• sarah scarratt

Top tips for a good night's sleep

If you've read the previous post, you'll be aware of the importance of getting a good night's sleep. In fact, doctors and researchers are starting to say that it's the single most effective thing we can do for our mental and physical health! And yet so many of us (1 in 3) grumble that we can't sleep, or worse, can't stay asleep. So what's going on?

First of all, it's important to remember that there are sleep cycles and that it's normal to be 'more awake than asleep' several times a night. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes and most of us need between 7.5 - 9hrs sleep each night, and ideally, a quick nap at around 14h... If you find you're waking up tired, that you're more irritable than usual, prone to coughs and colds or have trouble making decisions, it's time to take your sleep seriously. Dementia, cardio-vascular problems, obesity and various other conditions can all be linked to poor sleep!

So, our top tips for a good night's sleep:

  1. If you think back to the previous post, you'll remember that the sleep hormone is activated in an area near the brain's danger centre. So the number one requirement for sleep is to feel safe. Sometimes, we can be so worried about the consequences of not falling asleep that we keep ourselves awake! To counter that, establish and maintain a reassuring bedtime routine.

  2. We all lead busy lives and have a tendancy to squeeze everything in, right up until the last moment. But our brains need time to unwind. Turn off the TV and computer and avoid checking emails/text messages at least an hour before bed. Read, listen to music or chat with your partner. And remember: no blue light screens after 9pm.

  3. To encourage the production of calming brain waves, make lists. A list of things you need to do tomorrow so your memory neurons can relax. A list of things you're feeling anxious about. Whatever is on your mind, write it down. You can always re-write it, or throw the list away the next day but at least for now, you've cleared your mind and you're ready to relax.

  4. A cooler body temperature indicates to our brain that we're ready for sleep. Getting out of a warm bath or shower causes the body temperature to drop so incorporate this into your bedtime routine!

  5. Keep your bedroom cool, dark and clear of gadgets. Beware of light and noise interference. And the bedroom is no place for mobile phones or tablets. It's a tricky one because we've come to rely on our phones for so much. But seriously, buy an alarm clock. Plug in an old-fashioned phone for emergency contact. And turn your mobile off.

  6. Associate your bedroom with sleep. Don't watch movies in bed. Don't eat in bed. Your brain needs to know that bed means sleep. As you put your head on your pillow, it's time to start letting go of the outside world and focussing on your inner world.

  7. But what if your inner world is buzzing? Caffeine and nicotine affect our body's ability to 'catch' the sleep message so avoid both after 4pm. Be aware too of the side effects of certain medecines.

  8. You might think that a 'wee dram' is a vital part of your night-time routine and while it might help with that initial sensation of drowsiness, studies have proven that alcohol prevents the deep sleep phase which is so vital for body and brain regeneration. So no booze at bedtime and you may as well avoid that late-night snack too - the last thing the cleaning & maintenance team need is to have to clean up the remnants of a late-night party. The only time they really get down to serious jet-washing is when the system is empty!

  9. Regular exercise helps clear your buzzing brain. Whenever we're stressed, our bodies are flooded with hormones which have nowhere to go and hang around, surfacing in the wee hours in the form of that irritating voice, ruminating conversations, unhelpful self-talk ... you know the story! But these hormones are burned up when we exercise, and it doesn't have to be a weekly work-out at the gym. 10 minutes of out-of-breath puffing works just as well - running for the bus, digging over the garden, star jumps in the kitchen, hoola-hooping, whatever works for you. Every day.

  10. And finally, if you really can't sleep, try these. Breathe through your left nostril only. Try tensing each part of your body separately for 5 seconds then relax. Curl your toes. Roll your eyes. Tell yourself a story. Imagine your friends' house with your furniture in it. Give yourself the challenge of staying awake (try it: it works!) And if all else fails, get up. Don't stay in bed awake (see tip number 6). Go and do something else for a bit and wait for the sleep train to return.

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