It’s free, legal, and makes us feel great. It recharges our batteries, reduces stress, boosts our energy and mood, and helps us stay healthy.
Yet many of us do not put a high enough priority on sleep and do not get enough to meet our needs. Some people sleep well but rarely seem to get to bed on time and spend their days struggling to stay awake. Others find sleep elusive and toss and turn throughout the night.
The pandemic has had an adverse effect on many people’s sleep patterns. The stress and uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, in addition to the significant changes in how we live our lives, keeps many people awake at night.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis, it was estimated that about one in 10 people has difficulty sleeping on three or more nights a week. Women are more likely to suffer from sleepless nights than men and those most severely affected are aged from 25 to 34 years, according to sleep studies.
While many of us complain about the discomfort of lying awake counting sheep, this inconvenience may be the smallest price we pay for losing out on regular shut-eye. Persistent lack of sleep can lead to irritability, tension, inefficiency, and even accidents.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways we can help ourselves to sleep better. The key to solving sleeplessness problems, for many of us, may be found in our daily routine. By examining our sleep schedule, eating habits, and lifestyle choices we may identify the culprits and go on to achieve quality sleep.
The following tips aim to help you optimise your sleep so you can face each new day rested, energised, mentally alert, and in a positive frame of mind.
1. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Going to bed at irregular times prevents the biological clock from synchronising with the awake system.
2. Physical activity in the morning or afternoon deepens our quality of sleep and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. Leave at least four hours between any form of exercise and bedtime to give the body time to wind down. If you find it difficult to make time to exercise daily, aim for 20 to 30 minutes at least three days a week. A brisk walk is an easy way to stay fit.
3. Keep your bedroom dark enough to facilitate sleep. Close curtains or blinds before going to sleep. If necessary, buy thicker curtains. These will be especially useful during the summer months when it gets brighter earlier.
4. Ensure the room temperature is comfortable.
5. Avoid stimulants, such as coffee, tea, cola drinks, and highly spiced foods after 5pm. They may make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try a warm milky drink instead.
6. Monitor your liquid intake. Limit drinking liquids a few hours before bedtime to prevent you having to go to the bathroom during the night.
7. Create a good sleep environment. Sleep in a cool room on a comfortable, supportive mattress.
8. Do not worry about falling asleep. Stay relaxed. The more you worry, the less you will sleep.
9. Try to avoid exciting or emotionally upsetting activities too close to bedtime. They fire up the awake system, may induce muscle tension, and prepare the body for action, according to Chris Idzikowski, a leading expert on sleep related disorders.
10. Have a bath. They have long been extolled for their mental and physical relaxation benefits. A relaxing soak before bedtime may help you unwind and therefore sleep better.
11. Make sure your bedroom is not too bright, noisy, hot, cold, or cluttered. The atmosphere should be conducive to relaxation to sleep.
12. Have a warm, glass of milk before bed. Whole milk is one of the largest sources of tryptophan which promotes sleep.
What to avoid
1. Cat naps. A daytime nap may be tempting if you feel sleepy. Naps have long been popular with the brilliant and the famous. Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle, and Thomas Edison liked to nap during the day as did Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The benefits of cat napping are numerous and include relaxation, reduced fatigue, increased alertness, improved mood, quicker reaction times, and better memory. However, long or frequent naps may disturb your nighttime sleep so think twice before drifting off to the Land of Nod during the day.
2. Having caffeine drinks in the evening. Over 150mg per day (roughly two cups of coffee ) reduces our sleep time and increases the time it takes to get off to sleep, according to experts. It can cause restlessness, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, agitation, palpitations, and insomnia.
3. If you are experiencing sleep difficulties try not to watch television in bed or use electronic devices, such as an iPad or mobile phone because it it can stimulate the brain and keep you awake. Also, avoid reading, studying, or snacking there otherwise your bed and bedroom may become associated with wakefulness, not sleep.
4. Worrying. This is easier said than done. Worrying about falling asleep will not help you nod off. If you are concerned or preoccupied with something, share it with someone you trust or write it down. Then include what action, if any, may be required to resolve the issues. This will help release what has been troubling you and help clear your head. Try to relax before bedtime by doing some meditation, thinking grateful thoughts, recalling relaxing scenes or times you felt totally at ease.
5. Getting annoyed because you cannot sleep. If you are lying awake and you are unable to fall asleep after five or 10 minutes get up and go into another room. Stay as long as you wish and then return to bed only when you feel sleepy. Your aim is to associate your bed with falling asleep, most of all, falling asleep within minutes.
Buying a new bed
We spend one-third of our lives asleep so it is important that our beds are comfortable.
• Always put quality above price. There are some perfectly acceptable low-priced mattresses available, but when it comes to your bed, spend as much as you can afford
• The right support is crucial. If your bed is too hard or too soft, it will be uncomfortable and unsupportive. Your mattress should be firm enough to support your spine in the correct alignment while conforming to your body’s contours.
• Always try before you buy. This is not possible during the current restrictions but it is good advice to bear in mind when the shops are re-open.
• Avoid waiting until your bed has “worn out” completely. Research shows that sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress can rob you of up to one hour’s sleep per night, which adds up to a full night’s sleep over the course of a week. You should consider changing your bed after seven years.