Did you know March is National Bed Month? No, it’s not about lying in bed, quite the opposite in fact. Organised by The Sleep Council, the month aims to educate us all why a good night’s sleep is good for our health. Their research suggests 40% of people suffer from sleep issues and sleep deprivation costs a whopping £40.2 billion pounds to UK economy.

Sleep is essential to our physical and mental health, but sadly some of us are regularly deprived of quality sleep. The sleep wake cycle is one of the most prominent circadian rhythms. The circadian rhythm is our 24-hour internal clock which plays a vital role in virtually all systems of the body.

To change this, we need to cultivate healthier sleep habits, otherwise known as sleep hygiene. In this blog I’m going to talk about five different areas we can concentrate our efforts on to improve our sleep hygiene.

Create a Sleep Conducive Bedroom

Your bedroom should be a relaxing environment. Make sure it is a place of comfort and relaxation and make your bed feel inviting. Think maximum comfort, minimum distraction. Think of your senses – what you hear, see, smell, touch and feel.

 

Touch – Consider the quality of your mattress and pillows. They should be comfortable enough to relax you but also give your spine proper support. Also consider good quality bedding that feels comfortable to touch and is inviting.

 

See – Avoid light disruptions as they affect your sleep wake cycle. Consider getting thick curtains or blackout curtains. You may want to use a sleep mask. If you need light consider having soft lighting in your bedroom. Avoid gadgets with bright lights. If you must have any electronic device have the blue light filter on.

 

Hear – Minimise noise. If you cannot eliminate the nearby sources of noise, consider drowning them out with a soothing internal noise, or a fan or use ear plugs. 

 

Feel – Keep the room cool so the temperature is conducive and relaxing. Create a peaceful ambience. You may want gentle soft music in the background.

 

Smell – Create pleasant aromas. Choose a light scent that is calming and will help ease you into sleep. Essential oils are great for this because they have natural aroma. I particularly love lavender oil and I use it in a diffuser. Occasionally, I put a few drops on my pillow and I find that generally helps get me relaxed.

 

Get rid of distractions – televisions, mobile phones, laptops etc and if you’re a clock watcher, turn the face of the clock out of view.

Why not try implementing a few of these steps and see if it improves the quality of your night’s sleep.

 

Create & Maximise a Sleep Schedule

We are all creatures of habit, and we know that if we want to maintain a habit, we need to include it in our daily schedule. So, I have created a sleep schedule as part of what I call my ‘book-end’ routines for the beginning and end of each day.

 

Have a fixed wake-up – Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day helps our body to get into a healthy sleep routine. Pick a time for your wake-up time that you can stick to, even over the weekend. Don’t be tempted to sleep in on a weekend – you may catch up on some sleep, but it will make it harder to wake up early on Monday!

 

Budget your time for sleep – If you know you need seven hours sleep, then you need to budget for this. Using your wake-up time, work backwards to determine your target bedtime. This may change on some days. My bedtime is slightly different some days to accommodate having precious time with my husband. If possible, give yourself some wind down time to get ready for bedtime. I have a 30-minute wind down before bed. Still a work in progress but getting better every day.

 

Set alarms for wake-up and bedtime – If you have a wake-up alarm and not a bedtime alarm, you are missing a trick! I have separate ‘Wake-up’, ‘Prepare for bed’ and ‘Go to bed’ alarms on my phone, each with a different melody. My family laugh at me and say my phone tells me what to do!  I love it though because it helps me keep to my routine and reminds me when I get too engrossed in other things.

 

Naps – Are great but can be counter-productive if too long or taken too late in the day. If they tip into your sleep schedule you may find it difficult to fall asleep at night. Everyone is different, but it’s suggested the best time to nap is shortly after lunch and preferably before 3pm. The length of your nap may vary, but most people will find a 20 to 30 minute power nap sufficient. I love my 30-minute power naps. I feel so refreshed and energised after them.

 

Make gradual changes – To make successful and sustainable changes at anything, it’s best to take baby steps.  Start where you are now and build it up slowly. Small changes repeated over time will give a compound effect. It allows your body to get used to and not rebel against the change. Over the years, I have changed from having four to five hours sleep (a consequence of being a full-time working Mum in the medical profession) and gradually increased it to seven hours sleep. But I had to do that slowly. Now, I have come to the point where I need and look forward to my seven hours sleep. I find I am a happier and better person for it, and I am more effective, efficient and productive. Consequently, I enjoy every awake moment I have. I now wake up just before the alarm goes off. Just need to crack my bedtime routine. Work in Progress!

 

 

Create a Bedtime Routine

It might interest you to know that the lead up to bedtime plays an important role in preparing your mind and body to fall asleep quickly and easily. Poor habits before bedtime definitely contribute to sleep problems, so changing things will help significantly. Try to create a consistent routine that you can follow every night. As we know, consistency reinforces healthy habits and helps the mind and body get adjusted to the change. Consistency also helps to send signals to our mind that it’s nearly bedtime. What I’m going to share here is closely related to the section above on ‘Creating & Maximising a Sleep Schedule’.

 

Relaxation or wind down time before bed – Don’t overschedule your day. Give yourself at least 30 minutes wind down time before bed. Use that time for quiet reading, low impact stretches, relaxation exercises, listening to soft soothing music or meditation. These help to get you into the right frame of mind for sleep. Oh boy, I confess, I am still a work in progress with this! Some days are easier than others, but I find that if I plan for my night-time routine, I’m likely to achieve it. So presently, my ‘start bedtime routine’ alarm is at 10pm and I’m currently focusing on being in bed at that time. Then occasionally I add on the other things I have suggested above. My preference being soft music.

 

Have a dark gadget-free room – I have spoken about this previously but wanted to explain in a little more detail about the lights and gadgets. Avoiding bright lights in your room helps the transition to bedtime and contributes to the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin, also known as the sleep hormone, promotes our sleep cycle. It is a natural hormone produced by a gland in the brain. The gland is prompted to start producing melatonin when it is dark and to stop production when it is light. It helps regulate our rhythm and synchronise our sleep-wake cycle, thereby helping our transition to sleep. If we work with the natural cycles of our body, we will improve our chances of having consistent, quality rest.

Gadgets, apart from their bright lights which suppress our natural production of melatonin, also keep our brains working and whirring away like a computer. Therefore, they make it harder to truly wind down. Aim to disconnect from them for at least 30 minutes or more before going to bed. Don’t worry…..the earth will not stop revolving because you’re not online. It will all still be there in the morning!

As always, try implementing some of the steps gradually and aim to keep to a routine. We are creatures of habit and we will eventually form the right bedtime habits if we make it part of our routine.

 

Daytime Habits that Support Good Sleep

Did you know that what we do during the day affects our ability to fall asleep at night and also how deep we sleep?

 

The right sunlight exposure – Our internal clock is regulated by exposure to light and the strongest effect on this is from sunlight. Try to get as much daylight as possible by waking up with the sun, opening the windows to get natural light in and getting out in natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes a day. Sleep experts recommend that an hour of exposure to morning sunlight helps to normalise our body rhythm.

 

Movement & Exercise – Exercise is great and has lots of benefits including helping us to sleep better. However, don’t exercise late in the day and definitely avoid intense exercise close to bedtime, as your body may not settle down before sleep.

 

Caffeine & Nicotine – The effects of caffeine can take as long as eight hours to wear off, so that late afternoon coffee may well be a barrier to falling asleep. Do consider other sources of caffeine such as tea, cola, chocolate as well. Nicotine is also a stimulant, often causing difficulty in falling asleep and fragmented light sleep. Smokers often wake up too early in the morning because of nicotine withdrawal

 

Alcohol – A nightcap may help us relax and induce drowsiness, but heavy use of alcohol can lower our sleep quality. This is because it keeps you in the lighter stages of sleep and not getting into our REM sleep. Heavy drinking can also affect your breathing, wake you up to go to the toilet, and may wake you up in the middle of the night when the effects of alcohol have worn off.

 

Eating & Drinking Late – Avoid large or late dinners because your body will still be trying to digest it, rather than winding down. It can also cause indigestion, which, of course, affects sleep. Too much fluid may result in frequent visits to the toilet overnight. This has been a challenge for me recently, as I have been making an effort to increase my fluid intake to three litres of fluid a day.  However, I think I’ve finally cracked it!

 

Can’t Fall Asleep – Don’t Stay Awake in Bed

If you are experiencing difficulty in falling asleep, don’t stay awake in bed. If you’ve tried all the previous tips I’ve shared and you’re not asleep within 20 minutes or so, or you’re beginning to get anxious or worried, then get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. The actual anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep.

 

To Do List – It’s always worth having a notepad and a pen on the side of your bed. If you feel your mind’s whirring with things that you need to do or are not completed from the day, writing a ‘to do’ list for the next day can help organise your thoughts and clear up your mind.

 

Clear Your Worry Schedule – Get up, turn the light on, or leave the room if you’re sleeping in the room with somebody else, and take the piece of paper with you. Cut the piece of paper into strips and write down on each strip the things that are worrying you that come to mind. Write one thought only on each strip. By doing that, you are almost untangling your thoughts, and it’s easier to cope with each one. Then, give each thought or worry a day and a time when you’re going to sit down and sort it out. Write this date and time on the strip. When you have done that for each strip, look at all the strips and promise yourself that you are going to think about each of those problems on the day you have chosen, but not until then. You’re almost saying to your mind “Be calm. We’ve got this. We’ve got a plan”. Then put all the strips away somewhere you’re not going to lose them and then go back to bed. As you now have nothing on your worry schedule you are officially entitled to get some rest.

 

Relaxation Techniques – Leave the bedroom and go to another room to try your preferred relaxation technique. This could be as simple as listening to a relaxation CD, some soothing music, gentle yoga stretches, reading a book or knitting. Whatever works for you. Do this until you feel sleepy and tired and then go back to bed. By doing this each time you’ve been awake for over 20 minutes you will eventually break the cycle of lying in bed and getting upset because you can’t go to sleep.

 

If none of these helps, or the lack of sleep is affecting your daily life, then it is wise to have a chat with your GP. If you’re considering that, keeping a sleep diary may be useful as it may show the things your daily routine or lifestyle habits could be contributing to your sleeplessness, including stress or even medications.

 

There are other interesting thought blocking strategies out there that you might be able to use, even in bed, to control your thoughts and get you to that, peaceful, calm place where you can gently fall asleep. Examples of these can be found at Thought blocking tips

Sleep tight everyone and sweet dreams.

#goodnightsleep #sleep #sleepwell #sleepbetter #sleeptraining

Sources:  

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/

www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tired

Shot of an attractive young woman sleeping in her bed in the morning at home

ness

https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/

www.sleepstation.org.uk