Struggling to sleep?
We all know the familiar pang of dread when our alarm blares in the morning. We’ll hit snooze and pretend we don’t hear it, but after another two swipes of the snooze button, we’ve made ourselves late in getting our day started. If waking up is hard in the morning or bad sleep spoils your night, it’s time to check your sleep routine is at its best.
An average person spends around a third of their lives asleep. That’s 229,961 hours in a lifetime if the average person sleeps eight hours per night! Despite the many hours we spend in bed, not all of us are guaranteed a good night’s rest. If you wake up feeling groggy, your sleep is disrupted or you find yourself restlessly tossing and turning all night, then you mightn’t feel fully rested during the day.
Why is sleep so important?
Sleep helps our bodies and minds to rest and repair, so we’re ready and energised for another day. Without a proper night’s sleep, our physical and mental wellbeing can take a hit in the long run.
How do I get better sleep?
The answer to great sleep isn’t fancy equipment or a new mattress (although in some cases, that can help!), but great sleep requires some well paid attention and awareness of your sleep habits. Here’s what you need to know to get better sleep.
Decide on a sleep schedule
The first step towards getting better sleep is deciding on a sleep pattern that suits you. It’s recommended to get between 7-9 hours sleep per night, so if you know what time in the morning you need to start your day, you can count back from your ideal wake up time to find your ideal bedtime. The trick to having a healthy sleeping routine is sticking to a regular sleep-wake pattern (known as your circadian rhythm), where you go to bed and wake up at the same time each morning. Even on weekends, a lie-in can knock our sleeping patterns out of whack, meaning we wake up groggy and tempted by the snooze button on Monday morning. Try to limit lie-ins to no more than an hour outside your normal wake up time, so you can get the benefits of your weekday sleep schedule.
Look after your sleep space
The bedroom should be a place where we feel relaxed and comfortable. Get your bedroom sleep-ready by:
- Removing electronic devices if possible
- Keeping your phone on silent and setting it screen-down so you limit any flashing lights
- Minimising light by closing blinds and curtains, or wearing an eye mask if you have bright street lights outside
- Reducing noise disturbance by closing doors and windows, or wearing ear plugs so you can block out any noise
Before you get ready for bed, make sure you’ve adjusted the temperature so it’s suitable for sleeping. Too hot or too cold can prevent you from feeling relaxed enough to fall asleep. Keeping your bedroom tidy might also help.
If it’s possible, try to do activities, like eating, working, studying, watching TV or browsing the computer, in a different room so you have less distractions in your place of sleep. Setting out clear boundaries in what you do in your bedroom can help trick your mind into associating the bedroom as the place where sleep happens.
Make your bedroom cosy
Our creature comforts go a long way in helping us feel cosy and at ease. Have a think about what you could add to your surroundings to make you feel ready to rest, including having a more comfortable pillow, a thicker or thinner duvet (depending on the season), loose pyjamas, a pillow that doesn’t hurt your neck or back, comfortable bed sheets or extra blankets if you tend to feel cold during the night.
Have wind-down time
Winding down before bed can get you in the frame of mind for sleeping. Being on your phone, computer or watching TV an hour before bed can delay feeling sleepy due to the blue light from their screens. The light emitted by electronic devices stimulate our brains right before bed and can wreak havoc with the hormone (called melatonin) that helps us sleep. If you need to use a digital device, try putting it on sleep mode so it adjusts the brightness. If you can, switch off screens at least 30 minutes before bed to help get your mind into sleeping mode.
Getting ready for bed
If you find yourself lying awake at night and running through a list of what you need to do tomorrow, try getting your to-do list down on paper before hitting the hay. Let your mind and body know it’s nearly bedtime by introducing some pre-bed habits into your routine – such as having a bath or shower, reading a book or listening to relaxing music – which can help you start to slow down and relax.
Don’t let worry ruin your sleep
Anxiety and worry are the most common reasons for experiencing sleep disturbance because the tension of our worry can cause our thoughts to spiral, making it difficult to quieten our thinking. If you find it hard to wind down before bed because your day is weighing heavy on your mind, try setting aside a half-hour window before bed where you can journal. Journaling can be as simple as writing down your worries and solutions, or writing about your day. If your anxiety is getting out of control and you’re struggling to handle it, you can always seek support to help.
Stop watching the clock
While it’s important to track how many hours we’re allowing ourselves to sleep, that doesn’t mean counting the clock when you’re having a bad night. How frequently do you find yourself grabbing your phone or looking at the time to check how many minutes have passed while you’ve tossed and turned? It happens to all of us! Instead of counting the time before sleep arrives, try to still your mind with some breathing techniques. A simple breathing pattern of breathing in for four seconds, holding for two, breathing out for four and repeating can help you ease yourself into sleep and distract yourself from watching the clock.
Limit foods and drinks that affect sleep
It’s no secret that caffeine can disrupt our sleep, but while many assume coffee is the main contender, caffeine in all its forms can affect our night’s rest. Caffeine can be in energy drinks, fizzy drinks, over-the-counter medication or tea. If you like having coffee during the day, try limiting it to before midday, or at the latest 4pm, so the caffeine is less likely to be in your system by bedtime. Avoiding eating large meals or sugary foods before bed, which can trigger our body into staying awake.
Go to bed tired
If you have problems going to sleep at the time you’ve set yourself, try doing something that can help prepare the mind for better sleep, including the activities in the “Getting ready for bed” point. If you regularly find yourself too awake to sleep, try exercising during the day which can help you feel more tired come bedtime. Even just 30 minutes exercise or a long walk outside in the fresh air can help feelings of tiredness later on. Be sure not to exercise too close to bed as the increase in adrenaline can keep you awake for longer. If you want to find new ways to fit more exercise into your days, explore some organisations near you that offer fun programmes to get involved in.
When a bad night’s sleep happens, start again tomorrow
All of us, at some point, will experience a bad night’s sleep, but the best thing to do is start again tomorrow and reset your body clock so it’s ready for a good night’s rest. Follow the tips in this guide, and if you do have a bad night’s sleep, try to avoid napping if you can – naps will increase your chances of feeling awake at bedtime!
If you try making changes to your sleeping habits, but you still find that you’re sleeping poorly, it might be time to seek support. Your doctor or a health professional can help work through the options for improving your sleep. In some cases, CBT(cognitive behavioural therapy) can help and, similarly, developing a mindfulness or meditation practice can, too.