Everybody knows that horrible feeling of lying in bed struggling to sleep. For some of us falling asleep is a challenge. For others it’s waking through the night. Or maybe you’re not even aware of a particular problem with your sleep but you always wake up feeling tired!
The internet is filled with home remedies for sleep and crazy gadgets that promise to help you fall asleep fast. But in reality just a few small changes to your daily routine could help you beat insomnia, improve your sleep, and wake up feeling refreshed every day.
Sleep is an integral part of wellbeing. It is so essential to our health that we have a natural rhythm of sleep hormones desperately trying to ensure that we get enough, good quality sleep. Most of the time we fight against the rising level of the sleep promoting hormone, melatonin and the falling level of our stress hormone, cortisol and consequently disrupt this natural daily rhythm. The best way to ensure great sleep is to let these hormones dictate your sleep pattern.
If you currently struggle to sleep well it may take some time and some effort to re-establish the habits and the pattern of natural sleep behavior. It’s important to be patient when you try lifestyle changes as it can take a few days for your body to adjust. But if you try the change suggested below then within a few weeks you could be getting a good sleep each and every night.
Get Up At The Same Time Every Day
First and foremost, to ensure good quality, natural sleep it is necessary to establish and maintain regular sleep times. Everyone needs at least 7 hours sleep to avoid chronic tiredness and an increased risk of disease but aiming for 8 hours is a great target to ensure optimal function. Let’s aim to wake up, refreshed, energised and invigorated. We don’t all need to get up at the crack of dawn but it is sensible and natural to be awake during daylight hours and asleep when it is dark. Pick a time to get up, for example 6am and the calculate your time to go to bed 8 hours earlier, so 10pm in this example.
Set your alarm and get up every single day at 6am however you feel. Plan your evening and go to bed every single night at 10pm. It may take a week or two to establish such a great regime and to retrain your natural hormones, so stick with it even if you are a little fatigued initially.
Unwind In The Evening
Our frantic modern lifestyle ensures we are busy throughout the day but still we fill our evenings with activities and functions. This is fine on occasions but being busy all the time can overwhelm our recovery systems and often interferes with our vital ‘wind down’ time. Eating prior to bed is a bad idea, as it activates digestion and disrupts the restorative sleep processes. Similarly, exercising too close to bedtime is unhelpful, stimulating the body and opposing the wind down.
Our ancestors would have chatted quietly around the dim lighting of a camp fire before going to sleep and this winding down period is essential as a precursor to good sleep, A period of quiet, relaxing with a book, some soft music and a warm drink can be ideal. A warm bath is great as it causes increased blood flow to the skin and actually drops our core temperature a little. perfect for sleeping.
Avoid Bright And Blue Light
Modern life is dark deprived; we have lighting everywhere and many cities are alight for 24hrs every day, we have electrified the night. This markedly disrupts our sleep pattern. The release of our natural sleep hormone melatonin is stimulated by the evening twilight. Dim light and darkness result in melatonin release which is turned off by sunlight and bright artificial light. To maximize melatonin release, keep the lighting in your home dim in the evening. Use light dimmers, candles or low level lamps and let your body release its melatonin. Most importantly, avoid blue light. This is the wavelength of light emitted from electronic devices, mobile phones, iPads and televisions.
Blue light stimulates the retina at the back of the eye and turns off your melatonin. Stop using these devices after 8pm where possible. If you can’t resist then turn on the blue light filter on your mobile phone, invest in a filter for your computer and sit as far from the TV as you can.
Never look at your device whilst you are supposed to be sleeping, it is just like pushing a ‘wide awake’ button.
Avoid Caffeine And Alcohol
Caffeine, like all brain stimulants also impairs sleep. It induces wakefulness, inhibits deep sleep and leaves you feeling unrefreshed in the morning. Coffee is the most obvious source of caffeine but tea also has low levels and many of the commercial soft drinks are very high in caffeine. Choose your wind down drink carefully.
Unfortunately, alcohol really interferes with the natural sleep process. It is a strong sedative drug so it knocks you out but the quality of your sleep is severely impaired. Your sleep becomes fragmented with multiple episodes of waking though you may not notice this due to your drugged state. It is also changes the nature of your sleep patterns and particularly limits REM dream sleep.
Make Your Bedroom Suitable For Sleep
Your bedroom is for sleeping and your bed is for sleep. If you have the energy for sexual activity then that is fine but the bedroom is not a place for television, not a place for electronic devices, not a place for reading and not a place for music. These things may well help the evening ‘unwind’ process but your bedroom needs to be a place of minimal stimulation. It needs to be dark so get good curtains, it needs to be quiet so get rid of sources of noise and the ideal bedroom environment has no visual stimuli either so ban the TV.
It is really important that the room is cool too. 18.5 degrees Celsius is ideal. We sleep best if our core temperature is allowed to drop a little so ‘cool is cool and hot is not’. Fresh air is great too when possible so open the window if you can.
Don’t Stay In Bed Awake
Tossing and turning in bed when you are awake can be very frustrating. It makes us agitated, anxious and stressed, all the worst emotions for good quality sleep. It is almost impossible to get back to sleep in this state so we need a way to break these emotions. The simplest option is to get up and revert to the unwinding methods we used earlier in the evening. Go into a different room and make sure the lighting is dim. Try reading a book or magazine but avoid electronic phones, computers, iPads and television. Have a nice warm drink. When you feel sleepy and calm then go back to bed.
There are other options if you don’t want to get up. You can use meditation or any of many relaxation techniques to calm the brain. There are many easy to learn options available, a few of which are listed below. Lots of people successfully settle by using a technique of deliberately trying to stay awake. Finally, maybe try mindless brain work like counting jumping sheep or count backwards in your head from 100 taking away three each time.