional Support

If all of these tips fail, it’s time to call in a professional. Speaking to a sleep specialist can help you become aware of what’s going on with your sleep, whether it’s a case of bad sleeping habits or a medical condition like sleep apnea, insomnia, or restless leg syndrome.

Concluding Remarks on How to Sleep Better

If you’re someone who struggles with sleep night after night, we don’t have to tell you how frustrating this can be. Sometimes, it may be a case of not knowing when to go to bed. But other times, it may be down to bad sleep habits that are keeping you wide awake.

By following the 8 top tips in this guide, you should begin to see improvements in your sleep. So, what are you waiting for?

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