Increasing research has proved that good and consistent sleep is essential for human beings to function. While some believe that closing their eyes for some hours during the night is enough, we know that our bodies need a certain amount of quality sleep to recharge and maintain our well-being. This article will give you the top 5 tips to improve your or your child’s sleep.
Modern life brings lots of brain stimulation, distraction, and stress. Having busy and variable schedules, not following a consistent routine, and spending too much time on screens can affect how well we sleep. In particular, some brains have a harder time turning their systems off when it’s time to sleep, which can have many negative consequences.
Insufficient sleep negatively affects our mental and physical health, increasing risk-taking behaviour and our ability to cope with stress. In contrast, consistent quality sleep helps us to manage our emotions, regulate stress, focus better, maintain a healthier diet, and manage daily activities. Therefore, it is important for all of us to sleep well.
According to the Government of Canada’s website, children aged 5-13 years old should be getting about 9-11 hours of sleep per night. Those aged 14-17 years old need about 8-10 hours, and adults at least 6 hours of sleep every night.
However, new research published in November 2023 suggests that having a consistent sleep schedule is more important than getting a certain amount of sleep every night. This means that sleep regularity, or the day-to-day consistency of sleep-wake timing, is better for certain aspects of our health than sleep duration. Below are our top 5 tips on how to make quality sleep part of your routine.
Tip 1: Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same daily, including on weekends, as much as possible. Your body will get used to it, and this will become automatic. The more you maintain similar sleep times between days, the better your sleep regularity and, consequently, the more positive health outcomes you will experience.
Tip 2: Practice sleep hygiene. This means establishing simple daily routines and making sure that you have a cozy and comfortable bedroom environment. Thus, create a relaxing space before bedtime to help you doze off. For example, reduce the stimulation in your room by dimming the lights and lowering the noise around you. Also, make sure that the temperature is cool (18-21 degrees Celsius).
Tip 3: Avoid ingesting caffeine from the afternoon on (chocolate, coffee, some teas, soft drinks etc.) and stop exercising at least 2 hours before bedtime.
Tip 4: Turn off all screens at least 1 hour before bed. Phones must be kept outside of the bedroom all night.
Tip 5: Your bed should be used only for sleep (and some adult activity if you are older). For some, reading in bed is also okay. However, if you want to watch TV, play video games, use your phone or do your homework, you must do it elsewhere.
Wait! What if the Tips above don’t work?
Firstly, you will likely have to practice the above every day for at least 3-4 weeks to start noticing some improvements in your sleep quality. Also, if you have certain medical conditions, your sleep may be impacted, and you will need more specialized support.
However, for most people, there will be nights that you will have a harder time falling asleep. That’s expected! So, if after being in bed for 20-30 minutes you still cannot sleep, get up and do something very boring like reading a tedious history book or listening to a monotonous podcast. Alternatively, you can use a mindfulness app like Headspace, CALM or Smiling Mind, which has specific meditations, sleep stories, or calming music and sounds that help you sleep.
Also, if you notice that instead of falling asleep, your worries or thoughts about life circumstances or responsibilities are keeping you awake, get up, write them all down, have some warm de-caffeinated drink, and go back to bed.
If your sleep difficulties persist despite trying to establish a consistent sleep routine, I suggest you consult with a medical doctor or health specialist who can provide you with more support.
I hope you find these Tips helpful and look forward to bedtime. Sweet dreams.
Dr. Juliana Negreiros, R. Psych.
Dr. Juliana is the clinic director and a Registered Psychologist passionate about mental health who works as a clinician, researcher, supervisor, trainer, consultant, and public speaker. Her clinical approach is grounded in research and based on individual and family Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Committed Therapy (ACT).