The importance of sleep is becoming increasingly recognised. In fact, inadequate sleep has been found to have a significant impact on health and wellness, short and long-term. Evidence suggests that chronic lack of sleep can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s. The physiological processes of sleep are much more complex than we could ever imagine. The Sleep Foundation provides useful information on what is happening. The important thing to recognise is that sleep is essential for a number of reasons: it enables the brain to process information gathered through the day; memories are consolidated; emotional processing takes place; the immune system repairs damage; blood pressure is lowered and creativity and concentration are enhanced.
The current advice is to aim for 8 hours sleep a night. What can we do to help ourselves get a good sleep? Here are some tips.
Good sleep tips
The first step to getting a good night’s sleep is to live the day well. Go outside early in the day as daylight helps to reinforce the natural body rhythm. Try to incorporate some physical exercise into your day. If this is difficult, ensure that you are moving around as much as possible. Try to eat regular meals and not to have a large meal late in the evening. The body’s natural rhythm means that it doesn’t handle food well late at night. Caffeine is a stimulant which hangs around in the body for a long time. You need to allow plenty of time for it to be removed so try to avoid it after 6pm. If you go to bed relatively early, you might want to avoid it earlier. If you’re prone to getting up to the loo through the night, try to minimise all liquids after about 6pm.
It is important to have a wind down period in the lead up to going to bed. Turn off computers, put notifications on silent and resist the temptation to check emails on your phone. Avoid having bright lights on in the house, wherever you can. Exciting or scary TV programmes and intense conversations are best avoided too. A hot bath can help. It encourages the body’s heat to come to the surface to cool it down, which lowers the core temperature.
Once you’re in your bedroom, there are a number of things you can do to help yourself get to sleep. Making your bedroom a tech-free zone can make a real difference. The blue light on these gadgets affect sleep and it also removes the temptation to check for messages or emails. If you’re sensitive to light, consider blackout blinds or eye masks. If you’re sensitive to sound, consider ear plugs. If your partner is snoring or moving around a lot in bed and it’s affecting you, consider sleeping in different rooms for a while, if possible. Having a glass of water by your bed is a good idea. Also, a notebook and pen. It’s amazing how often something comes to mind, just as we are nodding off, and we worry about remembering it. Write it down on your pad then allow yourself to forget about it.
A gratitude journal can be a real help, especially for those of you who are prone to worrying or negative thoughts. Take a few minutes to jot down three things you are thankful for. These maybe general things in your life, or perhaps things that happened during that day. Anything that was a positive for you counts. Once you’re in bed, it’s important not to stress about getting to sleep. Tell yourself that even if you don’t sleep well, you will cope. Get yourself comfortable and consider doing some diaphragmatic breaths to help your body relax. Once you feel relaxed, here is a sleep exercise you can try.
Close your eyes and say to yourself: ‘I’m imagining the space between my eyes’. As you say this, picture the space between your eyes. Repeat this three times. Then, ‘I’m imagining the space between my ears’. Again, as you say this, picture the space between your ears. Repeat three times. Then move on in the same vein to between your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hands, hips, knees, ankles and feet. Each time, picture what you’re saying in your head. If you get distracted, return to your eyes. If you reach your feet, return to your eyes and repeat.
If you waken through the night, go to the loo if you need to then return to bed. Repeat the diaphragmatic breathing to help your body relax then repeat the sleep exercise.
I hope you will find something here to help you if you’re struggling to get a good sleep. If poor sleep is something you’d like to explore in greater detail, do get in touch.