In the Great British Bed Time Report produced by the sleep council, 63% of people in the UK report get less than the recommended 7-8 hours’ sleep per night, with just over half of those getting less than 6 hours per night and 22% of Brits getting poor quality sleep. According to a report produced by insurance company Aviva as many as 16 million UK adults are suffering from sleepless nights as a third say they have insomnia.
Insomnia and poor quality sleep can lead to fatigue, affect mood, make us irritable or short tempered, stressed or anxious. It can also affect concentration making it difficult to maintain focus and make decisions.
Long term poor quality sleep can also have serious health consequences such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. But getting a good night’s sleep needn’t be a nightmare, there are things you can do to help yourself get the restful restorative sleep your body needs for a healthy life and boost mental wellbeing. Try these seven tips to aid good quality sleep.
1. Establish a routine.
Bed times are not just for children. By sticking to a routine of going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning you are programming your body’s circadian rhythms – your own natural body clock – to be alert in the morning and sleepy at night. Irregular sleep patterns interrupt this cycle and mess with the body’s natural rhythm. Choose a bed time that suits you and stick to it. You should also try to avoid naps in the day time. A brief 20 minute cat nap can be refreshing but any more than that will disturb your usual sleep patterns and should be avoided if possible.
2. Get your running shoes on.
That’s right, exercise during the day increases alertness by the stimulation of hormones, boosting serotonin (the happy hormone) and decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone). Regular exercise can boost your day time energy levels but avoid exercise just before bed as this can have the opposite effect. You don’t want to be stimulating hormones at a time when you’re trying to relax and unwind.
3. Think comfort
Think about your bedroom, is your mattress old? Does it feel too soft or hard? Does your pillow support your head? How do your sheets and pyjamas feel when you get into bed? Is the room too hot or cold? Making the environment comfortable to sleep in can make a big difference to the quality of your sleep.
4. Shutting down
Removing light sources and making rooms as dark as possible send signals to the body that it’s time to start shutting down for sleep. In recent years the biggest sources of light in the bedroom come from technology and electronics. Try to switch off from computers, tablets and mobile phones at least an hour before bed. If you do use them, turn the brightness down or activate the blue light filter to reduce the interference with your sleep patterns.
5. Tune out
Noise can be a big actor in keeping people awake, whether it is background noise from within your household or noise pollution from the street outside it can keep you awake. Try to eliminate unnecessary noise in the house, shut down the TV, turn of the computers etc. For some people a little white noise, ambient sounds, can mask the noise from the rest of the house. Try some relaxing music, nature sounds or a talking book. Many meditation apps have sleep focused content, either ambient sounds or guided meditations focused on sleep.
Scent can be a big factor in helping people relax. The smell of fresh bed linen, scented candles and incense oils. Lavender for example is known for putting people in a more relaxed state, reducing heart rate and blood pressure. You could try taking a warm relaxing bath with your favourite scented bath products to help you unwind ready for bed.
7. Drink me
Certain food and drink can help you relax and prepare for sleep such as warm milk, hot chocolate or camomile tea. It’s not a good idea to go to bed hungry but a heavy meal before bed can make sleep difficulties worse. If you need to eat before bed, make it a light snack. Things to avoid include alcohol and stimulants like caffeine (including tea, coffee and fizzy caffeinated drinks).
By doing some, or even all of these things every night you will begin to build yourself a bed time ritual. In time this, in itself, will begin to signal to your body that it is time to shut down for the night and rest. Try it and see what a difference it can make to the quality of your sleep.