Editor’s Note: Vital Signs is a monthly program bringing viewers health stories from around the world.
With over 100 types of sleep disorders to contend with, and around 40-50% of us experiencing insomnia at some point in our lives, it’s vital to keep an eye on your sleep habits and seek help if you need it, according to Antonio Culebras, organizer of World Sleep Day 2016, a global initiative educating the public about sleep.
Many of us don’t even know the basic facts about sleep. For instance, it should take you 10 to 15 minutes to fall asleep, with seven to nine hours being optimal for most of us, ideally at a temperature of around 60-67°F (16-19°C).
To celebrate World Sleep Day we asked you to share your top tips for a good night’s sleep on Twitter. You replied with loads of ideas, from drinking a soothing cup of camomile tea, to going to the gym, or having sex. Here are our favorite ones and what the experts have to say about them …
1. Turn off your gadgets
This is a good strategy according to Russell Foster, director of Oxford University’s SCNi (Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute), as blue light emitted from smartphone, TV and computer screens can suppress melatonin (a hormone helping you sleep) and increase your alertness.
“What it probably will do is increase levels of alertness and therefore delay sleep onset … it’s a good rule of thumb to reduce light exposure,” says Foster, advising to switch off your screens half an hour before bed and relax in a softly lit room.
You can even buy special light bulbs mimicking sunlight – “white and color ambience” bulbs can gradually wake you up and send you to sleep by slowly brightening, dimming and alternating the light’s frequency.
2. Avoid a bedtime tipple
However enjoyable nightcaps may be, unfortunately they could lead to more shallow sleep.
“Alcohol will actually disrupt some of the important things going on in the brain such as memory consolidation,” says Foster.
A shallower sleep could lead to a negative cycle where you’re dependent on sedatives to sleep, and stimulants such as caffeine or sugary food to stay awake during the day.
3. Get up early
If you’re having trouble sleeping, getting up earlier could be the solution for you. It may seem brutal, but it can get results.
“Expose yourself to morning light as much as you can. That has been shown to stabilize the sleep/wake timing of the human body clock,” says Foster.
You should also avoid napping, especially if it’s for over 20 minutes, as waking up from deep sleep can make you feel even more groggy. By getting into a routine of getting up early and experiencing daylight your body clock adjusts to sleep earlier in the evenings, ridding you of those restless nights.
4. Forget your worries
Setting aside a quiet time in the evening to meditate, relax or pray was a popular response on Twitter.
It’s important to let go of the worries that build up during the day as they can effect both the initiation and maintenance of sleep.
“The worries of the day should not be brought to bed,” says Culebras, “A typical example here in the United States are people who work on their personal income tax and returns in bed … of course they never match, so that’s a typical thing that leads to insomnia.”
5. Work out
Whether you’re swimming, running, or practicing yoga, regular exercise can make for a great night’s sleep.
It’s best to work out around six hours before you go to bed as your body stays overheated for several hours after vigorous exercise, causing wakefulness.
“Exercise stimulates the nervous system, and it can cause insomnia if you exercise too late in the day,” advises Culebras.
6. Work out a little more …
For those of you with something a little spicier on your minds, sex was suggested as a good way to get a good night’s sleep – although bear in mind this could also be considered a form of exercise.
It’s also included in World Sleep Day’s Ten Commandments of Sleep, which are guidelines for attaining the best sleep possible. As Culebras explained, “Bed is good for two things: number one, sleep; and number two, sex with your bed partner. It is a type of activity that is helpful and accepted.”
7. Have a hot drink
A hot (non alcoholic) beverage before bed is a great way to relax and prepare for sleep says Foster, as long as it doesn’t contain caffeine.
“Try and wind down at least 30 minutes before you desired bedtime … and go into a relaxed state, whatever that is for you – it may be a hot milky drink, it may be reading a few pages of a novel.”
Avoid coffee, chocolate and fizzy drinks at least six hours before you go to bed. Non caffeinated herbal teas are fine – but don’t drink too much or you may be making a midnight trip to the bathroom.
8. Listen to music
From soft new age sounds to gospel rhythms and sleep related podcasts, many of you drift off listening to music.
Soothing sounds can be a good way to doze off, but anything louder might have the opposite effect says Culebras.
“What is not as acceptable is loud rock and roll type music because that leads to excitation.”
9. Only use medication as a last resort
While you may get results in the short term, it’s important to be aware of unwanted effects and see your doctor if you’re having trouble sleeping.
“Do not abuse medications to sleep … if you need them for a short period always do it under the supervision of your physician, do not auto medicate yourself,” advises Culebras.
“Eventually all of them have what we call rebound insomnia, which means once you stop them you are going to have two or three days with very little sleep at night.”
Most of the time insomnia is triggered by psychological problems such as stress, anxiety or depression. It’s important to see your physician and treat the underlying issues rather than use pills or supplements for immediate respite.
“We don’t have this knee jerk reaction of giving a sleeping pill to everyone who suffers from insomnia,” says Culebras. “We try to determine why, and then we try to remove what’s causing or perpetuating insomnia.”
10. Keep it simple
For some of you, it’s that easy.