It can be particularly difficult to have a good night’s sleep with so much on our plates, with different aspects of our lives to juggle, and the ongoing experience of broken nights sleep, which impacts on our body clocks. Within the counselling and psychotherapy field, we often see people with difficulty sleeping.
If you struggle to sleep, frequent night waking or experience insomnia, the below should help you get to sleep and stay asleep. If your waking is due to a baby or child, we hope these tips will help you get back to sleep quicker. Remember to be kind to yourself, get support and to cut yourself some slack.
So why is sleep so important?
Did you know we spend about a third of our lives sleeping? We all know that sleep is vital to our emotional and physical health. Although if you aren’t managing to get a good night’s sleep – don’t panic! Any changes to health can be easily corrected with some much needed shut eye. Sleep however, maintains a healthy balance of hormones, supports immune function, increases productivity and improves our regulation of emotions.
Sleep hygiene involves good sleep practices that can help us get to sleep quicker, get back to sleep after waking and sleep more deeply. We often think these things don’t make a difference, but from our experience, if you can start to introduce these practices into your daily life, they really do improve your sleep experience. So if you want to sleep better and faster, check out our 5 tips below.
Try to prepare yourself through sleep throughout the day.
Exercise each day as even 10 minutes of aerobic exercise is clinically proven to support sleep.
Avoid caffeinated drinks after midday, as caffeine is a stimulant which has important effects on your brain and its ability to switch off.
- Avoid alcohol (sorry!) as it interrupts your circadian rhythm and blocks REM sleep.
- Naps can give us that important boost, but with any naps you have in the day, aim for them to be before 2pm.
- Hot shower – This action may feel relaxing but it also tricks you body in sleep, through taking advantage of the way temperature affects circadian rhythms.
Stick to a routine if you can
Go to bed the same time every night, as early (as possible if you have a small baby). Even though it may result in more wake ups over the night, the cumulative affect of the extra hours will be more restorative.
Wake up the same time every morning. Set an alarm if you can. (Again if you are struggling with a new baby, you need to be kind to yourself and grab any pockets of sleep you can, so this doesn’t apply to you).
Start to wind down one hour before bedtime
Avoid screens for an hour before bed as they can stimulate your brain, the opposite of what we are trying to do. Quiet time is useful in helping your body slow down.
Deep breathing activates our relaxation response biologically but it also switches off our mind, as if we are solely focusing on our breathing, we have some headspace away from our busy thoughts. Ratio breathing, where we imagine breathing in and out in the shape of a square, following the sides of the square with each inbreath and outbreath can be particularly helpful for switching off.
Prepare your sleep environment for sleep only
Complete darkness is vital if you can. Studies show that artificial light disrupts Our Circadian Rhythm, stopping melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone from being created.
Silence is also key to a good sleep. Try to avoid listening to anything with words in. If you find yourself finding noise helpful in getting you to sleep, try to choose a timed piece on sounds, such as natural sounds of the sea, or panpipes.
Coolness also helps our bodies sleep well. Between 16-19 degrees is perfect.
Remove clocks as although it feels helpful to know the time, it interrupts our ability to switch off, leading to frustration as the time passes as we find ourselves still awake.
If you have the above covered, you might be wondering how you can fall asleep faster with a busy mind (or after baby wake ups).
Mental activity – Do sums in your head, do times tables, spell words in your head or even count sleep. The repetitive nature moves our mind away from our thoughts. And if you find your focus moves back to your busy mind, gently draw it back if it wanders.
Progressive muscle relaxation – This is an exercise where you systematically relax all the muscles in your body. AnxietyBC have a great script on their website.
AUTHOR: DR JO GEE
Dr Jo Gee is a psychotherapist and specialist in women’s health, offering counselling and psychotherapy in surrey. She is also the co-founder of The Luna Hive. Jo offers individual and group psychotherapy in Guildford and at the Priory Hospital Roehampton.