Sleep plays a vital role in maintaining mental and physical wellbeing. The National Sleep Foundation advise that adults get 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night, however this can vary between individuals. We all know what it feels like when you’ve not had enough sleep though, and over time fatigue can weigh us down physically, mentally and emotionally.
As it's World Sleep Day, we have put together a list of tips to help you get a good night’s sleep.
Bear in mind that different things work for different people – for example, some of these tips won’t be applicable to you if you work night shifts, have a newborn baby, or have a sleep disorder. Try what you can, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself to try things you aren’t comfortable with. If something isn’t working for you, you can try something else or come back to it another time.
Establish a routine
Try going to bed at the same time every day. Choose a time when you’re likely to feel sleepy, or if choosing a set time isn’t possible, try going to bed only when you feel ready to sleep. Regularity is important for stabilizing your internal biological clock. Similarly, try and wake up at the same time every day - even at the weekends. It’s more difficult for your body to get used to a healthy sleep routing if you wake up at a different time each day.
Try to avoid having naps during the day, even if you are tired. If you really need a rest, then try to keep it to no more than 20 minutes.
Physical exercise uses up energy and is an effective way to help you sleep at night. Not only that, it helps relieve any tension or stress that your body is carrying and can help relax your mind. Avoid doing rigorous exercise too late in the evenings though, such as running or going to the gym, as this will boost your energy and have the opposite effect.
If the word exercise fills you with dread, try going for a brisk walk (which will help you with exposure to natural light at the same time!).
Our internal clocks are regulated by exposure to natural light – this is one of the reasons why you might have found it difficult to sleep during Covid lockdowns when you weren’t going outside as much.
Getting outside, or even just opening the blinds or windows to let in bright natural light, will help your circadian rhythm stay healthy – especially if you can get your dose of daylight earlier in the day.
Food & drink
The food and drink you consume can also have an effect on your sleep. Avoid eating heavy meals too late at night, especially foods that have high levels of sugar or spice.
Think about reducing your intake of stimulants as well. It can be difficult to wean off caffeine, (especially when you’re tired from not sleeping!), but try and avoid drinking caffeine after 4pm. Similarly, try and reduce smoking in the evenings and reducing alcohol consumption. Despite alcohol being a sedative which can help you fall asleep, it will cause more disruption to your sleep throughout the night.
Prepare your sleep space
Your bedroom should be a peaceful place for rest, so make sure that you reserve your bed for sleeping. As tempting as it can be to watch TV or spend time on your phone from your bed, you want to create a mental association between your bed and sleep.
Make your bedroom a calm environment for sleeping. There are many ways to do this, with different methods working for different people, but do whatever makes you feel cosey. Here are a few ideas:
- Limiting noise. Try wearing ear plugs and removing TVs or electronic devices from your bedroom. If you can’t sleep in silence, try listening to gentle music, nature sounds or the radio.
- Comfortable temperatures, especially cooler temperatures, work best.
- Limiting light. Try darker curtains or wearing an eye mask.
- Keeping pets in another room if they often disturb you during the night.
Get ready for sleep
Use 30 minutes before going to bed to wind down and relax your mind. There are lots of ways to do this:
- Having a bath or shower can help clear your head - try visualising the water washing away your worries.
- Keep a pen and paper next to your bed, so if something pops into your head you can write it down and forget it about it until tomorrow.
- Avoid screen time 30 minutes before going to bed. The brightness from the screen suppresses your body’s production of melatonin – a hormone that helps sleep.
- Lower the lights. Creating a cosy atmosphere with lamps or candles can help you relax, and also encourages melatonin production.
- Essential oils with light scents such as lavender can help soothe and ease you into sleep. You can buy these in small bottles and all you need to do is put a couple drops onto your pillow or in your bath.
- Quiet activities such as reading, gentle stretching or listening to soothing music can help you get into the right frame of mind for sleeping.
Exercises like these not only help you unwind, but also give you time to let go of today and get ready for tomorrow – this prevents you lying in bed thinking about everything you need to do the next day.
Make sleep a priority
Remember what works for one person might not work for someone else, so you might need to try a few different approaches to see what works best for you. This might take time, but the important thing is to gradually find a way to make sleep a priority in your daily routine.
If you still cannot sleep, try to not lie there worrying about it. The best thing to do is get up and do something relaxing (in low light, rather than putting the bright lights on), and if you can, avoid checking the time as you do this.
If you are consistently having problems with your sleep and it’s beginning to affect your daily life, make an appointment to see your GP.