Sleep is essential to our wellbeing, yet many of us struggle with insomnia or disrupted sleep. Whether unable to fall asleep or waking in the early hours, bad nights can wreak havoc with our health and happiness. So, we’ve got some tips that will help you tackle the issues head on, and hopefully get some proper, restorative ZZZZZZs.
First, the science bit. When we are asleep our brain activity changes, our heart rate drops and our core body temperature reduces. Our circadian rhythm, or body clock, is what controls our sleep patterns and is regulated by hormones, tryptophan and melatonin. If all is well, we go through three stages of non-REM sleep and then fall into one stage of deeper REM sleep (which is when we dream). A full cycle of these stages lasts about 1.5 hours and we need to complete a cycle to benefit properly from the sleep. Ideally, we should have 5 or 6 of these cycles in a night.
Disruption to this pattern – by small children, travel, shift work or insomnia – can have a serious impact on our health. Studies have revealed connections between poor sleep and cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression. But don’t despair, here’s what you can do to help yourself get a good night’s sleep:
Your bedroom reflects the state of your mind, so keep it tidy, free from clutter and quiet. Avoid having screens in your bedroom if possible – the display lights suppress melatonin and disrupt your sleep. So no more peeking at your phone under the covers. Blackout blinds and sleep masks can help keep out even the smallest chink of light, and try to avoid disruptive lights from clocks. Open the window as far as is safe and comfortable to keep the room ventilated and the temperature cool.
Say goodbye to long lazy lie-ins! Although they seem tempting, they can actually have an adverse effect on your sleep in the following days. Remember the ‘Monday hangover’? – too much sleep at the weekend. Keep sleeping hours regular. Try to establish a bedtime routine: a bath, a foot rub and a good book perhaps. Whatever helps you relax and slow down.
We spend a huge portion of our lives in bed, so it’s vital that yours is as comfortable as possible. Choose a good quality mattress that gives support but also molds to the shape of your body. A mattress made from natural fibres will stop you getting too hot, and Smart Fibres have been developed to prevent dust mite allergies. Don’t scrimp on bedlinen either – natural fibres here will also regulate your body temperature, and linen in particular is amazing for staying cosy in winter and cool in summer. Make your bed feel like an oasis of luxury and peace with some sumptuous sheets and duvet covers. Regular (once a week is ideal) washing at the highest temperature possible (check the care instructions) will keep your linen clean and free from dust mites.
4. Food & Drink
Despite the fact that alcohol can help us nod off, it is actually a hindrance to a good night’s sleep. The quality of our sleep is often disrupted, and we get dehydrated. Food and drink containing caffeine should also be kept for the early part of the day and avoided in the evening. Whilst it is preferable to leave a few hours between eating and going to bed, some foods can increase our levels of tryptophan and therefore help us sleep. Replicate that post-Christmas or Thanksgiving stupour by having a turkey sandwich, or snack on a bowl of pumpkin seeds and yoghurt – what’s important is the combination of tryptophan-rich proteins and carbs.
Not only does regular exercise keep us healthy, it can help us feel less anxious and also reduces our body temperature, which signals that it’s time for sleep. Make sure you exercise at least 3 hours before bed to benefit from the drop in body temperature.
6. Coping with stress
The nighttime can be the time when all our concerns and fears crowd to the fore, leaving us sleepless and stressed. Anxiety can seriously affect our sleep patterns, and often the worry about not sleeping become self-fulfilling. Break this cycle by trying to deal with any concerns during the day – speak to a friend (or a professional if you need more help), write a list of things that are worrying you, tackle problems head on rather than pushing them to one side. You could allot a certain time, say 6-6.30pm as ‘worry time’ to make sure things don’t spill over into the night. Try meditation apps or relaxation CDs to develop new techniques to help you unwind and get to sleep. If you can’t sleep after 20 minutes of trying, get out of bed and sit quietly in another, darkened, room until you feel drowsy. Return to your bed, and see if sleep comes more easily.
Here’s wishing you hours of peaceful slumber and tranquil sleep. If you don’t mind just switching off the light after you go? Thanks.