Sleep Well: 5 Tips for a Restful Night's Sleep
Aäron Spapens, doctor at OpenUp Medical, explains why getting a good night’s sleep is so important and how you can improve your evening routine with some simple tips.
Why is getting a good night’s sleep so important?
We all know what it’s like when we don’t get enough sleep. We often feel tired the next day, have problems concentrating and paying attention, as well as having a tendency to feel stressed and anxious more quickly. But our behaviour and emotions are also negatively affected by lack of sleep.
“Sleep deprivation means that the prefrontal cortex – the part of our brains that regulates our behaviour – isn’t able to control our behaviour and emotions,” explains Aäron Spapens before continuing: “You get irritable because the prefrontal cortex loses control of the amygdala – the emotional centre of the brain. The amygdala becomes more active, meaning you feel more emotional and experience more negative emotions.”
That’s exactly why lack of sleep makes you so irritable and prone to impulsive behaviour. But it’s not just your emotions that suffer as a result of sleep deprivation. Over time, your physical health will also be affected: chronic sleep deprivation increases your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases or diabetes.
That’s why it’s so important to establish a good evening routine and to put a few tips and tricks in place for a restful night’s sleep.
😴 Just relax: 3 Breathing Exercises to Instantly Calm You Down
Tips for a restful night’s sleep
Doctor Spapens often discusses the topic of sleep in his sessions. What goes wrong a lot: “People just don’t have a sleep routine.” Or they don’t know what works for them and what doesn’t when it comes to sleeping better. “Gaining awareness about what people actually do before, during and after sleep helps them to develop a healthy sleep routine,” says the OpenUp Medical coach.
These tips might help you to build a good sleep routine and have a restful night’s sleep:
1. Be active during the day
Sleeping well is about more than just counting sheep all night. “Sleep is your body’s way of recovering after an active day,” says Aäron Spapens. Move for at least an hour every day. And remember: it isn’t just intense workouts that count here. Low or medium-intensity activities, such as walking and cycling, also help.
2. Take time to relax
Along with physical exertion, relaxation is also important for getting a good night’s sleep. When you let too much stress build up during the day, this affects your ability to sleep. “Incorporate a few rest breaks where you’re almost completely inactive to balance out the stress that builds up during the day,” recommends Spapens. Check-in with yourself and reflect on how your day was. How do you feel? Are you under pressure or are you already totally relaxed?
✍️ Read more: How Journaling Improves Your Mental Health
This breathing technique is perfect if you have sleeping problems. It reduces your heartbeat and quietens your nervous system so that you feel calm and peaceful.
Make yourself comfortable and either sit or lie down. Close your eyes. Let your tongue rest at the bottom of your mouth, against the back of your front teeth. Gently breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Hold your breath for seven seconds and exhale slowly through your mouth for eight seconds, as if you’re blowing through a straw. Repeat the exercise a total of four times.
3. Switch off electronic devices
Cute cat videos: yes. Scary action films: no. Did you know that it (most likely) isn’t the light from your electronic devices causing you to sleep badly, but what you do with these devices?
“I think everybody knows that feeling when after watching an intense film, gaming or even after a demanding day at uni, your mind is racing until late into the night. A lot of the time, we go straight from doing an intense activity to trying to sleep,” says Spapens. According to him, it’s one of the most common errors people make: “Your body just isn’t ready for sleep.”
So: switch off your mobile phone and TV preferably 2 hours (at least 1 hour) before you go to bed. This will help your body to get ready for sleep and you’ll be able to fall asleep more easily.
4. Maintain good sleep hygiene
Do your curtains do a good job of blocking out the street lights? Is your bedroom quiet and organised? Is your bed comfy and do you have plenty of space? Does it smell nice? Good sleep hygiene helps you to feel comfortable and allows you to relax. Think about how to make your space as relaxing as possible and optimise it according to what you want.
Tip: Only use your bed for sleeping (don’t use it for working or snacking).
5. Establish a routine and stick with it
What do you do before you go to bed? After reading this article, think about which of your habits are helpful and which are maybe less good at promoting a restful night’s sleep. Following a fixed routine, e.g., brushing your teeth, reading a book and then going to sleep, will ultimately help you to fall asleep. Your body will associate these steps with sleep and automatically switch off.
Did you know that practising mindfulness can also help with sleeping problems? On Spaces to OpenUp, you can sign up for meditations on various topics and this will help you to gain more awareness of your thoughts and feelings.