Let’s be honest. When you are faced with the choice of going to bed and struggling to sleep or watching one more episode of Stranger Things, the young kids battling with the Upside Down in Hawkins, Indiana, are probably going to win the battle for your attention. But at what cost? You probably already know that consistent sleep deprivation can impair your productivity, prematurely age your skin, make you forget and cause weight gain – and that’s just to start. If that list is starting to look a little too scary for your liking, it’s time to do something about it. Here is a handy guide – backed by science – that will teach you how to get better sleep this year (and feel better for it). Keep reading for the crème de la crème of kip tips.
1. Pay attention to sleep cycles
Research has found that the average adult rotates through NREM-REM sleep for multiple 90-minute cycles every night. Each sleep cycle is followed by a brief period during which we are somewhat wakeful. Accordingly, this means you will feel most refreshed if you wake at the end of a 90-minute sleep cycle because you will be closest to your normal waking state. For most adults, this means you’ll need to put together four to six 90-minute cycles a night for the best benefits. Try adjusting your routine so that you are sleeping for a timeframe that is a multiple of 90 minutes, e.g. 6 hours, 7.5 hours, or 9 hours each night.
2. Drink tart cherry juice
A study undertaken by Louisiana State University in the United States has found that drinking tart cherry juice twice a day could help you sleep better at night. If that sounds too good to be true, here’s the breakdown. Cherry juice is a natural source of melatonin, which is often used as a sleep aid and in the treatment of sleep disorders. Researchers at LSU had seven adults with insomnia drink tart cherry juice twice a day for two weeks. Then, they went for two weeks with no juice, before drinking a placebo for two more weeks. The results? Drinking the cherry juice resulted in an average of 84 more minutes of sleep each night.
3. Don’t sleep in on weekends
After a long working week or a big Saturday night out, there’s literally nothing more tempting than to spend the next morning catching up on sleep. Especially when you have nothing to do, it’s raining outside, or your bed just feels so damn good. But you’ll do so at your own peril. Not only can changing your sleep cycle be hazardous to your health, it can also make you feel more tired than you already do. In fact, there’s even a name for the condition: social jet lag. Social jet lag can cause chronic fatigue and irritable moods and can increase your risk of heart disease by 11 per cent. (The reason for the name? The symptoms mirror those of travel jet lag.) So, with that in mind, try to stick to the same bedtimes and waking times as you do during the rest of the week.
4. Get more exercise
A study undertaken in 2011 by Oregon State University in the United States found that adults sleep significantly better when they carry out at least 150 minutes of vigorous activity or exercise each week. The sample group not only reported a 65 per cent improvement in sleep quality, but they also felt less sleepy during the day, compared to those with less physical activity. Brad Cardinal, one of the study’s authors, noted that “physical activity on a regular basis may positively influence an individual’s productivity at work.” If you factor in two days a week without exercise, to avoid straining your body, that means you need to get 30 minutes of brisk physical activity each day to sleep better. Not so bad.
5. Cut the caffeine
Relax. No-one is telling you that you need to cut out your skim latte altogether. But it’s no secret that caffeine, which is found in coffee and many teas, can have a disruptive effect on sleep. So, how can you avoid this disruption without sacrificing your favourite habit? The answer is simple. Stop all caffeine intake in the six hours before you go to sleep. A study undertaken at the Henry Ford Hospital Sleep Disorders & Research Center in the United States in 2013 found that a moderate dose of caffeine at bedtime, three hours prior to bedtime, or six hours prior to bedtime each have significant effects on sleep disturbance. Unfortunately, it might be time to swap that mid-afternoon cappuccino for a caffeine-free boost.