Getting a good night’s sleep
Sleep, or more usually the lack of it, is a subject that affects most of us a lot of the time. Hours of column inches are dedicated to how to overcome sleep issues. In our fast paced, click-swipe culture, it is often very hard to wind down sufficiently before bedtime to allow our brains to drift off into good quality, dreamless sleep.
A prolonged period of poor sleep can have detrimental effects on our physical health and can put us at greater risk of heart disease, obesity and even shorten our lives. When it comes to mental health, long-term sleep deprivation can also lead to depression and anxiety so getting good quality shut eye should be high on our list.
Good habits in the lead up to bedtime can help to ease us into a restful night’s sleep. I have tried and tested different suggestions and my go to solutions include the following:
- Decreasing exposure to blue light
Blue lights are the lights on our smartphones, tablets and laptops and are real no no’s before bedtime. They have the ability to mess up our circadian rhythm as they give out the most light, making our brains think that it’s still day time and therefore keeping us awake. The best solution is to stop using devices at least 30 minutes before bed. If you really can’t put your phone down, there are a few ways to get around this, such as the app f.lux which blocks the blue light when turned on.
- Set regular wake up and sleep times
Our bodies follow a circadian rhythm which regulates our sleep, hormones, body temperatures and other functions. It relies on consistency and functions best when we follow regular sleep patterns. So sticking to the same bedtime and wake times will reap big rewards – even if it doesn’t feel like it on a weekend!
- Don’t drink caffeine in the afternoon
While this may be an obvious one, a lot of us are guilty of having a pick-me-up coffee in the afternoon. Caffeine continues to have a stimulating effect in a healthy adult 6 hours after consumption so that late afternoon coffee will affect our ability to get to sleep. Drink it at your peril!
- Regular exercise
While exercising before bed can actually have the reverse effect due to the increase in serotonin and adrenaline, regular exercise in general can greatly help the amount of sleep we get and how long it takes to fall asleep.
- Establish a quiet, relaxing bedtime routine
Relaxing before bedtime may seem like an obvious one but it works. A warm bath or long shower can help us to wind down from the day’s activities. Add in a beautifully scented candle, your favourite herbal tea and some mindful breathing and you should be in the right space for a great night’s sleep.
- If you can’t sleep
If you fall asleep but wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep after 20 minutes or so, get up and read or do something quietly until you feel sleepy again. Above all, don’t look at the clock! We are more able to function on less sleep than we imagine and stressing about not getting enough sleep just compounds the problem. Try a warming drink and some mindful breathing and drift back to bed, calm and ready for more sleep.