Mastering Your Sleep

Sleep is an important tool for improving performance and returning the body to its best possible state. However, these days, modern distractions like smart phones, tablets, social media and Netflix can so easily infiltrate our evenings, hindering our bodies ability to sleep.

A lack of sleep can cause a wide array of issues, yet many are not aware of how far-reaching these can be. A poor mood, inhibited decision-making, low energy and memory problems can all be the result of a lack of sleep. Additionally, recovery from training can be slowed, and studies have shown that injury rates may increase by up to 60% for those averaging just five hours of shut eye, compared to those who manage nine hours.

So, what makes sleep good? And how do we prepare our bodies for sleep?

Great sleep takes skill, and it’s a skill that takes time to develop. One can’t simply walk into the bedroom after scrolling emails or Instagram and expect to have the best sleep of your life. You need to build a routine, stick to it and continue to work on it.

This skill is based on key factors like how organised you are leading up to bedtime, your body temperature, your hormone levels, your diet, your amount of daily exercise, and the mental relationship you have with your bed. Let’s have a look at each of these in more detail.


To dial down the stress in preparation for sleep, try to organise yourself as much as possible before bed. To do this, it helps to work backwards. Think about the time that you need to get up in the morning, and then calculate the time you need to get to bed to fit in 7 – 9 hours of sleep.

From here, build in an evening routine. Aim to switch off any electronic devices, such as the TV, at least 30 minutes before bed. If you have difficulty getting to sleep, also try to avoid foods and drinks high in caffeine and sugar, such as chocolate, coffee and black tea. Pick up a book, practice a meditation or write out a to-do list for the next day.

It can also help to prepare anything you might need in the morning – perhaps this is your gym clothes, your work bag, or maybe you like to put your coffee mug out ahead of that 6am caffeine fix. During this time, try not to watch the clock too much. If you know your bedtime is approximately 30 minutes away, there’s no need to check the time every five minutes. Take it slow and try not to put too much pressure on yourself.

At first, these steps may feel trivial. But as time goes on, you will realise you feel more at ease. Just like any new habit, it will take some trial and error to get sleep habits right. Slowly, your body will adjust, and all of these activities will cue sleep.


Having a hot shower before bed can raise the core body temperature by 0.1 to 0.2 of a degree. This heat causes the body to switch to cooling mode and begin the processing of balancing its temperature.

Make sure you wear lightweight and breathable clothing to bed and ensure your room is at a comfortable temperature for you. Generally, this is between 18 – 21 degrees Celsius. Your body clock will receive signals on when to begin its sleep cycle based on the environment surrounding you. This includes light levels and temperature, which makes it all the more critical that your room is within that 18-21 degree range. 

If your bedroom is too warm, you can experience feelings of fatigue without actually being able to fall asleep, and this can cause you to toss and turn uncomfortably until your body finally drifts off. This can disrupt the stages of sleep. 

You want to maximize your time spent in REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement), and an overly warm environment will only reduce that time. Less REM sleep will not prepare you well for the following day and can weaken your body’s ability to recover and slow your cognitive abilities. 

The benefits of deep sleep include stabilizing your brain activity and allowing your brain to heal and recover each night. Non-REM sleep is just as important, but to balance your sleep stages, a cooler environment is recommended. 

Quick Tips for a Cooler Sleeping Environment 

Since it is not always easy to maintain a cool, comfortable room temperature, especially in the summer months, here are some quick ways you can set up your room to be as conducive to providing you with more deep sleep as possible: 

  • Adjust the thermostat to a lower temperature
  • Open windows to promote airflow (especially if the outside air is cool)
  • Close blinds or curtains during the day to minimize heat entering the room
  • Set up a small fan in your room 
  • Wear comfortable but light layers of pajamas and blankets
  • Take a hot shower before bed to promote natural cooling 


Melatonin is the key factor in the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm which is our ‘body clock’ so to speak. It is also responsible for blood pressure regulation.

The hormone Melatonin is secreted when we enter a dark room and go to sleep. It is the key active hormone that allows the body to rest and is secreted from the pineal gland and spread around the body via the bloodstream and cerebrospinal fluid – a liquid around your brain and spinal cord. Soon, the spread of melatonin reaches your vital organs and causes the brain to reduce its normal function.

The number one cause of a delay to the melatonin release is the blue light found in smartphones and electronic devices. A 2015 study (Analysis of circadian properties and healthy levels of blue light from smartphones at night, Oh, et al.) found that melatonin levels decreased by 7.3% - 11.4% when in a dark room and even higher when in a light room. This has a lasting effect on the time it takes to get to sleep. The national Sleep Foundation stated that this delayed secretion in melatonin delays REM sleep and also reduces REM sleep overall.

While a lack of sleep during the night can encourage many to nap the next day, if you are a light sleeper, napping will counter the body clock and restart our body’s processes. Napping may work for those who have no trouble sleeping, however if this is something you struggle with, it’s best to limit your naps and avoid upsetting your natural body clock. Additionally, try to stick to the same bedtime and wakeup every day of the week. By not letting yourself sleep in on a Sunday, you will soon wake up bright-eyed and early on a Monday, ready to tackle the week.

By taking all of these factors into account, you will fast become a master of your sleep routine. In turn, you will experience immense boosts to your mood, energy levels and decision-making abilities. So, when the sun does down tonight, think – is this Netflix show you are watching something that you would wake up early for? If the answer is no, go to sleep.

If you are not willing to wake up for it, why would you stay awake for it?

Exercise Throughout the Day

It is healthy for your body and muscles to exercise throughout the day and can lead to a better sleep quality at night. In general, performing at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercises such as walking or taking a light jog has been determined to improve the amount of deep sleep your body is able to achieve at night. Getting enough deep sleep is critical for your body and brain to recover and re-energize for the next day. 

Depending on how your body reacts to exercise, you may need to plan your workout at least one to two hours before your bedtime to avoid being kept awake by the endorphins that exercise releases within you. Some people will find this scheduling necessary while others will be unaffected by the time of day in which they work out. 

Exercise also has a similar effect on the body as warm showers do, encouraging a natural cooldown around 60-90 minutes post-workout. This slight decrease in body temperature can help signal to the brain that it is time to shut down and drift off, making evening exercise quite valuable. 

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Eating To Sleep

The importance of avoiding high-sugar foods and drinks such as chocolate and coffee are mentioned above, but what about the foods you should eat? Your diet plays a huge role in your overall health, including the quality of your sleep. Read on to discover which foods will help make sure you achieve a good night’s sleep and which foods will only lead to poor sleep. 

Foods for Better Sleep

There is a selection of foods and drinks found to contribute to healthy sleep in certain individuals. These include nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables like kiwis and tart cherries and protein-rich foods such as fish and eggs. 

Other helpful foods and drinks include certain milk, nuts, seeds, and rice. Switching out your pasta for rice, for example, can provide you with a little extra edge so you can maximize your sleep time. 

Everyone’s body reacts differently to different foods, so try some of these out and see which ones work best for you. In general, well-balanced meals high in fruits and vegetables will help provide you with vitamins and minerals that can help you get quality sleep. 

Foods to Avoid

In terms of foods to avoid, as mentioned above, sugary beverages and snacks will only give you energy and encourage you to stay up longer, so try to avoid those before bed as much as possible. It can also help to limit your alcohol consumption, as alcohol can disrupt your sleep patterns. 

Eating right before bed, especially if you are consuming spicy or fatty foods, is also not the best idea and can increase the amount of time it takes for you to fall asleep since your body will still be digesting. Your digestion can be aided even further if you make your dinner the lightest meal of the day and try to have it at least three hours before your bedtime. 

Try To Avoid Restlessness

What happens when you try to fall asleep, but it doesn’t work? If you haven’t yet developed a healthy sleeping schedule, you might lay awake for long periods trying to fall asleep. You’ve probably heard of the counting sheep method, which is designed to quiet your mind, but you can actually prepare yourself better for a good night’s rest if you get up and stimulate your brain before trying to sleep again. 

It seems counterintuitive, but the alternative is lying in bed, tossing and turning uncomfortably for who knows how long until you finally drift off. You don’t want your brain to begin to associate your bed with discomfort and frustration, so getting up after around 20 minutes of trying to sleep and performing a relaxing activity can be of great help. 

Good activities for when this occurs include low light reading, taking a warm bath, meditating to white noise, drawing, stretching, or anything else that doesn’t require bright lights, dramatic movement, or electronics. You want to encourage your brain to slowly relax so when you return to bed, you are more tired and ready to fall asleep. Calming activities will help to lower your heart rate and help you achieve as much deep sleep as necessary.

It can also be helpful to reserve your bed for sleeping only and withhold from using it as a reading chair or to enjoy some other leisurely activity. This is another way to encourage the mental association between you and your bed to be one of purely good sleep. 

In Conclusion

Following these tips and tricks will not magically change your quality of sleep overnight; it is important that once you develop your healthy bedtime routine, you stick to it as closely as possible to make sure your body will feel the effects. 

Better sleep can lead to a better life both mentally and physically, so give sleep the attention it deserves and set yourself up for as much success as possible. 



The Best Temperature for Sleep: Advice & Tips

Exercising for Better Sleep | Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The Best Foods To Help You Sleep | Sleep Foundation

Healthy Habits for a Better Night’s Sleep

20 Tips for How to Sleep Better | Sleep Foundation