Why is good sleep important?
Good sleep is important for everyone's mental and physical health. No matter what your age, fitness level, general health, gender or backgound, sleep has an impact on your mood, energy levels, productivity, patience, cognitive function and immune system. Everyone can benefit from more and better sleep.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe your practices and habits which have a positive impact on the amount and quality of sleep you experience. Many people suffer from poor sleep which results in anxiety about having poor sleep, which becomes a vicious cycle. It is important to take practical steps to break the habit of poor sleep, but it is a gradual process of changing habits and learning to relax, not an overnight fix.
Tips to improve your sleep
Limit daytime naps
If you don't sleep well at night, you can often feel tired and be tempted to nap during the day. Whilst a short 15-30 minute snooze can make your feel more alert and get you through until bedtime, any more can negatively impact your ability to sleep properly at night. Try not to nap after 3pm as you probably won't feel tired at your usual bedtime. Instead, push through and bring your bedtime forward by an hour.
Many of us can't get started without our morning coffee, particularly if we haven't slept well the night before, but any level of caffeine in your bloodstream may affect your ability to sleep. Try to avoid caffeine, nicotine and alcohol altogether, but if you must indulge, only in moderation and never within 4 hours of your usual bedtime. Caffeine particularly will have an effect for up to 12 hours and although alcohol can induce a feeling of sleepiness, it can result in vivid dreams, restlessness and repeated waking in the second part of the sleep cycle as the body processes the drug. Don't forget stiumlants can also take the form of emotional upset, intellectual challenge, and drama, so avoid evening disputes with your loved ones, working too close to bedtime, or the exciting horror or thrillers as your bedtime reading or viewing.
Adjust your diet
Although heavy food can make you feel sleepy, it will also affect the quality of your sleep. Avoid starchy, rich, fatty, fried, spicy and citrus foods as your evening meal, perhaps switching your light lunch and heavy dinner when you can. Carbonated drinks may also trigger indigestion or wind, which won't help. Certain foods have a soporific effect and will improve your quality of sleep. Lettuce, almonds, warm skimmed milk, fish, bananas and chamomile tea are all said to help you sleep.
As little as 10 minutes of intensive aerobic exercise that really gets your heart pumping and makes you breath harder can improve your sleep and longer periods of exercise will make you feel physically and mentally tired. Try running, power walking, hill walking or cycling daily to see a difference as exercising in the fresh air will also help. However, such activities too close to bedtime can have a negative impact, so if you can only exercise in the evening, try something more gentle, such as gardening, strolling, yoga or gentle stretching.
Spend more time outside
Exposure to fresh air and natural light have both been shown to help your natural sleep/wake cycle, especially when coupled with sleeping in a dark room. As humans, we respond to nature and have evolved to sleep during the night and be active during the day.
Reduce your screentime
This is difficult if your job involves lots of computer work, but if that's the case, try to offset your hours of work by avoiding screentime in your hours of leisure. Don't watch TV whilst you eat, make phone calls rather than video calls, increase your time exercising, being outside and interacting with other people in person. In particular don't watch TV in bed or take your phone into the bedroom. The blue light emitted from these devices can adversely affect your ability to sleep well.
Ensure your environment for sleeping is pleasant
For optimal sleep, your mattress and bedding should be comfortable and clean, the room should not be too warm (16-21 degrees celsius) and well aired, dark and quiet. Some people find that a lavendar fragrance or soft gentle music can help to make the environment feel more relaxing. Perhaps try breathing exercises, guided mediation or relaxation. Find what works for you.
Establish a regular routine
Nothing is going to work in one night. You need to form a new good habit of sleeping well and this could take several weeks to embed and be effective in the long term. Set realistic goals so that you can stick to them. If you can't do one hour of daily exercise for several weeks, aim to do 15 minutes instead but ensure you do it regularly. Try to keep regular hours, preferably going to bed earlier and waking earlier if you can. If you do wake up in the night and have been asleep for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed, do something relaxing in another room for 10 minutes and then go back to bed so that your mind associates your bed with a place of sleep and other places as places of waking. Breathing exercises can be particularly helpful when you return to bed in this scenario.
Address your general levels of anxiety and stress
All of the above advice will help to offset any life stress levels and reduce anxiety, but if something is troubling you, perhaps seek professional help in addressing the cause of your unease. Early intervention is key. Talking to someone about your problems will help and counselling sessions may dramatically improve your sleep if you manage to confront your fears, feelings and issues.
CCC provides a range of counselling therapies to suit your individual needs, with over 40 different counsellors across Cambridgeshire and surrounding counties. Call your nearest reception or book online to start your journey to better mental health, and perhaps better sleep!