How to sleep better & wake up feeling fresh

Are you fed up not being able to fall asleep and then waking up feeling groggy, moody and lacking energy the next morning? You are not alone, millions of people complain about getting poor sleep and then being tired upon waking up. This leads to them lacking the drive to tackle the day ahead and only being able to function after gulping down a few mugs of coffee. Getting enough good quality sleep is important for better health.

By making some changes to your daily and night time routine however, you can wake with a smile on your face and a whistle on your lips. Below we explain some of the things you should be doing in order to sleep better and wake up feeling great.

For better sleep…

1. Don’t eat right before going to bed

Many people have the bad habit of consuming a heavy meal and then going straight to bed. This is a bad choice since digesting the food you eat takes a few hours and sleeping straight after a heavy meal can leave you feeling bloated and cause sleep disturbance due to indigestion. After your last meal for the day you should wait at least 3 hours before going to bed.

Try not to eat too much in the evenings as the process of digestion may make it harder for you to drift off into dream land. At the same time however, do not go to bed hungry as this can keep you awake. If you feel hungry after dinner, a small healthy snack such as sugar free cereal, non fat Greek yogurt or an apple are good late night options.

Some people also find consuming a warm glass of milk and honey or a cup of chamomile tea helps them feel drowsy. Avoid protein rich meals before bed as it requires a lot of energy to be digested, keeping your digestive system running for longer.

2. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine

All 3 of the above will cause sleep disturbances so avoid them in the evenings – if you must consume any of them, try do so at least 4 hours before going to bed. Alcohol is a diuretic which means it will make you use the toilet more than usual and doing so will dehydrate you. Also, it may induce drowsiness and help you knock off but this is a short term effect and you will soon be awake again, finding it difficult to fall back to sleep.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant so consuming it close to bedtime (in the form of coffee or regular tea for example) will most likely leave you tossing and turning in bed. Similar to caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant – it may give you a sense of relaxation for a little while but when this wears off you will find it harder to fall asleep.

3. If you smoke, quit

Smokers are much less likely to wake up feeling fresh than non smokers due to the many unpleasant effects it has on your body. For starters, whilst you are asleep your body experiences withdrawal symptoms from nicotine and this makes you restless.

It also causes numerous breathing problems such as sleep apnea, snoring and coughing, all of which are probably keeping you up half of the night. After you quit you may not be able to sleep well for a few days but this is a short term side effect and will eventually subside, giving you more restful sleep.

4. Have an ambient room temperature

Your bedroom should be set at a good temperature so that you are able to fall asleep easily and remain asleep. If your room is too hot or too cold, it may be causing you to wake up half way through the night either due to profuse sweating or shivering. Some people are known as “warm sleepers”, so if you constantly feel uncomfortably hot at night try going to bed with less clothing, reducing the thickness of your blanket or using a fan.

Conversely if you feel too cold, consider thicker blankets, warmer clothing or a heater. In some parts of the world seasons change drastically and so you may need to adapt on a regular basis. Before you go to bed just make sure you are neither too hot nor too cold, and feel like Goldilocks – just right!

 5. Keep a window open

If possible, try keep a window slightly open before you go to sleep. This is to help air circulation in your room – whilst you sleep, your body is using up the oxygen in your bedroom and replacing it with poisonous carbon dioxide gas. You breathe a lot when sleeping, so the smaller the size of your bedroom, the faster it fills up.

Having a window open allows the excess carbon dioxide to escape and lets in fresh oxygen. An open window will also keep your room cool, helping you to sleep comfortably.

 6. Don’t exercise before bed

The best time to perform vigorous exercise is either in the morning or afternoon – you should try avoid it at night if possible. Although aerobic exercise is very much recommended to help promote deeper and more restful sleep, doing it too close to your bedtime could leave you full of energy, making it harder for you to get some shut eye.

Exercise raises your body temperature and heart rate, giving you an energetic feeling immediately after. Instead, try exercise earlier on in the day so that your energy levels come down at night. Exercising earlier also means you have enough time to consume a nutritious post workout meal, rather than having to do so right before bed.

7. Don’t drink too much water but stay well hydrated

Balance is the key here. Drinking too much water (or any other healthy liquid) before bed will most likely make you get up later on to urinate. On the other hand, drinking too little will leave you dehydrated and also wake you up to quench your thirst.

The best option is to drink enough water throughout the day (2.5 – 3 litres is the recommended amount, more if you exercise intensely) and check the color of your urine before going to bed. If it is clear this means you are well hydrated. You should try empty your bladder before retiring as your kidneys work during the night and fill it up again.

8. Avoid bright screens and lights

The light from electronic devices stimulates your brain keeping it active, thereby thwarting your ability to fall asleep quickly. Melatonin, a hormone produced by the body signals your brain that it is time to go to sleep. Having your eyes glued to a bright screen prevents this from happening since your brain thinks it is day time (and so impedes the release of melatonin).

Instead of watching TV or playing a game on your mobile phone, read a book in dim lighting or listen to some soothing music an hour before bed – this will better help you relax. Also, try make your room as dark as possible at night, doing the best you can to reduce any external light. This may mean having to use a sleeping mask or black out curtains.

10. Don’t watch the clock

If you have found it difficult to go to sleep on a particular night, staring at your clock will not help  – I am sure you have had the feeling of finding it harder to sleep after you have realised just how late it is, knowing you have to get up early in the morning. Turn your clock so it is facing away from you.

If watching your clock becomes a habit then you’ll end up training your body to not be able to fall asleep until a given time, much later than your intended bedtime.

11. Have a good bedtime routine

Having a healthy bedtime routine tells your body and mind that it should get ready for sleep. There are many different ways you can wind down such as having a warm bath, doing some light yoga or reading a book. Try a number of different options and see what helps you relax.

However avoid watching TV, using computers or playing games on mobile phones. The perfect sleep routine would mean you are fast asleep within minutes of your head touching the pillow.

12. Be regular

Your body loves routine and prefers it when you go to bed and wake up at the same time (or nearly the same) everyday, including weekends. When you do so you’re training your circadian rhythm or body clock so that it knows when to start making you feel sleepy. If your body clock is off, aim to get up at the same time everyday, no matter how tired you feel in the morning and go to bed only when you are tired in the evening.

Doing this for a month or so will bring your body clock to an equilibrium, meaning you will be able to tell how much sleep you need on a daily basis and also maintain a regular bedtime. Being regular will help you feel better rested, thereby improving your energy levels and mood the next day.

13. Use the Sleep Cycle app

This very popular sleeping app can help monitor the way you sleep throughout the night and also wake you up in a gentler manner in the morning (compared to a standard alarm clock, or an alarm clock for heavy sleepers). It is available for iOS and Android and works by using the phones accelerometer to monitor body movements throughout the night. The software can then tell whether you are awake, in light sleep or deep sleep.

Using this app over a few weeks or months will help you get a better understanding of just how well you sleep. Regarding the friendlier alarm clock, the app asks you to set a time frame in which you want to wake up (e.g. 1 hour, between 7am and 8am). It will then monitor your body movements between these hours and try wake you up when it feels you are not in deep sleep, making you feel less groggy and more alert.

14. Sleep on a comfortable mattress

The mattress you currently use may be disturbing your sleep if it is too old, hasn’t been turned over or is too thin / generally uncomfortable. You spend 8 – 9 hours laying on it, so you may as well invest a bit of money and get a good quality one! There are a whole load of different types including foam, memory and pocket sprung mattresses, so visit your local bed store and try out a few.

In addition you may want to change your bedding – if money allows opt for Egyptian cotton, this is the kind used in most 4 or 5 star hotels and has a very soft silky texture. If you wake up with a stiff neck, you should consider changing your pillow(s) as well.

15. Use your bed only for sleep and sex

If you use your bed to work, watch movies or play games, then stop! Associating your bed with activities other than rest or sex will likely make it harder for you to nod off. Once you stop, your brain will understand that it should prepare your body for sleep once you get into bed.

16. Jot down any thoughts keeping you awake

If you feel you cannot go to sleep because your mind is always worrying, then the best thing to do is to write down all your problems and actions you can take to solve these problems in a diary. This will help you feel more at ease, allowing for sleep to come easier. Unless something can be solved at night, tell yourself you need to wait till morning anyway, so no point worrying about it till then.

17. Use a sleep inducing aroma

Some essential oils such as lavender, chamomile, jasmine and vanilla can induce sleep because they have a sedating effect on the body. Simply mix 2 or 3 drops of the oil with some room temperature water in a spray bottle and apply over your pillow case. As you lay on your bed, the aroma will diffuse into your nostrils, allowing you to better relax.

18. Make use of a white noise machine

These are devices which produce sound waves that are able to mask irritating background noises such as cars honking or dogs barking. Some models can also produce relaxing sounds like rainfall, ocean waves and wind which could make you fall asleep easier. There are also a plethora of white noise apps available for both iOS and Android so you may want to test out a few of these as well before opting for a machine.

19. Nap smartly

Napping could help you feel more energetic and less moody if you have not had enough rest the night before, but be careful how you do it. Napping for too long can keep you up at night which could disturb your natural waking and sleep cycle. If you do need to nap, try and limit this to at most half an hour and do so early in the afternoon.

20. Meditate or pray

Practicing mindful meditation will help you get rid of the days tensions, making it that much easier to fall asleep. By focusing on your breath, your body and mind begin to calm down, helping you to relax. Mindful meditation brings with it a whole host of benefits and should be practised on a daily basis if possible.

21. Avoid bedroom pets

Pets moving around at night could prevent you from getting enough of the deep REM sleep you require to feel rested. Additionally they could have fleas and pollen lodged in their fur which could lead to sleep related allergies. Instead, try get your cat or dog its own bed, preferably a fair distance away from you.

After you wake up…

22. Drink water

When you sleep, you lose a lot of water through sweating and respiration. Imagine if you weren’t able to drink any kind of liquid for the next 8 or 9 hours! Well this is what happens when you sleep and leads to dehydration. Immediately after you wake up you should try and consume at least one glass of water and up to a litre if possible.

The water will rehydrate you, fire up your metabolism and help you detoxify. Drinking water right after waking up often gets rid of the groggy feeling people mistake for lack of sleep. If you can, include a slice of lemon in the water for added health benefits.

23. Have a good breakfast

Within a little while of waking up, you should consume a healthy breakfast to provide fuel for your body. You have just spent the last 8 to 9 hours without having anything to eat, so your body needs all the nutrition it can get. Aim for a meal that contains protein (eggs, seafood, nuts), good carbohydrates (oatmeal, beans, whole-grain cereal) and fruit.

Instead of coffee, drink a cup of green tea as this comes with a whole load of health benefits. You should also consider having a green fruit and vegetable juice in the mornings – they are loaded with nutrients and are the perfect wake me up.

24. Stretch and get moving

Going for a jog or hitting the gym after getting up will bring your energy levels up and help reduce grogginess. Aim to do around 30 minutes to an hour of exercise that gets your heart pumping and causes a light sweat. Exercising earlier on in the day will also make you sleep better, allowing you to feel more energetic the following day. After working out have a cool shower to get your blood pressure up and increase your alertness.

25. Only have coffee when you need it

Like most drugs, your body becomes accustomed to caffeine and requires more and more of it to have the same effect. You begin building up a tolerance. Instead, only make use of coffee when you feel you absolutely can’t do without it. This way, it will have a bigger kick and get you wired faster. If you simply love the taste of coffee and cannot do without it on a daily basis, opt for a decaffeinated brand on days you feel you a well rested.

26. Head outside

Once you get up, head out into the sunlight (if you live in a warm area) – natural light tells your body that it is time to wake up.

Hopefully these tips will help you sleep better and wake up full of energy. If after following these steps you still do not feel well rested then pay a visit to your doctor. You may have an underlying condition that they will need to assess. Some medications such as those used to treat asthma, epilepsy and depression are known to cause insomnia. If you rely on a fairly large amount of medication, have a talk with your doctor or pharmacist and ask them if it could be affecting your sleep. Alternatively, they may prescribe a short term medication which could help you sleep better, however you should consider this as a last case resort. ALWAYS speak to your doctor or pharmacist before switching or stopping any prescription medication.

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