Sleep. We all do it, and it’s something some of us do better than others. I know from experience it’s also challenging to have a good night’s sleep when you have small children!
A good night’s sleep is important for your health and well-being. When we don’t sleep well, it can contribute to a range of problems including depression and anxiety. It’s even been linked to weight gain.
Many of us struggle to fall asleep, have bad dreams, wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, toss and turn, struggle to wake up in the morning, and then feel constantly tired!
Fortunately, there are many practical ways to improve our sleeping habits. Simple steps can be taken, which will increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep.
1. Have a relaxing bedtime ritual
Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend an hour before bedtime doing a calm activity such as reading a book or magazine. This will help you unwind before falling asleep. Other bedtime rituals might include taking a relaxing warm (not hot) bath or shower, listening to soft music, doing some easy stretches, listening to audio books, dimming the lights in the hours leading to bedtime, or winding down with a favourite hobby. Many of these bedtime rituals help people sleep better. Personally, I like to read a book for half an hour or so, which really helps me unwind from the stresses of the day.
Falling asleep is a process. You can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them part of your bedtime routine.
2. Create a restful bed environment
Creating a restful environment to optimise your sleep is essential. Given how much of our lives we spend in bed, it’s staggering how willing people are to put up with an uncomfortable bed environment.
Have you ever wondered why you sleep better in a hotel? Apart from the hotel providing a relaxing environment, bed, pillow and bed linen quality can also affect sleep. A restful and comfortable bed environment is important to the quality of your zzz’s.
A decent mattress is essential. An uncomfortable, unsupportive, saggy mattress will leave you feeling tired and achy. Mattresses have a life expectancy – 80 to 10 years for good quality mattresses. A good quality mattress is worth the investment.
Comfortable pillows are also important. Not only do they make the bed look attractive and inviting for sleep, they have an impact on your quality of sleep. Experts say pillows should be replaced every two years or so. Whoops. I’m guilty of not doing this!
The quality of your bed linen also has an impact on your sleep. You need a fabric that’s soft and kind to against your skin. It needs to be lightweight and breathable. Our classic Cool & Crisp percale weave organic cotton bed linen range is perfect. There’s a reason why the best hotels around the world have percale weave. There’s nothing better than slipping into a freshly made bed!
3. Have your room at the right temperature
Temperature can have a severe impact on your sleep. Whether your bedroom is too hot, too cold or just draughty can have a huge affect. Your body heat peaks in the evening and then drops to its lowest levels when you’re asleep, so a cool 16-18°C (60-65°F) is thought to be an ideal temperature in a bedroom. Temperatures over 24°C (71°F) are likely to cause restlessness, while a cold room of about 12°C (53°F) will make it difficult for you to get to sleep.
Young children and elderly people may require a slightly warmer environment, so it’s useful to invest in a room thermometer to keep track of temperatures.
4. Ensure you have a dark bedroom
Have you ever pondered why darkness is best for sleep? When we see light, our body assumes it’s time to wake up. When it’s dark, we release melatonin, a hormone which relaxes the body and help you to sleep. No wonder so many of us struggle to adjust to a new sleeping pattern during British Summer Time!
There’s nothing worse than being rudely awoken as soon as it gets light in the morning (at the time of writing this sunrise is at 4:45am)! Black out blinds, or heavy curtains really help to minimise this, as does an eye mask if you don’t have access to these.
I’ve read that you should think of your room as a cave. It should be quiet, cool and dark for the best chance of getting a good night’s sleep.
5. Have a tech free bedtime
Your bedroom should be somewhere you associate with sleep – a calm space for rest and relaxation. It’s your sanctuary. You should try and remove distractions such as TVs, computers, phones and tablets from your bedroom, as these prevent you from falling asleep. It’s much better to watch TV, and check your emails and social media in another room. This will enable you to relax without any distractions in your bedroom.
The LED displays of gadgets and electronics (e.g. your iPhone) glow with blue light, which suppresses melatonin production, the hormone which helps you sleep. Be mindful of this. Experts say you should stop using these devices two hours before you sleep to reduce their impact on your quality of sleep. Try and ban them from your bedroom.
6. Exercise daily
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep. People who exercise regularly sleep better at night and feel less sleepy during the day. However, avoid being active too close to bedtime. Spending time outside in the fresh air every day might help as well.
7. Try to sleep and wake at consistent times
Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (circadian rhythm) is one of the most important strategies for improving your sleep. Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can help long-term sleep quality as you will feel more refreshed and energised. This will help set your body’s internal clock and optimise your quality of sleep. If you are getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm clock. If you need an alarm clock, you may need an earlier bedtime.
Avoid sleeping in, even at weekends. The more your weekday/weekend sleep schedules differ, the worse you will feel. It can feel like jetlag!
Avoid napping during the day, as these can have a negative impact on your sleep. Sleeping in the daytime can confuse your internal body clock, which might result in you struggling to get to sleep at night.
8. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes in the evening
Avoid drinks that contain caffeine, which acts as a stimulant and keeps people awake. Sourced of caffeine include tea (non-herbal), coffee, soft drinks, chocolate and even some pain relief medication. Smoking can also impact on sleep, as nicotine withdrawal can come into play during the night. Alcohol is known to cause or increase the symptoms of sleep apnea, snoring and disrupted sleep patterns.
9. Consider what foods you are eating
They say you are what you eat, and when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep the food you consume has a big impact. Some foods can help or hinder your sleep. Eating chicken, oats and dairy products can produce chemicals that increase your desire to sleep. If you need a snack before bed, have a bit of chicken or turkey, a small bowl of whole-grain low-sugar cereal, a glass of milk or some yoghurt or even a banana.
Cut back on sugary foods and refined carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta during the day can cause you to be wakeful at night. Eating a large meal within a couple of hours of bedtime should also be avoided if you want (and need) a good night’s sleep.
10. If you can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed
Go into another room and do something relaxing such as reading or listening to music until you feel tired. The anxiety of not being able to fall asleep can contribute towards insomnia. When you start to feel sleepy, return to bed and try to avoid sleeping in locations other than your bed.
Nearly everyone has on occasional sleepless night. But if you are still having trouble sleeping, do not hesitate to speak with your GP. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve. Recording your sleep in a sleep diary might help you identify common issues or patterns with your sleep and sleeping habits.
If you have any great tips for a good night’s sleep, or bedtime rituals that work for you, please let me know.
Thanks for reading.