There are fewer things better than a good night’s sleep. But for many Singaporeans, a restful night is a rare experience and it’s not always because we’re not getting enough sleep.
In fact, Singaporeans are clocking in an average of at least seven hours of sleep per night, compared to 6.4 hours in 2019. This is according to an annual global sleep survey of 1,000 respondents by health technology company Royal Philips. Of course, getting sufficient amounts of sleep regularly is important for your overall physical and mental wellbeing; however, more sleep doesn’t automatically equate to better quality sleep.
According to the same survey, less than half (49 per cent) of respondents are satisfied with the quality of sleep they get. About 60 per cent say they understanding what’s preventing them from getting good sleep, and yet over 80 per cent admit to using mobile phones in bed.
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Unhealthy beds, bedrooms and bedtime habits all contribute to poor sleep. But making simple but fundamental, practical changes to your everyday routine and bedtime habits can have a profound impact on your sleep-wake cycle, allowing you to be mentally and physically recharged the next day.
Here are 24 ways you can have a better night’s rest, starting tonight (no counting sheep, we promise!).
It’s tempting to get comfy in bed with an indulgent Terrace House marathon, but the blue light emitted from these your screen can increase alertness and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule. Exposure to bright light at night tricks your brain into thinking it is still daytime, keeping you awake and alert. Darkness signals the body to produce melatonin, the naturally occurring hormone that makes you feel sleepy.
Sleep specialists advise getting off any electronic devices a full two hours before your head hits the pillow. Dim your lights and minimise exposure to mobile devices, like iPads and smartphones which emit “blue light” and keep you awake. If you’re reading, use orange or yellow light to help with the wind-down process and download apps like f.lux to block blue light on screens, or get special glasses that are designed to block blue light.
Our natural circadian rhythms are very much linked to our external environment, and are very responsive especially to light and dark as cues to signal when it’s time to rest and be wakeful.
In an urban landscape like Singapore, light and sound are constantly being emitted from multiple sources like traffic, road lights, and even your electronic devices on standby mode.
Blackout curtains are a good option, or for something even more lightweight, try a sleep mask and comfy ear plugs – they’re also great for signifying to the mind that it’s time to put away on distractions and solely focus on the luxury of sleep.
When it comes to night lights for kids, an American study found that children who sleep in a dimly-lit room are more likely to develop short-sightedness. Periods of darkness are important for eye development. If you do wake, don’t turn on the light: even 15 minutes of light can disrupt production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.
I know this can sound counterintuitive, especially when you think weekends are for sleeping in and making up your sleep debt. In reality, sleeping in actually makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep the next night.
When it comes to rest, a routine is best. Having a regular sleep-wake schedule sets your body’s internal clock, and actually enhances the quality of your sleep. To do this, get in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (aka the circadian rhythm).
Figure out an optimal sleeping time for yourself – say, by 11pm at night, with your alarm set for blast-off at 7am. Regulating your sleeping and waking times, according to your own natural internal rhythms and what works best for you and your work schedule, will help you feel much more refreshed and energised when you’re awake.
By the same token, your circadian rhythm becomes more strongly anchored in a predictable pattern, making it easier for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed. Exposure to sunlight upon waking up, even if just for 15 minutes, can really help to reinforce this rhythm and enhance wakefulness in the morning, allowing for better sleep at night.
So be sure to throw open those curtains, pull up the blinds, flood the room with as much natural light as possible from the get-go. Eating a substantial breakfast (try these easy recipes!) every morning will also keep your body clock on schedule – by contrast, large meals should be avoided at night when it’s time to power down.
Deep breathing is a pretty miraculous healing exercise – it can help reduce anxiety, induce a parasympathetic response in your body which relaxes it, and most of all, it’s free and easy to practise anywhere, most of all, in bed.
The 4-7-8 breathing method is a simple procedure that requires you to breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7, and exhale slowly for 8. Even if it doesn’t tip you off into the realm of sleep in a matter of minutes, it can help do wonders for relaxing your body and calming your mind and spirit.
Your bedroom environment is key in getting a good night’s sleep. Sometimes, even tiny changes to your resting space can hugely affect the quality of your sleep. This includes factors like noise and light, or even putting your headboard against the wall (Feng shui experts say this makes you feel more secure).
Create a relaxing environment by minimising external sounds, for instance. You don’t have to be as extreme as stuffing ear plugs into your skull. Just shutting the door and drawing the blinds may help cue sleep for you.
Certain smells can affect your sleep quality. Exposing yourself to calming scents, such as lavender (long used for relaxation in aromatherapy), at night can actually help ease you into sleep.
Burn a lavender-scented candle in your bedroom or spray a little essential oil onto your pillow. It has been scientifically proven that lavender can decrease your heart rate and blood pressure, putting you in a calm, relaxed state.
Science fact: Your core temperature drops by a degree or two as you begin to fall asleep. Meaning, if your room is at a comfortably cool temp, it’s easier to make the transition from wakefulness to sleep. Temperatures around 20 C to 23 C are optimal for most people.
White noise refers to sound signals that are used to mask other noises or disturbances. It can be used to drown out sounds that might prevent you from falling asleep or waking up while asleep. There are many white noise smartphone apps, such as Noisli and MyNoise, where you get a full range of sounds, from raindrops to ocean waves, whirring fans and static. There are even generators where you can “design” your own white noise.
Different sounds work for different people, so experiment and go with your instincts on what you find pleasant. Your selection should make you feel relaxed, and eventually drowsy.
The amino acid tryptophan, found in milk, turkey, and peanuts, helps your brain produce serotonin, a chemical that makes you relax, so try a bedtime snack of toast with peanut butter, or a glass of milk, for instance. Check out the best night-time foods to eat before bed here!
Research has shown that magnesium plays a key role in our ability to sleep. This essential mineral helps with stress reduction and mood stabilisation, and induces relaxation.
Besides taking a supplement, you can try eating more magnesium-rich foods such as nuts and seeds, spinach, Swiss chard and other green leafy vegetables (try these spinach recipes!), and whole grains like brown rice and oats.
Facing the wall, lie on your back with your behind about 45 cm away from a wall and rest your feet up against it for 15 minutes before bedtime.
The blood draining from your legs reduces blood pressure, which slows your heart rate and relaxes you.
Also known as Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, this sensation is described as a euphoric, calming sensation that starts with a relaxing tingling in your scalp and neck, before travelling down to your arms and legs. As strange as it sounds, it does a pretty good job at putting some people to sleep.
To induce ASMR, plug into a video or guided meditation, like this. The result should have you happily snuggling into your bed, and falling into blissful slumber.
Alcohol makes you drowsy, but you’ll have broken sleep and wake up needing to visit the toilet. Caffeine, found in tea, coffee, colas, chocolate and painkillers (check labels), ups adrenaline production, making you edgy; so does nicotine.
There are many theories that the digestive is linked to the brain. Therefore, a “comfort drink” might actually help make you feel more relaxed and bring on sleep.
Try sipping on a small glass of warm milk, or a turmeric latte (which is said to be good for overall health, anyway). If you’re a tea person, drink some chamomile tea – the herbal drink can reduce anxiety, making it easier for you to fall asleep.
Go into another room and do something repetitive, like knitting. Once you feel sleepy again, go back to bed.
Watching TV or using a laptop weakens the association between bed and sleep, as we’ve said before. Keep the activities in your sleeping zone to things unrelated to work or other distractions. Talking is okay — but save your whinge about work or concerns about kids for another time. Here are some bedroom tips to help you get in the mood.
Speaking of sex, endorphins — hormones which encourage deep sleep — are released by sexual stimulation.
We’re all susceptible to the multi-snooze button morning, and know that we end up feeling even more groggy and unrested when we finally do rouse ourselves.
That’s because disrupted REM sleep caught between snooze intervals in not high-quality sleep, and drifting off back into this sleep again and again can create what sleep experts call “sleep inertia”, which causes that familiar feeling of drowsiness that can last for hours after you wake.
The lights are off, the air-con is thrumming, and you’re all tucked in nice and cosy – and your mind is absolutely whirring. If you find yourself plagued by thoughts of impending meetings and worrying about looming deadlines, instructing yourself to block out these thoughts is not going to help.
To organise your mental clutter and provide a game plan for your busy day, why not make a to-do list? You’ll feel better once it’s out of your head, and knowing you’re not forgetting anything important – after all, you can finesse it all again in the morning when you’re feeling refreshed, and feel like you’re getting a head start.
Nightmares? Write down a new dream with a happier outcome and run it through your mind’s eye. When you go back to sleep, this should replace the nightmare.
During the day, flowers release oxygen into the air. However, at night they give off carbon dioxide which makes your bedroom stuffy.
Lie in a way that supports the natural curves of your spine — for most of us, that’s on your side, with your head on a pillow. Avoid sleeping on your back — it interferes with breathing and causes snoring, while sleeping on your stomach cramps neck muscles. Here’s how to choose the best mattress for your sleeping style.
Californian researchers have found that exercising 20 minutes every other afternoon halved the time insomniacs in sedentary jobs needed to fall asleep.
People who exercise regularly sleep better at night and feel more energised during the day. Regular exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and sleep apnea, and increases the amount of time you spend in the deep restorative stages of sleep.
A caveat — while exercise is essential for a good night’s sleep, exercising at night can cause problems for some people. Exercise raises the heart rate and core temperature, and excites the nervous and endocrine systems.
If you must work out after dark, keep your workout to the same time every night, and keep it short (no super sets or endurance training!) as the longer the session is, the harder it is to wind down after.
An English study has found that the average couple kick each other 30 times a night. Buying a bigger bed equals less disruption.
Text: www.bauersyndication.com / Additional reporting: Cheryl Lim, Pearlyn Quan & Elizabeth Liew