A good night’s sleep helps to recover from the previous day and get ready for the next one. Sleep helps us to think more clearly, manage difficult situations better, and feel more energetic.
Although it’s generally agreed that 8 hours sleep is ideal, the most important part of sleep is the ‘deep sleep’ phase, the first 5 hours after you fall asleep. However, regularly getting less than 5 hours sleep a night will eventually takes its toll.
Stress can get in the way of a good night’s sleep. This can feed Into a cycle of worry, where anxiety about not being able to sleep makes it even harder to relax. Being worried about having nightmares can also make it hard to relax and get to sleep.
Poor quality ‘deep sleep’ can lead to:
- Tiredness during the day
- Poor concentration
- Aches and pains in the muscles and bones
- An immune system that doesn’t work well, leading to frequent illness
- Longer periods of depression.
Tips for sleeping well:
If possible, try to establish a consistent routine. Typically, this will take two weeks to a month to become a habit
- Go to bed at around the same time each night.
- Switch electronic screens off 30 minutes before bed. Try to avoid any highly stimulating activity before bed – whether that is physical stimulation like playing competitive games, watching an exciting or scary TV program or having a charged conversation that stimulates your mind.
- Take a warm shower or bath before bed. Sometimes a warm bath about one hour before bed time helps the body’s temperature rise and then when it falls again you might feel drowsy
- Read a short story or light, relaxing magazine article. Use a bedside light to reduce brightness when reading
- Caffeine can have a body life of up to 7 hours so it is probably best to avoid drinks with caffeine after about 2 pm in the day – this includes tea (including green tea), coffee, colas and lots of other soft drinks (check the labels).
- Going to bed too hungry or too full can get in the way of sleep because the stomach and digestive system are working hard
- If you nap in the day time or before going to bed (in front of television is a big trap) then you might have tricked your body into thinking it is rested and you will have trouble getting off to sleep – try to avoid doing this
- If you are taking prescription medication, take it at the times recommended as some medications can keep you alert if taken too close to bed time.
- If you find you are waking up to empty your bladder a lot at night, then limit any fluid intake for a couple of hours before bed time. Avoid eating food that is too salty as this will make you thirsty during the night.
- When you have decided it is time to go to sleep, relax yourself by taking slow, deep breaths through your nose for about 10 minutes. Notice the muscles of your body relax, as you sink and relax into the mattress.
- If you go to bed and don’t fall asleep, DON’T STAY IN BED. This is the most important part of the sleep hygiene protocol – by staying in bed when you are awake you are training your body into associating bed with wakefulness. If you have lain awake for 15-30 minutes (no longer) then take your wakefulness out of bed, into another room and DO SOMETHING BORING. This is most important – sitting with a dim light on an arm chair is a good option. Once you are feeling drowsy or sleepy, then take your drowsiness back to bed. This helps your mind associate bed with sleep. You may have to do this multiple times at first. If it is winter it can be tempting to stay in a warm, cosy bed, even when you are awake – make sure the other room has a warm rug or blanket to put over your knees while you are sitting there waiting for drowsiness to come back again.
- Remind yourself that even though nightmares are disturbing, they’re not real. I am safe.
- Tell yourself, although I am anticipating a poor night’s sleep, it could be fine…I have slept well before. This tossing and turning at night will pass.
- If you find yourself unable to let go of a particular thought or worry, get up and write it down, then you can come back to it and work on it after you have a good sleep.
- Make sure that the room temperature is comfortable for sleeping. On hot summer nights, make use of fans or air conditioning, in winter use an extra blanket or heated wheat pack to keep you warm.
- Try not to look at a clock or watch if you are not falling asleep – the time will pass anyway and checking may just make you feel anxious which will get in the way of sleep
- Smoking nicotine stimulates the body – if you are a smoker try to cut back as the evening progresses and try not to smoke just before going to bed
- Get up at the same time every morning, even if you had a bad night. Resist the temptation to have ‘just a little bit more’ sleep!
- Do something to ‘wake yourself up’ in the morning, like a quick walk, run or bike ride.
If you have been having long-term sleeping problems, you know that it is not easy to change. It might be time to seek expert help. This could be your GP or other health practitioner, or a counsellor who deals with sleep problems. If things are really