At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced a poor night’s sleep; tossing and turning, struggling to drift off or you wake up in the night and no matter what you try, you can’t get back to sleep. One thing’s for sure, you get up in the morning feeling like you haven’t slept a wink! According to the NHS, as many as 1 in 3 of us suffer from poor sleep, with work, stress and our electronic devices often being blamed.
Our busy lifestyles and even busier minds have meant that on average, we’re getting between 5.78 and 6.83 hours of sleep per night, which falls short of the recommended 8 hours. Failing to get enough sleep regularly has a negative impact on both our physical and mental health, which over time can make us feel pretty low.
You might have found that over the past couple of months your regular sleeping pattern has changed, you’ve been having trouble sleeping or you’re just generally feeling more tired. You’re not alone. Since the arrival of COVID-19 and lockdown measures, people are suffering with sleep problems more than before. Some people are suffering more with stress and anxiety, and for others, the complete disruption to their daily routine is to blame. If you’ve been furloughed, your sleeping pattern may have completely changed; late nights and lay-ins sound familiar? For those who have been working from home, that extra time in the bed in the morning will have had an impact on your sleep too.
Whether you’ve been struggling to get a good night’s sleep for a while, or it’s worsened during lockdown, the tips in this post are designed to help you out.
Creating a routine for bedtime, and sticking to it can be really beneficial if you’re struggling to sleep. Not only can include actions that are proven to help you sleep better, but your mind will begin to recognise what’s part of your bedtime routine, preparing your mental state for relaxation and sleep. This is because our bodies follow a circadian rhythm, where our physical, mental and behavioural states follow a daily cycle that relies on consistency. We get used to doing things at the same time every day, and this includes our sleep.
A key part of creating an effective routine is going to bed and waking up around the same time each day – including weekends! What else you decide to include in your bedtime routine is up to you, and depends on what relaxes you best. Some ideas you could use as part of your routine include:
You’ve probably heard numerous times to avoid going on your phone before bed, but why is that? Our devices emit artificial blue light, and due to their short but powerful wavelengths, they increase our alertness and mental sharpness. This can be beneficial at times, but not when we’re trying to wind down and go to sleep. A few hours before bedtime, start to limit your screen time, and try not to use devices at all 1 hour before bed. Look at switching your phone to night mode or dark mode to help limit blue light exposure.
The other side to going on your phone is in terms of access to media and news. There is no escaping from everything going on in the world. Whilst it’s important to stay informed, if you find yourself getting more anxious by constantly hearing the headlines, limit your exposure to it. Block push notifications from news apps, and avoid platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn to quieten your mind before bed.
As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise a day can help you to sleep better at night. Not only will it help to tire the body out, but also natural, bright light helps to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. Try running, walking or cycling outside, or perhaps even try your at-home workout in the garden? It’s important not to exercise too late in the day, as the endorphins that are released will overstimulate your mind, making it more difficult to get to sleep. That being said, some people do find nighttime yoga routines are beneficial to stretch out the body and physically calm the mind, allowing them to enter a state of relaxation and therefore sleep better.
Your diet has a big impact on your ability to sleep at night. Foods have a different effect on different people, but some of the main culprits known to keep you from falling asleep are caffeine, cheese, spicy foods, some raw fruits and vegetables, alcohol, red meat and sugary foods. Alcohol, in particular, is known to disrupt your sleep, so try and limit your intake of this. The time that you eat in the evening is just as important as the food you eat; allow your body plenty of time to digest your food to avoid signalling wakefulness to your brain, and reduce the chances of getting indigestion in bed.
Meditation and mindfulness are renowned for calming the mind and body, perfect for you if you’re struggling with sleeping. Not only can they help you get to sleep initially, but you’re more likely to stay asleep and have a better quality night’s sleep. There are many different meditations out there, some can help ease stress and anxiety and others are designed purely to help you to drift off to sleep.
If mediation isn’t your thing, you may want to try listening to music to help you sleep; music has even been linked to helping those with sleep disorders such as insomnia. There are various sleep playlists and meditations available on platforms such as Spotify, YouTube and Apple Music so you’re sure to find one that suits you.
It can be really frustrating if you’re trying to make positive changes in your life to help you sleep and nothing seems to be working… If this sounds like you, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, it could be down to a sleeping disorder; something one of our private GPs will be able to help with.