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10 proactive tips for improving your sleep

When was the last time you woke up feeling fully refreshed? If you’re struggling to think of a morning when you didn’t require a coffee to kick-start your workday, you’re far from alone.

Our new Vhi Health Insights report brings the extent of Ireland’s problem with poor sleep into sharp focus: half of corporate employees surveyed are dissatisfied with their sleep. That figure should arguably be higher when you consider than 7 in 10 reported feeling tired and fatigued at work several times a month.

Behind this sleep debt is a host of poor sleep habits, particularly in the ‘golden hour’ before bed when the right routine is so important. High percentages of employees reported being online and watching TV during this time. While there has been much coverage about the impact of blue light on sleep – and advice on reducing this – our expert research revealed that blue light is not necessarily the problem, but rather the stimulation caused by the screens themselves.

This fresh insight comes along with a broader call from our expert group to totally rethink our attitude to sleep. Rather than reading up on ‘sleep hacks’ to help ward off tiredness, we should educate ourselves about why exactly sleep is so vital and how we benefit. This, in turn, will make it easier to form solid habits that stick.

Here are our expert tips for achieving quality sleep…

  1. Think of sleep as a performance enhancer: Before you do anything, you need to stop thinking of sleep as a necessary evil. If you appreciate the work your body is doing while you sleep, it won’t seem like “inactive” time that you can neglect. This will help you give it priority over, say, another Netflix episode and spur you on to better sleep hygiene.
  2. Set an evening alarm: Getting an alert that you should be asleep in half an hour will help keep you regimented – think of it as flipping your snooze button habit on its head.
  3. Stay consistent: Sticking to set sleeping and waking times on weekends as well as weekdays aids your circadian rhythm. If you can avoid a haphazard routine, your body will move through its natural sleep phases more easily.
  4. Establish bedroom boundaries: Your sleeping environment should be a sacred space, separate from other activities. This will help your mind recognise that it’s time to unwind from your surroundings alone.
  5. Get the environment just right: Keep your bedroom dark, cool and free from distractions. Blackout blinds can help keep out light, while you should aim for an ideal room temperature of 16-18°C.
  6. Steer clear of screens: Go screen-free for the couple of hours before bed. Even if you filter out blue light, screen distractions affect your sleep-readiness regardless.
  7. Relax before bed: A gradual descent into slumber is often required. If you wake during the night, try simple relaxation techniques such as breathing practices or meditations. You should also avoid the stress that comes with looking at your phone or clock.
  8. Use light wisely: Throwing open the curtains can help maintain wakefulness early in the day. Morning light trains our body clock to get up earlier, while evening light delays the clock and makes you sleep later.
  9. Get informed: Our expert group found that, for those with very poor sleep, education alone can improve sleep patterns. The Vhi Health Hub has more on the importance of sleep to get you up-to-speed.
  10. Take small steps: Changing sleep habits should be a gradual process. For example, set a specific time to get up every morning but only go to bed when you feel sleepy. If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes or are feeling tense, get out of bed and return when you are tired. Your body should soon adjust to make up the deficit. This serves to ‘recondition’ how you look at sleep in the long run.

For more articles on sleep, click here.