7 Ways to Improve Your Sleep
Updated: Sep 18, 2020
It's 1:43am. You're looking at the clock again and ticking off the time you have left before you have to drag yourself out of bed and start your day. You lie back on your pillow
e x h a u s t e d, and willing yourself to. Go. To. Sleep. Dreading the alarm going off, you cringe thinking about the day ahead and the energy it will take to get through it. Your mind alerts you to all that is expected of you tomorrow; the list of things to do for work, entertaining the kids, visiting family or friends, walking the dog, a big meeting, a long drive, chores…
A good night’s sleep evades us all at some point, but when it’s a regular thing the effects can really impact us.
What gets in the way of a good night’s sleep?
There are a variety of reasons why we may experience poor sleep, however, stress and anxiety feature frequently among us. If we experience something traumatic, this too may disrupt previously healthy sleep patterns. Another reason may be that when we do sleep, we experience nightmares, night terrors, sleep walking (parasomnias) or sleep paralysis and so we may also experience further anxiety regarding our sleep. Limiting, reducing, or disrupting sleep does not help us avoid these distressing experiences, it makes them worse, and can often making parasomnias more frequent. While parasomnias are upsetting, they are not harmful and will pass. It can be helpful to say this aloud if you are woken in this way.
Why is sleep so important?
The NHS report that 1 in 3 of us regularly experience poor sleep. We all know that a sleepless night affects our mood and ability to focus as well as:
Excessive daytime tiredness
Fatigue / Tiredness / Falling asleep during waking hours
Difficulty learning new concepts
Lack of motivation
Inability to concentrate or ‘a fuzzy head’
Increased appetite and carbohydrate cravings
Reduced sex drive
Increased worry / Anxiety
Feeling down / Low mood / Depression
Poor sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of accidents and injury, especially if you drive or operate machinery. Consistently poor sleep also heightens health problems and even reduce your life expectancy. So a good night’s sleep may be a matter of life or death – well that’s quite extreme, but a good night's sleep definitely reduces the risks of serious health conditions, helps improve our emotional and mental health, increases our general health and well-being, and potentially helps us live for longer.
How much sleep do we need?
As adults, many of us need between 6-9 hours good quality sleep to feel at our best and function properly. This varies though, some of us need more and some less. Not sure how much sleep you need? If you wake up tired and often feel like you could do with a nap or two, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Monitor your hours of sleep, and compare it with how you’re feeling, if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms aim for more sleep. When the symptoms subside, you are probably better meeting your needs.
Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
With busy lifestyles, or more recently restricted lifestyles, during lock-down and the Covid-19 pandemic, we can lose the habit of knowing how to fall asleep. These 7 tips will help get you back on track, helping you get a good night’s sleep:
Having a regular bedtime routine can really help you wind down and prepare for a successful night’s sleep. Your routine will depend on what works for you, after all, we’re all different, so finding what works - and sticking to it, is the key to success.
Unless you work shifts, do your best to stick to a consistent routine and sleep at regular times that suit you. This includes going to bed and getting up at the same time, every single day, regardless of whether it’s the weekend or not. If you have a rough night, this can be really challenging, as you may be tempted to try and catch up on sleep, but this can interfere and disrupt your sleep pattern even more.
During the lighter months of the year, getting up with the sun can help reset your body clock more naturally. Think about how you want your mornings to be, do you get up and pretty much go straight to work, or do you prefer a more leisurely start? Consider your other needs to start the day well, then you can work out what time you need to get up. As most adults need between 6-9 hours sleep, you can then work out what time you aim to be asleep for.
Before you even think about sleep, is your bedroom a relaxing space and set up for a restful night’s sleep? Do your curtains or blinds keep the room dark? Darkness signals that it is time to sleep. TV’s, phones, and other electronic devices emit blue light which keeps us awake for longer – it’s best to avoid for at least an hour before bedtime. If you find you are constantly checking your phone both before sleep and throughout the night, try leaving it in another room. If you rely on it as an alarm, you can pick up a cheap alarm clock that will distract you much less. Do you remember Goldilocks? Your room temperature doesn’t want to be too hot or too cold. What temperature do you prefer? Do you like your room to be warmer so you can have your arms out, or a bit cooler so you can snuggle down? Experts suggest 17-18°C as the ideal.
Are your surroundings quiet? Would earplugs help reduce any noise? Is your bedroom tidy? It doesn’t necessarily need to be of hotel standard, but if you’ve got stuff everywhere and you can’t remember what colour carpet you have, then chances are you’re probably more likely to struggle feeling calm or relaxed, and ready for sleep. Is your bed comfortable? If not, it might be time to invest in a new mattress. Clean, freshly washed bedding makes your bed a more inviting place to rest too.
If you have a desk set up in your bedroom, a room divider screen will help separate your work or study space. This helps keep the main part of your bedroom just for sleep and prevents you from laying in bed staring at the pile of stuff sat on your desk that's waiting for you to tackle - who needs that kind of constant reminder?!
When preparing for sleep, it’s important to include different ways to wind down and relax that suit you. There are many to choose from, here’s a few suggestions:
If you have a lot on your mind, write a to do list to help clear your head, it also gives you a break from trying to remember everything. I personally like using post-it notes on a sheet of A4, it’s easy to add, and remove items, without frequently needing to re-write new lists.
Listening to a guided meditation session can help to relax your mind and body. Many offer a gentle voice and soft background music, which can feel really soothing, particularly after a busy. There are lots of free ones to choose from online, I prefer trying some on YouTube to find the ones I particularly like.
If meditation is not for you, listening to music you find relaxing can also have a calming effect, helping you wind down.
There’s also relaxation exercises you can try, nothing vigorous as this usually increases our alertness, so some simple, gentle stretches, to help release tension and relax your muscles.
Reading a little or listening to an audio book can help tire your eyes and distract busy minds. Choose something that’s not too exciting though as you’ll likely want to keep reading until the end! Soft lighting will help signal to the body that night-time is approaching.
A warm bath – not hot, will relax your muscles and help your body reach its ideal temperature for rest. You may want to add some bubbles for some added self-care and pampering.
Aromatherapy fragrances such as lavender are also reported to help relaxation.
Darkness signals to our brain that it is time to sleep so if you are using a device early evening, try changing the light setting to night-time as it emits less blue light. Close curtains and blinds to make your bedroom as dark – and cosy, as possible. Blackout lining for your curtains are great for this. A simpler solution could be to use an eye mask.
Sex (or masturbation) also makes us feel sleepy.
You could also try any number of apps designed to help with sleep.
Whilst I’m not a nutritionist, it makes sense to avoid energy drinks and coffee for a good few hours before sleep, as they contain higher levels of the stimulant, caffeine, which will keep you awake for longer. Alcohol also has an affect so if you are planning to drink alcohol, the further away from bedtime the better. If you exceed the recommended daily limits, waking up refreshed is less likely to happen too. Try not to eat before going to bed either, As we're not preparing to go into hibernation, for us, food is fuel to give us energy, so eating signals to the brain to be awake. Your body will be also busy trying to digest the food you have eaten. This can cause you to feel bloated and uncomfortable, making it even more difficult to get to sleep.
Watching box-sets all day every day isn’t going to help us feel tired at bedtime. Doing something active like a walk outdoors or a bike ride earlier on in the day, will leave us feeling sleepier later in the day. Being outdoors brings many other benefits too, so many that I’d need to write another blog-post!
Do you frequently have a lot on your mind that interferes with your sleep? Talking things through with a qualified counsellor can help. If you would like some support, please contact me to arrange a free, no obligation consultation. If there seems to be no rhyme or reason for your sleeplessness, you may want to start keeping a sleep diary. A sleep diary can help reveal things that may be contributing to your sleeplessness and could help identify any patterns.
So, with a third of us regularly experiencing poor sleep, and feeling worse for it, there’s lots of things we can do to help us have a good night's sleep. Creating a sleep friendly bedroom and establishing a bedtime routine, with consistent times for sleeping and waking, helps tremendously. Decide what helps you wind down and relax. Make it a part of your bedtime routine. Consider what you’re eating and drinking and whether this is helpful or, if an alternative could be more suitable. Don't forget the benefits of getting out in the fresh air and doing some exercise. Keeping a sleep diary will help monitor your sleep patterns and can highlight things that you may not have previously noticed. Consistent practice is key. Explore what works for you.
If you'd like some space to talk, contact me to book a call.
firstname.lastname@example.org / Kay Bingham 07908874708