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  • Writer's pictureDr. Wendy Zhao

Tips For A Better Sleep

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

We all know how important sleep is, it affects nearly every aspect of our physical, emotional, and cognitive health. Yet many of us struggle with getting adequate sleep. Whether you're wrestling with chronic insomnia or suddenly finding yourself sleepless, learning to work with your natural sleep system can bring you closer to your best possible sleep.

Sleep Science 101

Our sleep-wake cycle and other bodily functions are guided by the circadian rhythm, an internal master clock. However, we don't all march to the same circadian beat. Studies show that our sleep cycles are also determined by chronotype, which is our propensity to fall asleep and wake up at a certain time during a 24-hour period. It's the reason why some people are inherently early risers. Our chronotypes are largely dictated by genetics. Though you can't actively modify your chronotype, it can change as you age, and some night owls may find themselves transformed into early birds later on in life. Our chorontype influences a number of variables that control sleep, including our body's production of melatonin, the sleep inducing hormone. The onset of sleep is also aided by the homeostatic sleep drive, a biological pressure to sleep. Our sleep drive is lowest when we first wake up and increases throughout the day due to a gradual accumulation of the neurotransmitter adenosine. The stronger your sleep drive, the more likely you are to fall asleep. We can use the knowledge of our body's built-in sleep mechanisms to optimize our schedule and train ourselves towards better rest.

Sleep Hygiene

  1. The Golden Rule of Sleep: reserve your bed for sleep. As creatures of habit, you want your body to associate your bed with sleep. You don't want your body to associate the bed with work, watching a movie, or tossing and turning waiting for sleep. If you're not sleepy, get out of bed, engage in something calming, and only return to bed when you are.

  2. Get up at the same time EVERY DAY. Our bodies work best with a regular schedule. As tempting as it is to sleep in on the weekends, it disrupts the natural rhythm of your sleep-wake cycle.

  3. Expose yourself to daylight before noon. Our biological clock is highly sensitive to light. The earlier you expose yourself, preferably for at least 30 minutes, the more likely you are to feel sleepy in the evening.

  4. Limit screen use close to bedtime. Light, even those from electronic devices, suppress the production of melatonin and interferes with your circadian rhythm. It's best to keep smartphones and tablets out of the bedroom. If that's not an option, put your devices on night mode so that you're not inadvertently awoken by a poorly timed email or notification.

  5. Keep the temperature low. Our body temperature naturally decreases as we transition to sleep and rise in preparation for waking up. If your bedroom is too warm, you may find it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. The ideal sleeping temperature is around 16-17 Celsius or 60-70 Fahrenheit.

  6. Exercise during the day. Studies show that exercise can help you fall asleep, stay asleep, and achieve deeper sleep. Even half an hour of low impact exercise can make a difference.

  7. If you must, limit daytime naps to no more than 30 minutes. It may seem like a good idea to try to recoup lost sleep during the day, however napping reduces your sleep drive and interrupts your normal sleep patterns.

  8. Avoid caffeine after 2pm. Sensitivity to caffeine also increases with age. An amount that didn't bother you previously can be keeping you awake now.

  9. Never use alcohol as a sleep-aid. Alcohol may put you to sleep faster, but it reduces your quality of sleep. Research shows that alcohol consumption leads to more fragmented and less restorative sleep. Avoid alcohol at least 2 hours before bedtime.

  10. Stress and arousal blocks your sense of sleepiness. Though some stresses may be unavoidable, our behaviour is within our control. Stay away from activities that will likely activate your arousal system close to bedtime (i.e., social media, intense exercise, solving work problems.)

Despite what you might have heard, there is no universal ideal number of hours of sleep. What our bodies require also changes as we age, so don't overthink it. If you feel rested and refreshed in the morning, you probably are getting the right amount of sleep for you, for right now. If you're struggling with chronic fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness, you're likely not getting the restorative sleep you need to be at your optimum. Oftentimes, sleep disruption is a symptom of something else going on, such as physical ailments or psychological disorders. If you have tried your share of self-help remedies and still having trouble sleeping, speak with your GP or consult a mental health professional.

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