Hope you are all keeping safe, well and starting to enjoy more time with loved ones given the lockdown restrictions easing a little.
Sleep. We all do it, but many of us don’t do it well. A good night’s rest is essential to a healthy existence, protecting you physically and mentally as well as boosting your quality of life. Unfortunately, many of us struggle to fall asleep, have bad dreams, can’t wake up in the morning and then feel constantly tired!
Sleep plays a significant role in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. It helps us maintain a healthy weight and a good balance of hormones, as well as controlling sugar levels. In terms of mental health, a great night’s sleep makes the brain work properly. It helps us to learn, remember, solve problems and make decisions, as well as safeguarding against stress, mood swings and depression.
It’s rather worrying that the majority of people don’t sleep very well! Fortunately, there are many practical ways to improve your sleeping habits.
Too much or too little sleep
An average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours sleep per night, if you regularly feel tired during the day you probably aren’t getting enough sleep. I know is isn’t always manageable (especially for parents) however by changing your habits it can be achievable.
Everyone needs sleep, but many of us have problems with it. You might recognise some of the experiences listed below, or have other difficulties with sleep that aren't mentioned here.
- find it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep or wake up earlier than you'd like to (also known as insomnia – find out more on the NHS website)
- have problems that disturb your sleep, such as panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares or psychosis
- find it hard to wake up or get out of bed
- often feel tired or sleepy – this could be because you're not sleeping enough, not getting good quality sleep or because of health problems
- sleep a lot – which could include sleeping at times when you want, or need, to be awake.
There's a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health.
First things first, do you have a sleep problem?
If you want to get a better understanding of your own ‘sleep score’ and access practical tips and advice for improving your sleep, you can complete an online NHS self-assessment.
If you or someone you know is having trouble sleeping, keeping a Sleep Diary can help identify what’s keeping you awake. Sometimes sleep troubles are a result of bad sleep habits for example drinking too much caffeine before bedtime, not exercising or poor sleep hygiene. The diary will help to pinpoint if you’re consistently waking at a similar time, what you’ve done that day, what you’ve eaten etc. to see if there is any pattern.
The NHS recommend that you refer yourself to your GP (over the phone only during these times, please do not visit your Doctors Surgery unless they give expressed permission to do so) if changing your sleeping habits haven’t worked, if you have had trouble sleeping for a number of months or if lack of sleep is affecting your daily life in a way that it makes it hard for you to cope.
Hints and tips to help improve your sleep pattern
Move more, sleep better – NHS recommend you get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week, or around 20 to 30 minutes a day. Being active during the day can help you sleep better but remember to avoid vigorous activity near bedtime if it affects your sleep. As I mentioned in the staying active Wellbeing Wednesday, I have been doing the couch to 10k and can honestly say it has done wonders for my sleep.
Keep regular sleep hours – going to bed when you feel tired and getting up at roughly the same time helps teach your body to sleep better. Try to avoid napping where possible.
Create a restful environment – dark, quiet and cool environments (between 18C and 24C) generally make it easier to fall and stay asleep. Watch this short video for tips on how to sleep better by Professor Colin Espie, professor of sleep medicine at the University of Oxford.
Make sure you wind down at least 1 hour before bedtime – winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. There are lots of ways to relax:
- a warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that's ideal for rest
- writing "to do" lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions
- relaxation exercises, such as light yoga stretches, help to relax the muscles. Do not exercise vigorously, as it will have the opposite effect
- relaxation apps work by using a carefully narrated script, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to relax you
- reading a book or listening to the radio relaxes the mind by distracting it
- there are a number of apps designed to help with sleep. See the NHS Apps Library
- avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed as the blue light from the screen on these devices suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin
- Caffeine and alcohol can stop you falling asleep and prevent deep sleep. Try to cut down on alcohol and avoid caffeine close to bedtime.
You can find further information and advice on these websites:
The Sleep Council have also shared the 10 Commandments of Good Sleep which you may find useful.
Podcasts and apps – listening to a soothing podcast is one way to unwind and help you drift off into a peaceful sleep. Many podcast apps include a sleep timer feature which will automatically pause a show after a period of time. It's available in apps including Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and Pocket Casts so you won't miss a crucial moment again. Here are a couple sleep-inducing podcasts to start with:
- Nothing Much Happens; Bedtime Stories for Grown-ups – just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you should miss out on the soothing nature of having someone read a bedtime story to you. Nothing Much Happens encapsulates this perfectly, 20-minute stories to help calm you down for bed; from spring cleaning, to life in a bakery, it is the perfect antidote to your busy life.
- Sleep With Me – the ultimate sleep podcast, Sleep With Me started in 2013 by host Drew Ackerman as a way to help people fall asleep.
- The Sleep App – will help you fall asleep thanks to soothing stories, meditations, white noise, sounds from different environments and much more.
- The Pzizz App – helps you quickly calm your mind, fall asleep fast, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed. It uses "dreamscapes" – a mix of music, voiceovers and sound effects designed using the latest clinical research – to help you sleep better at night.
Hopefully this goes someway to helping those who are struggling to sleep. Take care of yourselves and sleep well!
Share your best tips below and check out our calming infusions.