There are times in life when you don’t expect a good night’s sleep – a new baby in the house, a stressful day at work, changes in shift pattern. Poor sleep can also be an indicator of, and contribute to, commonly experienced mental health issues such as low mood and anxiety.
What then, is a good night’s sleep? Eight hours then waking up feeling refreshed and raring to go seems to be the goal. In actual fact, that may be unrealistic. For a start, people have different body clocks – the human body clock ticks on a 24 hour basis – night owls over-run a little, whilst early risers run shorter. Some people also just simply find that they can run on less sleep, and others feel better with more. Our sleep requirements also change over our lifetime – the older we get the less sleep we need, whilst babies and teenagers need lots of rest.
The idea of a single block of sleep is also thought to be a pretty new one – many historical references suggest that we used to sleep in two four hour segments, separated by a “waking hour”. Often the first sleep was shallow, and referred to as “Beauty Sleep”, while the second sleep was more restorative. Some studies suggest that people revert to a segmented sleep pattern when the trappings of modern life such as artificial lighting and caffeine are withdrawn.
Unfortunately though, we do live in a modern world where we can’t always have the amount of sleep we want. There are definitely some things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep – bear in mind that changes take time though!
- Take care with your caffeine intake too close to bed, and likewise, spicy or large foods too close to bedtime can be disruptive to sleep.
- Try to have a bedtime routine, featuring relaxing activities such as a warm bath (the changes in your body temperature after bathing trigger sleepiness).
- Your bedroom should ideally be a place where you sleep – try to restrict working in there, watching TV etc, as this can create different associations with your bedroom as being a stressful environment.
- Try to go to bed and get up at around the same time each day. This can be difficult for shift workers, but you can give or take a couple of hours.
- Try to avoid stress just prior to bedtime – feeling emotional after a row with your partner will not aid sleep.
- Reduce noise disturbance during the night as much as possible – turn your phone onto silent, and if your partner snores, encourage them to sleep on their side, and maybe try to go to bed a little before them so you have time to settle.
- On the subject of snoring – if you snore or your partner does, then it’s well worth going to the GP in case it’s sleep apnoea.
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine and other drugs too close to bedtime – while they might make you feel sleepy, chances are your sleep quality will be poor so you won’t feel refreshed when you wake up.
- Try to avoid napping during the day – however tempting, it just makes you feel more awake at night and the problem just continues.
- If you wake up in the middle of the night, and find you can’t get back to sleep after half an hour or so, try getting up for a while and doing something to take your mind off the maddening feeling of not being able to sleep and watching the time tick by. Chances are, you’ll start to feel tired and be able to go back to sleep.
- If specific worries are keeping you awake, try having a notepad near your bed, to jot down your worries or your to-do list – they’ll still be there the next day, you’ll just hopefully feel more able to deal with them.
- Make sure your room is cool and dark, and that your bed is comfy and warm – black out blinds and sleep masks can help. Remember to keep an eye on mattresses and pillows in case they need replacing.
- Exercise can aid sleep but avoid anything too vigorous late in the day. Yoga or more relaxing activities can be more helpful.
- Search for podcasts and apps which promote relaxation and sleep – some of them work really well. You could also try white noise apps!
- Often it’s easy to see prescription sleep aids ambien as an easy solution to the problem, but try to bear in mind that these should be a last ditch and very short term measure – sleeping pills can create dependence, and ultimately make the problem worse.
Try not to get too hung up over everything being perfect though – sleep should be relaxing, not just another thing to stress over – if you’re sleeping fine after an espresso and watching a horror flick, more power to you!
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