Tired? Overwhelmed? Stressed? Struggling to sleep?
Sleeping difficulties impact on all areas of our lives. A single bad night’s sleep for some people can make the following day tough to manage, let alone multiple bad nights. This blog will give you ideas of simple changes you can make to your evening and sleep routine to reduce the need for you to count sheep.
***If you work night shifts or have young children (and therefore need to get up in the night), I’m sure you’re aware of the key things getting in the way of your sleep already. Some of these ideas may be helpful, but you may benefit from sleep hygiene related to your exact circumstance. Feel free to get in touch for more specific resources.
There are 4 stages of sleep - Rapid Eye Movement (REM), stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3. REM sleep is the lightest stage of sleep, and when we dream/have nightmares, whereas stage 3 is the deepest stage of sleep. A complete sleep cycle (through all 4 stages) will take an average of 90-110 minutes and we continuously move from these cycles all night.
As we go through the stages its quite normal to go through periods of wakefulness, usually when we’re in the lighter stages of sleep (REM stages). The first sleep cycles each night tend to have relatively short REM sleeps and long periods of deep sleep, but as the night goes on, we spend less time in deep sleep and more in lighter stages (REM) (see graph). The deep stages of sleep are the most restorative for your brain and body. If we have been sleep deprived, we automatically sleep longer in these stages anyway, to try to make up for it.
How much sleep do you need?
The amount of sleep we need varies between people – it's a myth that everyone needs 8 hours. For example, a baby will need around 16 hours, whilst an older adult tends to need 4-6 hours.
What is Sleep hygiene?
‘Sleep hygiene’ is all about controlling the environment and behaviour related to sleep. Research has found various different things affect a person’s sleep; whether it is in a positive or negative way. By becoming aware of these things, we can start to change what we do in order to get closer to achieving good, deep and restful night sleep.
What can affect our sleep?
There are 3 categories of things can lead to getting not enough sleep:
Have you noticed if any of these things is affecting your sleep?
- A weakened sleep drive (e.g., Inactivity, Napping, Caffeine)
- Hyperarousal (e.g., anxiety, stress, worrying, time in bed awake)
- Disrupted body clock (e.g., inconsistent wake-sleep times, room is too light or noisy)
Ok, let’s dive into some specific things that may be affecting your sleep:
Alcohol & Smoking
Alcohol disrupts sleep cycles, causes you to wake up frequently in the night and get less of the restorative phases of sleep. A cigarette before bed may feel relaxing, BUT nicotine actually wakes the body up. It raises your heart rate, blood pressure, and stimulates the release of adrenaline.
o Tip: avoid alcohol and smoking late in the evening
As you’re aware, caffeine is a stimulant and helps keep us awake. Caffeine takes on average 5-6 hours to break down in our bodies. Other factors can increase the amount of time it takes to break down, such as certain antidepressants.
o Tip: avoid caffeine after early afternoon. This includes: coffee, tea, chocolate, energy drinks and fizzy drinks.
Eating a meal close to bedtime can raise your metabolism which raises your physiological arousal, making it more difficult for you to fall asleep. On the other side though, going to bed on an empty stomach can cause problems too as your brain can trigger you awake when it detects you are hungry and low on glucose and nutrients which your body needs.
o Tip: Eat a good balanced meal 3-4 hours before going to bed.
You should always follow the times your doctor/pharmacist has told you to take medication. Some medications can make you drowsy, and others can stimulate you and make you feel awake. This therefore affects what times you should take these medications, and you should not take those which can wake you in the evening.
Exercise can increase tiredness which is great, but it can also raise your activity levels and make you feel more awake.
o Tip: Try not to exercise intensely up to 4 hours before going to bed.
Noisy bedroom = trouble sleeping.
o Tip: If you can’t control the noise levels (noise from outside your windows or noisy neighbours), you could try ear plugs and use those at night. Or consider a white noise machine.
Darkness and Light
Your bedroom should be as dark as possible. Melatonin is a chemical in our body which contributes to our sleep, it’s production is stopped by light, including artificial light.
o Tip: Dim the lights in the evening, stay away from screens where possible and use an eye mask if you need it. Similarly, open the curtains in the morning for some natural light.
Some people can jump into bed after doing or watching something stimulating and fall asleep. However, quite a few of us cannot. It is recommended that you have a regular sleep routine before bed.
o Tip: Do something relaxing or boring, such as reading, meditation or breathing exercises in the 30 minutes or hour before going to bed.
o Tip: Try to go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This ensures that your body keeps your sleep rhythms consistent, so your body naturally feels tired and awake at these times.
What do I do if I can’t sleep?
If you go to bed after your regular routine and you can’t sleep, don’t just lie in bed awake.
o Why? Well we want to get your body to associate the bed with sleep (and not being awake for hours unable to sleep).
If you haven’t been able to sleep after about 20 minutes, get up and do something calming or boring until you feel sleepy, then return to bed and try again. If you can’t sleep again, repeat this process until you fall asleep. I know this sounds like a very bad idea if you are tired, but decades of sleep research show that it works as a way to help you to sleep better.
It’s normal to get tired in the afternoon, but having a nap will disrupt your body’s sleep clock. If you are having sleeping problems, it is best to avoid taking naps during the day.
Overthinking and a Busy Mind
At night time when there is no distraction, we have to sit with our thoughts, and when you cannot sleep, people tend to start thinking/worrying and have an overly active mind. Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to this, but there are a few things you can try:
- Try relaxation techniques (deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation) when getting ready for bed.
- Worry time – put aside certain times to spend thinking through your worries during the day. For example, people may spend 30 minutes in the afternoon/evening (but not too close to bed time) purely for thinking about their worries, maybe using a worry tree, and problem solving where possible.. During this time, you can worry to your heart’s content. Outside of this time, you make an agreement with yourself not to dwell on the worries, and if a worry pops into your mind, you write it down and do not worry about it until the allocated time comes around.
Journaling - this is similar to the worry time except you write down everything that is on your mind in a journal. Do this for 30 minutes. Once it is down on paper, agree with yourself to try to move on from those thoughts, perhaps with activities or a planned distraction.
Ok, what’s next?
So, which of the above is relevant to you?
Let’s create a plan to do something about them! Pick one or two things to try over the coming week and stick with those for a few weeks. It takes a few weeks for there to be any noticeable changes. It can also help to keep a sleep diary to track any changes.
If there aren’t any changes in your sleeping and you feel it is having an impact on your life and mood, please contact us to book in a session or your GP for further advice.