Sleep disruptions are common and affect nearly 40% of people in the UK.
Sleep disturbances include an inability to get to sleep, stay asleep or to get quality sleep.
Sleep is s time when the body and mind rest, recuperates and cleanses and chronic sleep loss can make day to day life difficult.
Get a better night’s sleep with our 5 top tips:
What you eat throughout the day can have a significant impact on your ability to sleep at night.
Certain foods and drinks can stimulate the stress response.
The stress response involves parts of the nervous system called the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.
These work together to allow stimulation or calm when needed.
The problem in modern society is that we spend more time in our stimulatory sympathetic nervous system than in the calming parasympathetic system.
This has the effect of making us ‘wired but tired’ and unable to nod off at the right time.
To maintain a balance and prevent over-stimulation good blood sugar balance is needed throughout the day.
Avoiding sugars, sweet foods and refined, processed foods can be useful.
Adding in a good protein source with each meal slows digestion and allows a more even release of energy from food.
Keeping caffeine low and certainly avoiding after midday, is essential as it stimulates the adrenal glands – definitely something to avoid if you want better sleep.
Alcohol should also be avoided as it may initially help you to get to sleep but will surely contribute to frequent night wakings.
A calming cup of tea an hour before bed may help to support parasympathetic pathways.
When we say tea, we don’t mean full caf black tea but rather a chamomile, valerian or decaf green tea.
Green tea contains a nutrient called theanine, this is an amino acid that has been shown to increase alpha brain waves.
These are usually increased during states of deep meditation (4).
Don’t drink your calming tea too soon before bedtime or you may just have to get up in the night to visit the bathroom.
Avoiding the use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, eBook readers and TVs a couple of hours before bedtime allows you to not only leave work-related e-mails and social pressures behind but also to reduce exposure to blue light.
Sleep is under the control of a hormone called melatonin, it is produced at the onset of darkness and blue light exposure may reduce melatonin levels and affect sleep patterns (5).
Make a rule to put your devices in another room (not the bedroom!) at a set time each evening and ensure your friends and family know this is what you plan on doing.
This will reduce their frustrations when you don’t respond to them until the next day.
If you have no choice but to hop onto your laptop urgently then install software like f.lux, this changes the light settings on the screen and allows for a more amber glow, reducing blue light.
Amber tinted glasses are also available and may be of use if you wish to watch TV in the early evening.
Don’t rely on amber glasses for TV viewing, it is not the best way to unwind and relax before bed.
Humans are creatures of habit and we have biological systems that revolve around set habits.
Take the circadian rhythm for example, our internal time clock is set to just slightly over 24 hours and is heavily influenced by light.
Changing habits around light exposure can seriously disrupt the circadian rhythm and sleep cycles, this is what happens to shift workers (6).
Forming a good bedtime habit may help you to set the scene and unwind before bedtime.
One of the initial steps to forming a healthy sleep habit is to ditch your electrical devices!
Finding nourishing and calming activities in the last few hours before bed can prevent you from feeling wired but tired.
Start preparation at roughly the same time every night and perhaps indulge in a good paperback, listen to calming music or have a warm bath.
Magnesium salts or lavender essential oils can be useful in the bath to enhance relaxation.
Raising your body temperature in a bath a few hours before bedtime may also assist with sleep as sleep is stimulated by the resultant drop in temperature (8).
Having the right environment in the bedroom is essential.
The room in which you sleep should not be a source of stress and should be made as comfortable as possible to allow you to unwind fully.
Keeping the room in darkness aids melatonin synthesis and it may be worth investing in blackout curtains or blinds.
As we know sleep is stimulated by a lowering in body temperature, keeping the bedroom at around 18 degrees Celsius ensures you do not get hot and stuffy.
Make sure you have a comfortable mattress, consider replacing it if it is over 10 years old.
Although pillows and throws may make the bedroom look romantic, too many may not allow you to be in a relaxing posture.
The bedroom should only ever be used for sleep and intimacy and TV’s, phones, tablets and laptops should be banned!
If you are noise sensitive it is worth investing in a set of earplugs, that way you can drown out the noise of the neighbour’s dog barking – something that is sure to disturb your sleep.
This one is quite important otherwise you may find it very difficult to fall asleep or find yourself overthinking your day if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night.
Activities that support the calming parasympathetic nervous system include relaxation techniques like progressive relaxation where you focus on various body parts, tensing and releasing bit by bit.
Meditation and visualisation are also of use and if you find it difficult to focus on your own meditation or visualisation, invest in an audio guided meditation.
These can be downloaded through several apps or websites.
Using specific breathing techniques and focussing on inhalation and exhalation is also calming.
There are many different kinds of breathing techniques and what seems to be important is that exhalation lasts longer than inhalation.
Gently yoga daily can help you to unwind, relax and get better sleep.
Tackling sleep issues can feel daunting, particularly if they are long term issues.
Making small simple changes to your daily habits may help to give you a better night’s sleep.
The key is to be consistent – it may take more than a few nights to resolve long-standing sleep problems, but it is definitely worth persevering.
Tell us what has helped you to get a better night’s sleep?
What was the most beneficial change?
Have you tried one of our tips?
How did you get on?
Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
By: Kelly Rose DipION FdSc VN
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