No one wants poor sleep, difficulty falling asleep, waking repeatedly in the night, or having chronic insomnia. If going to sleep has become something that you dread, here are 10 things to keep in mind and to practice before turning out the lights.
Work out your pre-sleep routine
Most of us enjoy getting ready for sleep. But, poor sleep preparation can lead to having a restless night.
So here are some things that you can do. Research shows that taking a hot bath is very helpful. In fact, it’s more effective at helping you to physically relax than even taking a shower. Feeling clean, with a hot body that cools slowly when you get into bed, is a wonderful feeling, and should help you to settle after a hard day of work.
Snuggly bedclothes, pyjamas, an old t-shirt or whatever else makes you feel comfortable (hey, you’re never to old for that favorite stuffed animal!) will also help.
If you are prone to cold feet (most older adults are), sleep socks (low-cut socks) are also a good option, keeping your feet warm during the night, without cutting off your blood’s circulation..
Uncomfortable bed and/or pillows
If your bed is uncomfortable – too soft, to hard, or just unsupportive – invest in a better bed. Now you’re probably going, “Max! Why would I throw my hard earned money at something I’m simply going to lie on, doing nothing for hours?” Well, the answer is that we spent half of our lives in our beds, recharging our batteries so we can perform to our best ability each and every day of our lives. So if you can, you better treat yourself to a good one! It’s a health investment!
Find the right pillows. Not all pillows are the same, so find the ones that work for you – you’ll be glad that you did. Some people even like to travel with the right pillow as part of their ‘sleep religion’. Hotel bedrooms rarely feel as comfortable as your one at home (although they might smell fancier), so bringing a few supplies with you can make the difference between an ‘OK’ night and a great night’s sleep.
Too much light
Light can be really impairing when it comes to sleep. Whether it’s from street lights outside your window, or your blinds letting in morning light, light makes it harder to fall and stay asleep. A good pair of curtains or blinds that block out light is ideal. Even the light from your digital clock can make your sleep erratic. Ideally switch electronic devices such as mobile phones off, or set to silent, some even have a sleep setting.
A disturbance, argument, unresolved issue, anger
Most of us know that having a disturbed mental state before bed will usually result in a poor night’s sleep. Techniques such as writing things down, list making, discussing it with someone, talking it through, all help to process the disturbance, event, argument, unresolvable issue, what have you. If none of this works, remember, tomorrow is another day.
Exercise just before bed
With the exception of bedroom love-making (of course) intense exercise such as a late-night gym session, can have a negative effect on sleeping. This is due to your heart rate and metabolism being increased, making it harder to unwind in bed later. It is always better to do exercise in the day or early evening.
An uncomfortable or noisy environment
Noise is a big interference when it comes to sleep. An old boiler, your neighbor’s dinner party, the student rave upstairs, a domestic argument in the street, doors slamming, floor boards creaking, traffic, ambulances, or just the noise of your partner snoring, can all stop you from obtaining that beautiful, well deserved, night’s sleep. These noises are often even louder in the summer when the hot weather forces us to leave our windows open. Although not ideal for every night, I recommend having a good pair of earplugs (foam, silicone, wax earplugs, there are many different types) to help tune these sounds out and lock into a good night’s sleep. NOT all earplugs are the same, so shop around.
An irregular routine
Sleep research shows that most people benefit from keeping to a regular sleep routine. The body’s natural circadian rhythm responds best to regular day/night routines. Obviously if you are a shift worker, or an international traveller crossing time zones, your body’s natural clock will not be working as it wants to. Research also shows that most of us are getting less sleep than our predecessors. This is probably due to all the extra stimuli, such as 24-hour TV, the Internet, computers and smart phones with blue light (read my blog on the matter here). Most of us could do with going to bed an hour earlier, and certainly our health would improve as a result.
Stimulants – coffee, alcohol, food, nicotine
Sleep is often impaired by stimulants such as coffee. Most people should have their last cup 5 to 8 hours before hitting the pillow. Other caffeinated drinks such as tea, fizzy drinks, and even eating chocolate late at night (cocoa is a stimulant just like coffee) can also affect your sleep. Certain foods, which are particularly rich and difficult to digest should be avoided altogether before bed. Many people are still surprised that alcohol, which may seem a good idea before bed, inevitably leads to waking in the night, dehydration and restlessness!
Finally, let’s not forget ‘ye’ old classic’: the cigarette. Nicotine is in fact a powerful stimulant so it can often reduce deep sleep quality (particularly if nicotine is absorbed without tobacco’s other ingredients). Now, we have nicotine with a twist – as it’s often now ‘vaped’ with the ever increasing use of e-cigs. As a result, nicotine is absorbed directly into the body in a much purer form, and often at a much higher dosage. This makes sleep more difficult, and leaves the user exhausted, and un-refreshed after a night of crazy dreams in the morning. Much better to drink a little water, and eat healthy natural foods that are easy to digest, before jumping into the hay-sack.
The wrong body temperature
A bedroom that is either too hot or too cold can make sleep less comfortable. Ideally the room and your bed should reach body temperature. Then, as you’re falling asleep, your bed should be cozily warm, and the air in your room slightly cool to the touch.
A busy mind
Of all the things that can stop you having a great night’s sleep, a busy mind can be the worst. Sleep is for sleeping. Of course, a little time preparing for sleep, and relaxing in bed to process the day’s thoughts is healthy. But, when you’re ready to sleep, letting go of daytime thoughts, and allowing yourself to relax and let go is key. Some of us, particularly the light or anxious insomniacs, need some help to learn how to get ‘out of the way’ of our sleep.
Seek help for sleep
As a certified sleep coach, and as a self-confessed fully recovered insomniac, I love to teach techniques, and practical tips that make falling asleep effortless and delicious.
However if you live far away, thanks to modern technology, you can now access and download my 2 sleep apps, the ‘ABC of better sleep’, and my ‘Insomnia cure’. Both of these contain wonderfully relaxing ambient recordings to drift off to…
I’m proud to say these hypnotic sleep audio programs have won a number of sleep awards!
You can find them on my website thesleepcoach.co.uk or on iTunes – search for Max Kirsten to find all my apps for the iPhone and iPad.
I wish you a great night’s sleep.