Tips for better sleep
Sleep is very important
Advances in neuroscience means we are starting to understand the importance of sleep. Sleep isn’t a passive activity. During sleep our brains are working hard repairing and rebuilding. Lack of sleep compromises our immune system. This makes us more prone to developing physical and mental health problems. It also makes us more impulsive and less able to make good decisions.
Sleep helps you function better
Getting enough sleep helps us function better all round. Often creative solutions to difficult problems will come after a good nights’ sleep. We all know how horrible we feel if we do not get enough sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
Most adults need around 7-9 hours a night, though this can vary and some people need less. Children and young people need more to ensure healthy brain development. If you are not getting enough sleep because of bad habits, it is important that you address these and make sure you get the sleep your body needs.
Getting a good night’s sleep
Sometimes it is hard to get a good night’s sleep no matter how much you try. If you are stressed or experiencing a mental health difficulty sleep is often affected.
Ten tips to help get into a good sleep pattern
1. Respect your Circadian rhythms
Disrupted sleep patterns can severely impact on our physical and mental health.
All animals have a built-in circadian rhythm which tells them when to sleep and when to be awake. Humans are designed to be awake during the day and asleep at night.
If you start to mess with this, it can have a profound impact on your mental and physical wellbeing. If you’ve ever had jet lag, you know how awful that feels. This has implications for people who work shifts, work at night or have to do a lot of work internationally.
It is much harder to get into good sleep habits, if there are times you have to stay up all night. Make sure you go to bed and get up at times that fit in with your Circadian rhythms. Keeping to regular sleep times can help with this.
2. Increase exposure to natural sunlight or bright lights during the day
As your body is designed to be awake during the day, getting more light can help your body wake up and be alert. On the other hand, if you find that the sun wakes you up too early in the summer, you might want to use blackout blinds or an eye mask. After all, these days we don’t need to be up at sunrise to make the most of the daylight.
3. Where possible, keep your bedroom as a place to sleep
Where possible, keep your bedroom as a place to sleep or have sex in. Check the temperature, not too hot and not too cold. Things like bedding and a comfortable mattress can make a difference.
4. Avoid bright lights
Reduce blue light exposure (from electronic devices and screens) at least an hour before you plan to go to sleep.
5. Don’t look at screens in bed
This will wake your brain up and make it harder to switch off. Put your devices into sleep mode and/or in another room so you are not disturbed by alerts. Read or listen to an audiobook or music if you need to unwind in bed.
6. Take steps to calm your mind during the day
We are constantly exposed to multiple stimulants from messages, social media etc. Set regular times to look at these - not just before you go to sleep. This can help with the feeling that you need to be always checking and responding. This will make it easier to switch off when you want to go to sleep. Meditation, guided relaxation or visualisations help some people unwind and drop off. This is also helpful if you wake up in the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. If you can’t sleep, deep relaxation is the next best thing. It is important to find what works for you.
7. Get regular exercise
This can help reduce the tensions that have built up during the day but avoid excessive exercise just before bed-time.
8. Think about your diet
Avoid rich, heavy or spicy food before bedtime. Eating lots of sugar and refined carbs such as white bread, white rice, and pasta during the day can trigger wakefulness at night and pull you out of the deep, restorative stages of sleep.
9. Avoid stimulants
Avoid drinks such as caffeine, for several hours before you want to go to sleep. Alcohol may help you drop off in the short term but ends up interfering with your sleep cycle. Try a hot milky drink or camomile tea at bedtime instead.
10. Write down what you are thinking
Write down your worries before you go to sleep.
If you wake up and can’t get back to sleep:
- Avoid checking the time when you wake up
- Try not to stress about not getting back to sleep. Stay out of your head. Focus on your breathing or practice visualisation. This can calm down the chatter in your head and help get back to sleep.
- If you can’t get back to sleep and the other techniques haven’t worked, try doing some non-stimulating activity like reading a book. Keep the lights dim and avoid screens or anything that might tell your brain it’s time to wake up.
Warning signs poster
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