Written by Ellen Scott
When it comes to new year’s resolutions, you can’t go wrong with prioritising sleep.
The new year is nearly here, and with it will come all sorts of lofty resolutions in pursuit of being better, glowier versions of ourselves. Some of these will be unrealistic and, frankly, a waste of time (do you really need the pressure of being ‘that girl’ every moment of every day?), but there’s one area where pledges for self-improvement are worth the focus: sleep.
If your goal for 2023 is better quality sleep and more of it, we’re fully on board. We all know by now the many benefits of a good night’s kip, from our skin to our stress levels.
But simply pledging to ‘sleep more’ or ‘get better sleep’ isn’t the best way to go. Think of SMART goals – your resolutions need to be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound to have the best chance of you sticking to them.
So to help us get a tad more specific (and the rest of the SMART checklist, because why not), we asked a bunch of sleep experts for their recommendations of the sleep-focused new year’s resolutions that everyone should try. Here’s what they said.
Have some tech-free time before bed
“While our phones are very appealing, using them before bed can have a damaging effect on your sleep quality as the blue light emitted by screens will disrupt your melatonin production and inhibit rest,” Theresa Schnorbach, sleep scientist from Emma, tells Stylist. “As well as being detrimental to sleep, using tech before bed will also put a strain on your eyes, especially if you use it in the dark.
“I recommend switching to ‘night mode’ between certain hours, minimising the blue light emitted from the screen. However, an even better idea to give you better sleep in 2023 is to build in time spent not using your tech at all as part of your wind-down routine in the hour or so before bed and opt instead for reading a book.”
Stop having caffeine post-lunch
We’ve all been there: you sip on a cortado for a mid-afternoon boost, then rue that moment when it’s 2am and you’re wide awake. Time to quit this. Pledge to keep an eye on your caffeine intake and make a hard rule that post-1pm, it’s caffeine-free herbal teas only.
Thorrun Govind, pharmacist and healthcare lawyer notes: “We can easily consume caffeine without thinking about it. The new year could be the time to start tracking those teas and coffees and being more mindful as to why you are drinking them. Is it the taste or do you feel you will work better with a caffeine boost?”
Aim to have dinner three hours before bed
Anna Mapson, registered nutritional therapist and owner of Goodness Me Nutrition, advises: “When we’re digesting our food our body temperature stays a little higher, and this slight increase in heat can interfere with the quality of your sleep. You may find you wake a bit more often or wake feeling less refreshed than usual. You may also find you are more susceptible to acid reflux or heartburn if you eat a large meal [shortly before] lying down.
“I recommend my clients aim for a three-hour gap between their last meal of the day and bedtime. This effectively means you’re getting a 12-hour fast overnight, which is really good for resting your digestion. Doing this obsessively isn’t necessary, but once you’ve got into the habit of this gap between eating and bedtime, you might notice the difference when you do eat late at night.
“Try not to snack after dinner. If you do feel very hungry, it’s OK to eat; you won’t sleep well if your stomach is rumbling. Consider whether you eat enough at dinner time, and maybe you can increase your protein and fibre portions or calorie intake to get you through to bed without feeling hungry.”
Feeling fully relaxed will massively help you drift off more easily and stay asleep once you do.
Sylvia Tillmann of Tremendous TRE recommends giving TRE (tension-releasing exercises) a go. It’s a self-help exercise that uses stretches similar to yoga to relax the body.
“It releases tension we are holding in our bodies, in particular the muscles,” says Tillmann, “and resets the nervous system, so that we feel deeply relaxed after practising TRE. Hence a great good night’s sleep is a positive side effect.”
Only use your bedroom for sleep or sex
Signal to your brain that when you’re in bed, it’s time to sleep, by – you guessed it – only using your bed for sleep… and sex.
“I connect with a lot of clients suffering from persistent sleep disturbances who relay night-time routines brimming with low-focus activities like knitting, reading, journaling, listening to podcasts and sleep stories, all of which they are doing in their bed or bedroom,” Dr Noreen Nguru, founder of What The Doctor Recommends, CBT life coach and SleepSpace sleep specialist, tells us. “While the intention is there, in some cases, an inability to fall asleep is actually perpetuated by an involuntary association between our bedrooms and activites other than sleep, which trains our brains to remain switched on at bedtime.
“A quick fix for this is complete your nighttime routine outside of your bedroom and only get into bed when you start falling asleep (not when you are simply tired).”
Make your bedroom a dreamland
We’re all about indulgent new year’s resolutions, and this is a great one: focus your interior design efforts on making your bedroom the plushest, dreamiest, most sleep-friendly space imaginable.
Hafiz Shariff, founder of Owl + Lark, says: “Our bedrooms need to serve us to the best of their ability if we want to get good sleep, so if your mattress is a touch lumpy or you keep getting woken up by your noisy neighbours, take the necessary steps to take your bedroom from ‘it does the job’ to ‘what dreams are made of’.
“Making your own personal ‘dreamland’ isn’t as difficult as you think – simply pinpoint the issues or areas that are disrupting you or making it difficult to nod off. If you have a partner that likes to stay up and read or you are sensitive to light, look into getting a high-quality sleep mask that can help you get some shut-eye.
“If you often get woken up by noises through the night, such as busy traffic or a noisy neighbour, drown out the noise using ear plugs or, for a more relaxing option, a white noise or sound machine. Sound and noise machines work by drowning out the offending noise with more soothing ones, such as low-frequency bass or even sounds of nature – combine this with lovely smelling reed diffusers to create a relaxing environment that you’ll be racing to every night.”
Have the same bedtime and wake-up time every night and day
“Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day,” recommends Geraldine Joaquim, a hypnotherapist and wellness coach. “A lot of people regularly steal from the night to augment the day (there are so many distractions, such as watching TV, scrolling social media, going out and socialising, online shopping, working, etc) and that means regularly staying up late and having chaotic sleep patterns. It pushes you into ‘social jetlag’, the discrepancy in your sleep pattern causes you to feel jetlagged or tired and fatigued, and it creates an imbalance across your systems.
“Work out how much sleep you need to make you feel good in the day and what time you need to be awake by. Work backwards from there to calculate the time you want to be asleep by. Allow 15 minutes to settle into sleep – if you’re asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow you’re probably over-tired; if it takes you longer than 15-20 minutes to settle into sleep you’re probably over-wired.”
Reduce your blue light exposure
“The most powerful change that you can make for your sleep is to adapt the way that you interact with the light in your environment,” says Daniel White, founder of Sleep Better Live Better. “Firstly, you must increase your exposure to natural daylight in the morning to help synchronise your body’s circadian rhythm. Secondly, you should filter or remove artificial blue light from your home after sunset when darkness is required for your brain to wind down and produce high amounts of your sleep hormone melatonin.
“Thankfully, blue light-blocking glasses exist as one miracle tool guaranteed to protect you from the harmful effects of artificial light, ensuring that you can get the most out of modern technology without it damaging your sleep and overall health.”
Choose your pre-bedtime workouts carefully
Are you a fan of evening workouts? That’s a lovely thing, but be strategic when it comes to what type of exercise you do after the sun goes down.
“Exercising is an energising activity that elevates your core body temperature, which is the opposite of what you want before sleep,” notes Lotti Maddox at BLOK. “Therefore, vigorous exercise like HIIT training or heavy weightlifting should be performed earlier in the day to give your body enough time to cool and recover.”
Something slower and more relaxing, like a spot of stretching, could be a better option.
Do a brain dump before you sleep
Shariff says: “The biggest issue most of us have with sleep is actually nodding off, with many of us tossing and turning due to our minds racing, thinking about what has happened during the day or what might happen the next. Counter this by carving out time before sleep to do a ‘brain dump’.
“Whether this is via a journal or just a list kept in your bedside drawer, write down anything that is on your mind so you can have a clear head by the time you get under the covers. From things you need to buy for dinner to the things you need to do tomorrow at work, grouping all your thoughts this way allows your brain to focus on just one thing: sleep.”
Up your exposure to natural light during the day
Mapson recommends: “Aim for at least around 30 minutes of daylight, every day. If possible get this in the morning, although any time of day is better than none. When we are outside, the sun’s light helps to reset our circadian rhythms, which includes our sleep-wake cycle.”
Schnorbach backs this up, suggesting a resolution to go for a stroll outside every morning.
“One simple and easy way to start taking care of yourself is by going for a walk in the morning,” she says. Light is one of the major aspects that controls our circadian rhythm as a central circuit that is sensitive to light, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), controls the production of the hormones that support when we sleep and wake.
“This is why exposure to bright, colder-coloured light, such as the sunlight you get in the morning, can help to wake you up and will also aid sleep later that night. This is also an easy way to get regular exercise and an opportunity to take some time to check in with yourself.”
Reduce your alcohol consumption
“Lowering our alcohol consumption can help improve sleep quality,” says Nicole Ratcliffe, holistic sleep coach and founder of Baby2Sleep. “There is a popular misconception that alcohol helps us to sleep, but this isn’t factually correct. As alcohol acts like a sedative, it can help us to fall asleep quicker and into a deeper sleep; however, this can then mess with our sleep stages, meaning we skip the important REM sleep in the earlier part of the night. This disrupts the sleep cycles and can lead to more frequent wakings in the second half of the night or long periods awake, which can lead to us feeling less able to function well during the following day. We may eat more sugar and take more caffeine to help us get through the day, which can then impact our sleep the following night.”
Have a wind-down routine you do every night
Joaquim agrees: “The brain needs to feel safe and secure in order to switch off, to allow you to be as vulnerable as sleep makes you, and having a good routine helps your brain to relax – effectively, if what you did yesterday meant you survived, then your brain thinks it’s a good idea to do it again. It mitigates risk.”
Make that bedtime routine personally fulfilling
Relaxation is one thing, but what if you made getting ready for bed each night something you truly look forward to? That’s what Shariff recommends.
“Give yourself something to look forward to before going to sleep by creating a fulfilling bedtime routine that nurtures you physically, mentally and emotionally while also helping you to wind down,” he says.
“If you often feel restless when you sleep or find yourself tossing and turning all night, create a routine that helps to remove tension in your body and allow you to fully relax. A luxurious bubble bath with lovely scented bubbles is a classic, but even just having a shower with ultra-posh shower gel or body scrubs can help your body drift into a deliciously deep sleep. Use scents such as lavender, camomile or ylang-ylang to truly ramp up the experience – think nightly spa routine that will have you melt into your bed every night.
“If you really want to make going to bed an exciting experience, give yourself an incentive that you will only get when you get to bed, such as reading 50 pages of a new book or listening to two songs from that new album. Not only are they great for distracting you from any niggling thoughts racing around your brain, but limiting yourself from engaging with this book or album makes you way more inclined to go through your bedtime routine – because who doesn’t hate being left on a cliffhanger?”
Don’t obsess over getting ‘perfect’ sleep
“The more pressure we put on ourselves to get the best sleep every night, the more stress we cause ourselves, which in turn makes it more difficult to sleep and so we find ourselves in a cycle of negative thinking,” says Holly Buckley, hypnotherapist and assistant psychologist at Head Health. “Thoughts such as ‘I’m never going to fall asleep’ or ‘I’m only going to have 5hours sleep, I will be so tired tomorrow’ are really unhelpful and it’s important to recognise this.
“Instead if you have had a difficult night with less sleep than you would like/need, then simply think, ‘I will take it easy on myself today and tonight I will sleep well.’”
Images: Getty, Stylist
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