The importance of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated. A good night’s sleep will let us waken to a day filled with energy, mental alertness and optimism. But according to a new report on sleep, published by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation and aimed at raising awareness of the importance of sleep:
“Nearly a third of the population are suffering from insomnia which is affecting their health.”
Many of us, it seems, spend our night tossing and turning and never fully resting. So what can we do? The current advice is to try taking simple steps towards changing our behaviour such as sticking to a regular bedtime, winding down as you go through the evening, staying away from stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol late in the day, and keeping your bedroom at a comfortable temperature.
So let’s look at these suggestions – and a few others – in more detail…
1: Try going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day
Most of us have a vague idea of what is meant when we speak of our internal clock or body clock –this article explains it far better than we can: Your Body’s Internal Clock and How It Affects Your Overall Health
But what is clear is that our body clock is critical to our overall health and mental wellbeing and we should all aim to fit our sleeping to the same pattern as our internal clock. We should also try to keep to this even on the weekend, a day off, or holidays. No long lies then; and no disrupting of the body clock by staying up late and pushing on beyond the point of collapse.
If we need to make up for the (occasional, understandable, don’t judge me) late night, then we should take a nap during the day. But be smart about it and keep the nap to 10-20 mins and preferably in the early afternoon.
And definitely do not fall asleep on the couch while watching TV…As if we would?
There are lots of ways we can stay awake until our bedtime. My favourites include organising my sock drawer, playing a game of “find the cat” (she changes her favourite hiding place at least twice daily) and that old favourite, washing my hair. But you may enjoy other more productive activities.
The point is: do not give in to the drowsiness or we may struggle to sleep at night.
2: Make like you’re Dracula…NOT!
The Count was all about keeping out of the daylight (and living it up at night). But for the mortals among us that is not the pattern to aspire to. During the daytime (when it’s light) our body knows to create only a small amount of the hormone known as melatonin, which means we stay awake and alert and bright eyed.
When it is dark the melatonin kicks into gear and production levels go up and we become sleepy. So it makes sense to keep things dark at night but that does not mean pre-industrial age “can I borrow your candle to light my way” darkness. We can put the lights on but at the least we should aim to:
- Steer clear of using tablets, mobiles, laptops, and TV in bed at least two hours before bedtime
- In fact, it’s not such a bad idea to stop watching TV all together (personally, I haven’t watched a second since they stopped showing Frasier), but certainly we should cut back on the late night TV watching whether from our bed or couch. Together, we can awaken the world to the wonders of books, radio and podcasts…
- When it’s lights-out time keep the room dark by using black-out blinds or wearing a roguishly stylish eye mask
- If we get up during the night use a Get Up In The Night Light or another dim nightlight. The objective is to have enough light to avoid stubbing a toe but not so much that we can’t get back to sleep.
3: Locate your inner gym rat or cardio bunny
Regular exercise = better sleep – FACT!
Point made, move on…..
Well, yes, but it is worth lingering a moment and emphasising that exercise does not mean having to be ribbed, shredded or jacked (no idea what these are…could be three ways of preparing sweet potatoes). A simple daily 10 minute walk can do just fine. And if we are patient and slowly grow the length and intensity, then we will notice a measurable improvement in our sleep quality.
4: Neither a gourmand nor a gourmet be
We definitely don’t want to eat the equivalent of the weight of a small car each day (even an electric car or hybrid, which surely qualifies as an mitigating factor). But equally the world of exotic eating is not a daily habit to aspire to especially when it the food is extra rich, spicy and acidic. Our eating habits play a role in how well we sleep – especially as we head towards bedtime – so it makes sense to keep it light and eat earlier in the evening.
Here’s what else we should not do close to bedtime!
- No caffeine
- No smoking
- No alcohol
- Not too much drinking of anything (unless you enjoy frequent bathroom trips throughout the night)
- No sugary foods and refined carbs at any point
5: Learn ways to get back to sleep
It’s normal to wake briefly during the night but what if we can’t get back to sleep? Here are some tips:
- Don’t freak – last thing we want is to start worrying about not sleeping. Here’s a helpful guide to the best breathing techniques to help us sleep 5 Breathing Techniques To Help You Drift Off
- Try to relax, not to sleep – try a relaxation technique such as visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation, which can be done without even getting out of bed. Even though it’s not a replacement for sleep, relaxation can still help rejuvenate your body
- Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity – If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, get out of bed and do a quiet, non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens so as not to cue your body that it’s time to wake up
- Postpone worrying and brainstorming.If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when it will be easier to resolve. Similarly, if a great idea is keeping you awake, make a note of it on paper and fall back to sleep knowing you’ll be much more productive after a good night’s rest.
Further tips and information available from The Sleep Council. You might also find the article titled Sleep problems in the UK highlighted of help.