One of the single most important factors in maintaining good health, both physical and mental, is being able to get a good night’s sleep.
Whatever you are going through, if you are well rested you will be better equipped to cope. Sleep is the body’s way of recharging for the day ahead. Conversely, if you are sleep-deprived, everything can seem far worse and you will be much more fragile, both physically and emotionally.
There may be times in your life when you need the advice of your doctor about how to get a good night’s sleep, especially if you suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders. But for most people there are plenty of things you can do yourself to improve the duration and quality of your sleep, and begin reaping the many benefits it will bring. Here are five:
Have a ‘bedtime’: When we have young children we all know it’s important that they have a set bedtime so that they get into a good routine, but it’s just as important for adults too. Going to bed at around the same time each night and getting up at the same time in the morning helps establish a regular rhythm for our bodies, often called a ‘body clock’. There may be times when we need to make an exception and have a ‘late night’, but these should be the exception rather than the rule. Staying up late at the weekends in not a good idea as it breaks your routine, but if you need a weekend lie-in that’s not so bad as it’s just a sign that you may need to catch up on some sleep.
Get ready for bed: Again, just like children benefit from a bedtime routine, so do adults. It sends the signals to our body that it’s time for sleep. Different people choose different things – many people read a book before bed, listen to music or the radio, have a bath or a milky drink, or get into their pyjamas an hour before bed. Choose whatever works for you, but make it something which helps you relax and unwind, and then make it your regular routine. You might despise routine and ‘the norm’ in your waking life, but when it comes to achieving quality sleep, it really is your best friend.
Have a sleep-friendly bedroom: Your bedroom should be a peaceful haven, a place where you can really relax away from the pressures and stresses of everyday life, shutting them out when you close the bedroom door. Keep your bedroom cool and well ventilated as our bodies sleep better in these conditions. Many people sleep better with a window open, although this might be difficult if you live in a noisy area. Avoid bringing ‘tech’ like mobile phones or even laptop computers into your bedroom, as this sends a subconscious signal to your brain that you are still ‘on duty’. There is also evidence that the blue light emitted by the screens on these devices disrupts sleep. A good old-fashioned alarm clock is better at your bedside than your mobile phone. Train your brain to switch off from these modern-day distractions as part of your bedtime routine.
Avoid stimulants: Different people process stimulants such as the caffeine in coffee and tea in different ways. For some it will pass through their system in an hour or so, but for others it will linger far longer and could disturb sleep. If you have trouble getting off to sleep, try avoiding caffeinated drinks after 4 or 5pm, or even cut them out altogether. You might be surprised how many things contain caffeine – check your labels – and by how good the decaffeinated versions are these days. Many people also swear by a bedtime tipple, such as a glass of wine or whisky. If it works for you, fine, but question if it really does? Even a small amount of alcohol can make you drowsy and might help you get off to sleep, but it can also make it more difficult to stay asleep. A light snack before bed might stop you waking up hungry, but overeating could make it difficult to sleep or you could wake with indigestion.
Think about light: Our bodies are pre-programmed to sleep in the darkness and be awake in the light, staying in tune with nature. Modern life means we are less tied to nature’s timetable and more to our own routines – we still start work at the same time whether it’s dark in the depths of winter or broad daylight in the summer months. However, we can trick our ‘body clocks’ by manipulating the light. This means limiting light in the evening to send signals that the time for sleep is approaching. Draw your curtains, use soft lamps rather than bright lights and avoid the ‘blue light’ from devices like mobile phones, tablets or laptop computers. You might also consider proper ‘blackout’ curtains for your bedroom. Equally, it’s important to get plenty of light, and hopefully sun, in the mornings, to give our body the signal that now is the time to be awake. Let as much natural light into your home as you can and, if possible get out and about in it. Natural light is the best thing, but you can mimic it with special ‘light boxes’, which have been found to help people who suffer with depression in the long dark winter months.
If you’re struggling with feeling tired, run down, overly emotional or highly strung in the daytime, the solution could lie in changing your night-time. Put some effort into ensuring you get enough quality sleep each night and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes to your waking life.