Dr Lindsay Browning
March is National Bed Month and the 15th of March is World Sleep Day – so what better time to take a look at your sleep and make sure you are getting a great night’s sleep!
The importance of a good night’s sleep can’t be overstated. It is recommended that 18-64 year olds get between 7-9 hours sleep per night, with people aged 65 and older sleeping between 7-8 hours per night. Regularly sleeping much less than these recommendations is associated an with increased risk of cancer, diabetes, dementia, heart disease, compromised immunity and even early mortality. That is scary stuff! However, a recent UK survey from the Sleep Council found that almost three-quarters (74%) of Brits sleep less than seven hours per night.
If you are one of these three-quarters of Brits, then here are 10 tips to help you take a look at your sleeping habits and make positive changes to improve your sleep.
10 top sleep hygiene tips:
1. Have a regular bedtime and waketime
Keeping a regular wake and bedtime 7 days per week will help you sleep well. When you keep a regular sleep schedule of going to bed and getting up at about the same times each day, your body develops a robust circadian rhythm which helps you to sleep at the right time at night. When you go to bed early and wake up early during the working week, but you then stay up late and have a lie in at the weekend, you are giving yourself weekend “jet-lag” – making it much harder to go to sleep early on a Sunday night ready for another early start on Monday morning!
2. Increase your exercise levels
Exercise directly impacts your need for “deep sleep” at night. The more you exercise, the more deep sleep you will have. Deep sleep helps you to feel refreshed when you wake up, and helps with sleep continuity. However, make sure that you exercise during the daytime and not too close to bedtime, as exercise in the evening can sometimes be disruptive to sleep.
3. Get outside for morning and midday sunshine
Sunshine is the natural way of telling our bodies what time it is. We are naturally designed to produce melatonin at night to help promote sleep after exposure to morning/midday sunshine. A late morning walk outside in the bright sunshine is a great way of making sure that your sleep hormones will be produced at the right time at night. With the long dark nights of winter behind us, and spring just around the corner, this should become even easier.
4. Ensure that you have a good, supportive bed
As March is National Bed Month, it is a great time to think about your bedroom. Is your bed old and uncomfortable? If so, then even if you are doing all the right things to help you sleep, you may struggle to sleep when you lie down on an unsupportive bed. Watch this video from the Sleep Council about the importance of a comfortable bed for a great night’s sleep and take a look at And So To Bed’s bed collection.
5. Avoid heavy meals around bedtime
Eating a large meal too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and make it harder to get to sleep. However, going to bed on a very empty stomach can also hinder sleep. Try to eat a light snack before bed with complex carbohydrates and dairy, such as an oat cookie and a glass of milk, to help you to not be too hungry to sleep without being too heavy for your body to digest whilst sleeping.
6. Cut down on your daily caffeine
Caffeine stops your brain from realising how tired you are, so if you have caffeine in your system, you will find it harder to sleep because your brain will tell you that you aren’t tired. Where it gets really interesting is that caffeine has an average half life of 5-7 hours. That means that 5-7 hours after your cup of coffee, half of the caffeine is still in your system! Caffeine is not only found in tea and coffee, but also in chocolate and in sodas such as cola and energy drinks. If you have trouble sleeping then it is recommended for you to have your last cup of caffeine of the day at around 11am.
7. Allow time in the evening to relax
It is important to make time to wind down and relax before you go to sleep. Make sure that you switch off your electronic devices an hour before bed. If you are working straight up until the point you want to go to sleep, then you will find it hard to move from work mode to sleep mode. A relaxing activity such as reading, listening to music or meditating before bed will help you to get into the right mental place for sleep.
8. Have a warm bath before bed
When you have a relaxing warm bath before bed, not only will that help you to wind down after a busy day, but also the temperature of the bath will help you sleep. When you go to sleep, your body temperature naturally decreases as you fall asleep. If you have a warm bath, then you artificially raise your body temperature. Then, when you come out of the warm bath, your body temperature will naturally start to drop mimicking the drop in temperature that happens as you fall asleep, making you feel sleepy.
9. Don’t drink alcohol to help you sleep
When you drink alcohol you may fall asleep quickly, and if you get drunk then you may in fact pass out very quickly. This might make you think that alcohol helps you to sleep. Indeed, there are people who use alcohol to self-medicate their sleeping problems for this reason. However, after you have passed out, your sleep will be disrupted during the night. Alcohol affects your ability to have dreaming sleep (REM sleep) and you may find that you wake up several times in the early hours of the morning – meaning you won’t have a restful night’s sleep.
10. Don’t lie in bed for long periods if you can’t sleep
If you can’t sleep, then lying still in bed trying to sleep is one of the worst things you can do. The longer you lie in bed trying to sleep and clock watching, paradoxically the more anxious you are likely to get about not sleeping. It is much better to get out of bed and do something else for a while instead of lying in bed not sleeping for hours.
Hopefully even one or two of these sleep hygiene tips may help you to have a more restful night’s sleep. Happy National Bed Month!
Dr Lindsay Browning is a sleep expert and Chartered Psychologist who offers help to people of all ages with sleeping difficulties at her private practice Trouble Sleeping (www.troublesleeping.co.uk).