As a young person, when I was tired, I would go to bed and go to sleep. Imagine! Such is the joy of youth! These days, (or should I say “nights”), it’s a bit more of a lottery. Very occasionally, I manage a full 7 or 8 hours but mostly it’s 4 or 5 hours, and some nights I don’t sleep at all. The days following those sleepless nights are not pleasant. I feel as if I have a particularly strong hangover all day. I feel sick and can’t concentrate.
We are asleep, or trying to be asleep, for approximately one third of our lives and good sleep plays a vital role in our health and well-being. Quality sleep promotes strong mental health, supports healthy brain function, maintains physical health, and a generally improved quality of life.
Recently, after a few weeks of particularly poor sleeping, I decided to make an effort to do what I could to improve this area of my life, rather than just accept that it’s an “age thing” as I have frequently heard.
I was even at the stage of considering seeing my GP to ask for medication, something that I have always tried to avoid. I have regularly used ‘over the counter’ sleep aids whose active ingredient is diphenhydramine hydrochloride, (an antihistamine that causes sleepiness), but I worry about their long term use. There are reported links with dementia, and the staff at the medicines counter in Boots always terrify me with their dark warnings about the dangers of using such tablets for more than 3 days.
I needed to educate myself about sleep and, as it turned out, there was a quite lot I didn’t know. What helps people go to sleep? Why wake after just a few hours? What are the different stages of sleep? Sorting myths from facts, I wanted to give myself the best chance of improving my sleep …and, you know what ? It’s worked. For the last week, I have slept an average 8 hours a night with no medication. Just by following the steps below:
Firstly, during the daytime try and get outside. I know it’s hard in these short November days, but daylight will increase the bodies production of serotonin. After 12 hours or so, the serotonin is converted to melatonin which helps us sleep at night. Avoiding bright light in the evening and exposing yourself to sunlight in the morning will keep your ‘circadian rhythms’ in check.
Before you go to bed, prepare the room. The bedroom should be as dark as possible and not have any distracting noises like loud ticking clocks. Dim the lights in the bedroom. Consider using blackout curtains and / or eye shades. For noise problems try ear plugs or “white noise” machines.
Quality pillows and a decent mattress will help. How many of us have had the same mattress for years? The right mattress needs to be comfortable, whilst still being firm enough to provide good postural alignment.
Do not drink coffee or any other caffeinated drinks after lunchtime, and try not to eat for the four hours or so before you go to bed. Eating just before bed may prompt the release of insulin and signal wakefulness in the brain, which will then interfere with the ability to fall asleep.
Review the times you retire and rise. A regular routine is helpful. Create a ritual around bedtime.
The temperature of the room should be cool and airy without draughts. Consider the use of fans or humidifiers.
Do not cat nap in the day. Tempting though it is to have a little lie down, this probably won’t help in your quest for a full nights sleep.
Be careful with alcohol. It blocks REM sleep which is the most restorative type of sleep. Different types of alcohol may have varying effects, but I’m aware that white wine in particular, has a very negative impact on my sleep patterns.
Do some exercise every day.
Take a relaxing bath before bed.
Listen to a relaxing or meditation app.
Read before bed, but make sure you are not reading in bright light. The new Kindle Oasis has an automatic warm light control, which can be set to gradually shift to a warmer white as the sun sets, removing blue light to aid with sleep.
Use a sleep aid app. I have tried a few and by far the best is SleepScore. It will help you track, review, and improve your sleep. Fascinating information is relayed to your phone in the morning, advising of how much light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep you have experienced. It not only helps with understanding your sleep patterns, it also gives you lots of hints and tips on improving your sleep.
Avoid looking at social media apps just before lying down. I had a habit of flipping through brightly lit Instagram just before turning the light out… and then wondered why I couldn’t drop off!
If you are lying in bed struggling to go to sleep, think about a trip you took or a place you visited recently that you enjoyed. Imagine yourself back there. Try to recall every detail of the room in which you stayed. Now imagine yourself walking from that room down to the restaurant/the beach/the street, and again try and recall every detail. I find this helps with trying to slow down and stop my mind whirring with thoughts of work and every day stresses.
Try a whole body phased relaxation. Start with tensing your feet and then relaxing them, move on to your calves, thighs, hands and arms… breathe deeply and try to imagine your body becoming heavier and heavier as you become more relaxed.
I really hope some of these ideas will work for you. Sleep is so important. Getting enough sleep is not just about feeling refreshed when we awake. It is essential for helping us maintain optimal health and well-being. It helps with better productivity during the day, increased concentration and a lower risk of weight gain. It also lowers the risk of heart disease and depression and promotes a stronger immune system. Sleep truly is the The elixir of life. ❤️
“Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.”
~ Thomas Dekker