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Can’t fall asleep? How to create the perfect sleep environment

WATCH: Five ways to create the perfect sleep environment

Canadians are not getting enough sleep — and we really need it.

“We are a chronically sleep-deprived society,” Alanna McGinn, the owner of Good Night Sleep Site, told Global News. “It really is a growing concern.”

Data shows that about one in four Canadians are dissatisfied with the quality of their sleep, and an even greater proportion of us have problems getting to bed.

According to a recent government report, 43 per cent of men and 55 per cent of women between the ages of 18 and 64 say they have trouble going to sleep or staying asleep sometimes, most, or all of the time. Experts say that stress, technology use and not going to bed early enough, are all playing a role.

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This lack of sleep has serious consequences on our well-being, as sleep deprivation is associated with heart disease, diabetes and depression.

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So what helps us hit the hay? Here, sleep experts share their tips on how to create a positive sleep environment that will foster quality rest.

Turn off technology

Many of us like to “unwind” by watching TV before bed, or have a tendency to stream shows on our laptops while tucked in.

But according to Dr. Reut Gruber, a sleep researcher and associate professor in the department of psychiatry at McGill University, using gadgets before bedtime is hurting us.

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Gruber said that devices like laptops and phones put us in a state of “hyper-arousal,” which makes it hard for our bodies to prepare for sleep. Checking our emails before bed is a bad idea, too, as this may increase our anxiety — which is also a sleep killer.

Then there’s the light that devices omit.

“The light from our devices is really harmful,” said Beth Wyatt, a GTA-based insomnia coach. “Staring at those devices all day and all night is really not helpful in transitioning into a peaceful slumber.”

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Research shows that light affects our internal clocks (or circadian rhythm), as exposure to light may suppress the production of melatonin — a hormone that helps us sleep.

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To combat this, experts say it’s important to avoid bringing devices into the bedroom. If you use your phone as your alarm, keep it on silent and face down so no alerts can wake you.

Fabrics matter

Our body temperatures can affect how well we sleep, Gruber said, and running too hot in the night may wake us.

McGinn said that cotton bedding or other breathable fabrics are best for sleeping, as microfibers — like fleece or plush — keep heat in.

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What you wear to bed can also play a role in how well you sleep.

McGinn said pyjama styles are a personal choice, and knowing how hot or cold you get in the night can help you pick out the right pair.

“If you’re a person who tends to sleep hot, you really want to focus on natural fibres that are going to help with perspiration,” McGinn said.

“A lot of people think if they’re hot, it’s better to sleep in nothing, but what tends to happen is they end up sweating into their sheets and being in wetness — which isn’t comfortable.”

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Dark, cool and quiet

The spring and summer months bring more hours of light — which is great for waking up but not so great for falling asleep.

Experts say your bedroom should be cool and dark, as both help promote rest.

“When you turn out the lights and cover the windows at night, it should be pitch black,” Wyatt said. “Even the smallest light can affect our sleep.”

She suggests black-out curtains and adjustable lighting. “Choose light bulbs that have a soft, warm glow to them instead of bright, fluorescent blue,” she added.

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If you’re someone who is bothered by noise, you may want to try a white noise machine, McGinn said. Or, in the warmer months, running a fan to help regulate temperature and noise.

“I find mornings are a lot louder in the spring and summer — birds are louder and chattier — so fans will help drown out those external sounds,” she explained.

Keep your bedroom clean

A cluttered room is not a sleep-positive room, experts say.

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Gruber said your room should be “clear of anything that’s stimulating.” Research shows that clutter and mess can cause stress, and stress can hinder sleep.

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“An uncluttered, clean space is key,” Wyatt said. “When you’re looking out from your bed at all the things you need to get rid of, it’s not helpful.”

McGinn said it’s also important to keep our bedroom spaces for sleeping and sex only. The goal, she said, is to create a “sleep sanctuary” that promotes rest — not work.

“Our bedrooms can become our home office, our entertainment centre, our kids’ playroom … and we really want to work on strengthening that positive association between sleep and our bed,” McGinn said.

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Keep a sleep schedule

Going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time fosters quality sleep, McGinn said.

Getting the right quantity of sleep — which is typically between seven to eight hours — is also key. “We really should be basing our bedtime off of our wake time, because when we wake in the morning is really dictated by our lifestyles,” McGinn said.

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This is especially important in the summer, McGinn said, as we often stay up later and get less sleep when the sun is out longer. “We all tend to go into the fall really sleep deprived.”

“Following consistently sleep patterns during the summer months can really help us start the new fall year better rested.”

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca