With world sleep day approaching (March 15th), we thought what better time to share with you our Top Ten Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep. Here we go...
- Be selective - use your bedroom for sleep (and sex) only! The latter, in fact, aids sleep through the release of hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin. The aim is to build up a positive mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
- Make your bedroom sleep-friendly. Keep your bedroom uncluttered. It will help calm your mind and is more conducive to gently unwinding. Also reduce light levels (throughout the house) in the evenings. Using dimmable, energy-saver bulbs makes this easy. Bright artificial light in the evening inhibits melatonin release - a hormone needed to induce sleep which is naturally secreted at night time. In the bedroom, avoid blue light devices altogether (mobile phones, tablets, laptops). Blue light is a particularly potent suppressor of melatonin, making it hard to fall asleep. Finally keep the bedroom slightly cool (about 18-20 degrees Celsius) as core body temperature needs to drop slightly for a good night’s sleep.
- Try keeping a worry diary. If you tend to overthink or ruminate at bedtime, or are going through a particularly stressful period, try keeping a ‘worry diary’. Make sure to fill it out at least 2 hours before bedtime. Write out what’s worrying you and perhaps a first tentative step to dealing with the problem. Then close the diary and with that close the issue for that day, knowing that you can always return to it the following day.
- Practice gratitude. Every night as you go to bed think of three things from the day that you are grateful for or left you with a good feeling. If we stop to reflect, no day is without such moments - perhaps a warm smile from a friend or stranger, the feeling of sunlight on your face, or simply being thankful for a roof over our heads.
- Avoid caffeine after early afternoon as it remains in the bloodstream for several hours. One of the main natural triggers for feeling sleepy at night is the gradual and natural build-up of a chemical called adenosine in our bodies during the day. Caffeine blocks adenosine from acting in our system (by sitting on our cells’ adenosine receptors), thus preventing us from feeling sleepy. However, when the caffeine finally breaks down we get the dreaded caffeine crash as all the adenosine that was blocked can now suddenly act and we can feel over-tired and lethargic. This often leads to another cup of coffee and so a vicious cycle ensues.
- Avoid alcohol before bedtime. Yes, alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it is the most potent inhibitor of dream sleep known to man! It would be more accurate to say that alcohol knocks you out, rather that puts you to sleep. Alcohol is a brain depressant - the reason it gives us ‘Dutch courage’ is that it acts by first inhibiting areas of the brain associated with controlling impulse behaviour. However, it also goes on to act on many other areas of the brain including those essential for REM/dreaming. REM sleep is essential for our mental health. If we are denied it for a prolonged period it will force itself into our waking hours in the form of hallucinations or, e.g. delirium tremens.
- Get out of the bedroom - if you are awake for more than 30 minutes after lights-out, or are awake during the night for longer than this period, it’s best to get up and go to another room. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. Try listening to calming music or reading a relaxing book in dim light, or perhaps meditating and only return to bed when you feel sleepy. This again reinforces the association between your bed and sleep, and helps you feel more empowered in the face of sleeplessness.
- Keep it regular. Try to maintain reasonably constant bedtimes and wake-up times. Even after a poor night’s sleep or a ‘late’ night, don’t linger too long in bed the following morning or else there will be knock-on effect akin to jet-lag where we perpetuate the disruption to our natural circadian rhythm.
- Avoid napping after 3pm. We all gradually build up a natural and healthy sleep drive or appetite as the day progresses, and napping is like snacking - too close to mealtime (night) and we spoil our appetite!
- Use visualisation. If you’re struggling to get to sleep, or feel restless, try imagining, in your mind’s eye, a peaceful, relaxing scene. Perhaps a favourite place or holiday destination. It should be enjoyable, but not too stimulating. Try to engage the senses - ask yourself ‘what do I see, hear, smell, taste, feel?’ - let yourself drift away…
Chris Murphy, PhD, co-founder, Sleep Organic and Sleep Therapist