There is no doubt about it, a good night’s sleep is energising, de-stressing and has a really positive impact on mental health and wellbeing.
However, many of us don’t seem to get enough sleep, especially later on in life. There are of course the lucky ones who seem to be able to sleep through thunder storms, even when they are super stressed, while others wake at the slightest pin drop or the tiniest flutter of anxiety.
How can we sleep better when it’s less than restorative?
There are the occasions when I find myself waking in the early hours of the morning, especially during stressful times. This has prompted me to reach out to the sleep experts who have been there, tried that and even gone to bed with the T-shirt!
Craft a Pre-Bed Routine
This may sound obvious but allowing the body to relax really does help promote a good night’s sleep.
The NHS have published an article that really shines a light on the importance of winding down in the evening and share the following tips that are a real knock-out:
- Have a deep relaxing bath. If you can indulge in some relaxing aromatherapy bath oils, even better. However, if you do get toasty at night, reduce the temperature of the bath water.
- Do some relaxation exercises, like yoga stretches, but definitely nothing too vigorous. As yoga is so effective for combating stress and ironing out creases in the mind, the NHS have written a really comprehensive guide for beginners which can be found HERE.
- It is said that sleep is like a cat; it’ll only come to you if you ignore it! If you need to distract your mind the NHS recommend that you try listening to relaxing music, reading a book or listening to the radio.
- Try a sleep app. There are some great free sleep apps that are designed to help you fall asleep fast.
- Check out the NHS’s metal wellbeing audio guides page and scroll down to the third guide on the page where you can listen to Dr Chris Williams discussing common barriers to a good night’s rest and what you can do to create a perfect sleep environment.
Melatonin: the dark side of the hormone
Did you know that darkness stimulates the production of melatonin (our sleep hormone)?
According to an article published by the BBC, even artificial light in our homes can suppress the production of melatonin. This includes very small light sources like little standby lights on our TVs. Only when the body is submerged in complete darkness will it produce melatonin, which doesn’t just help you drift off but also regulates sleep.
So no smart phones, tablets or electronic devices before bed. Switch off all standby lights where you sleep and put gaffer tape over the little orange light that tells you that a plug is working.
Create a Sleep-inducing Bedroom
The Sleep Foundation have recently published an article that emphasises the importance of creating a relaxing environment in your place of sleep. The focus needs to be on maximizing comfort and minimizing distractions, they share the following tips.
Invest in a high-quality mattress and pillow: A quality mattress is vital to making sure that you are comfortable enough to be able to relax. It also ensures, along with your pillow, that your spine gets proper support to avoid aches.
Opt for Quality Bedding: Your sheets and blankets can make your bed feel inviting. It should feel comfortable to the touch and help maintain a comfortable temperature during the night.
Create Peace and Quiet: Keeping noise to a minimum is an important part of building a sleep-positive bedroom. If you can’t eliminate nearby sources of noise, consider drowning them out with a fan or white noise machine. Earplugs or headphones are another option to stop abrasive sounds from bothering you when you want to sleep.
Find an Ideal Temperature: You don’t want to be feeling too hot or too cold. The ideal temperature can vary based on the individual, but most research supports sleeping in a cooler room that is around 65 degrees.
Introduce Pleasant Aromas: A light scent that you find calming can help ease you into sleep. Essential oils with natural aromas, such as lavender, can help create a soothing atmosphere.
If you do get toasty at night, check out linen
According to the Sleep Foundation there is effective cooling bedding available that has a remarkably cooling effect, especially linen. When temperatures are soaring linen will always be cool to the touch. Just having the linen pillowcases will do the trick.
Alternatively, a very simple trick is to flip over your pillow case at night, the underside will always be cooler. I thought I was one of few people who does this but it’s so popular that there is an entire facebook community group called “I flip my pillow over to get the cold side” with thousands of followers!
Natural Sleep Regime
According to the late Psychiatrist Dr David Servan-Schreiber, a natural sleep regime is more effective than medication at restoring sound sleep structures back to what they used to be. He advocates:
- Going to bed at the same time every single night, even at the weekend, but then wake up two hours earlier than usual.
- Avoid naps of more than 30 minutes during the day
- If you wake, just do something relaxing for an hour, like reading a book, before you go back to bed.
- It may take a few weeks before continuous sleep is re-established. Once normal sleep resumes, increase the time you sleep by 15 minutes every three days until you are back to the usual amount.
If you need more ideas, you can get help and advice from your GP.
The sleepstation website also provides a range of useful articles and resources designed to aid sleep.
You should also contact your GP if you have insomnia that lasts for more than 4 weeks.