Conditions

Ways To Improve Your Sleep

Insomnia is one of the most common sleep disorders. According to a well-being report by the UK insurance company Aviva, a third of Britons suffer from insomnia. 67% of respondents reported they had disturbed sleep and 51% say they do not get enough sleep.

On average, the people in the study slept for less than 6 and a half hours of the recommended 8 hours a night. Doctor Neil Stanley pointed the finger at the UK's "24 hour society" in which people are employed around the clock to work all hours of the day to satisfy demand.

For most people, a change in habit is all that is required in order to get a good night sleep. Here we'll discuss some ways you can get yourself to sleep.

Firstly, it's important to understand your circadian rhythm. This is your body's natural biological clock which tells you when you should be awake and when you should be asleep. Throughout the day, the body produces a hormone called melatonin which invokes sleepiness. If you disturb your circadian rhythm for too long, it can have a detrimental impact on your health.

So how can you ensure you get a good night sleep?

Sleep rituals

Going to sleep and waking up at the same time each day can help synchronise your circadian rhythm with the natural 24-hour day/night cycle.

Setting an alarm for the same time each day - including weekends - can help reset your body clock and improve your quality of sleep. Much in the same way that bedtime routines are important for the cognitive development of children, adults should have a distinct bedtime ritual. This could be taking a relaxing bath before bed or reading a chapter or two of a book.

Organising yourself the night before is a great way to get into the habit of a bedtime routine and can help you de-stress before you're about to get tucked in. Preparing your lunch and putting it in the fridge, packing your bag with all the essential items you'll need tomorrow or making an organised list of what needs to be done before getting some shut-eye can greatly reduce stress that would otherwise interrupt your sleep.

Many sleep therapists advise to only use your bed for sleeping and sex so that your brain only associates these two activities with your bed.

Diet

Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine is a stimulant which can keep your brain activated. When consumed, it can trigger a fight or flight response in the body, as the caffeine latches on to adenosine receptors in the brain, increasing the activity of your nerve cells. This activity causes your pituitary gland to fire adrenaline into the bloodstream, exciting and stimulating your brain and body.

If you eat too soon before bed, without giving your body time to digest the food, you could cause unwanted sleep disturbances such as indigestion. If you feel peckish before bedtime, try eating a small bowl of whole grain, low sugar cereal such as muesli. Plain popcorn is also a light snack high in tryptophan - a chemical which helps neurotransmitters in the brain to release serotonin into the body. If you are thirsty, try drinking hot and milky beverages like tea or hot chocolate.

Though alcohol can make you feel drowsy and tired, the sleep you experience will not be of sufficient quality and can leave you feeling tired in the morning.

Drinking too much liquid throughout the day or in the evening can disrupt your sleep due to needing frequent trips to the toilet. While it's important to stay hydrated, limit your consumption of liquid in the evening. It's also a good idea to go to the toilet just before going to bed to reduce the chances of needing to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom.

Exercise

Exercising during the day can help you sleep better in the evenings. It may take a few months of frequent exercise before you'll feel the benefits, but moderate exercises during the day can stimulate your brain, keeping you awake until it's time for bed.

Try not to do any vigorous exercises less than 4 hours before bed as this can increase the level of cortisol in the body - a hormone that promotes wakefulness. In the morning, our cortisol levels are high to wake us up, but throughout the day the levels of this hormone in the body slowly depletes as melatonin takes over.

If the only time you can exercise is in the evening, consider yoga or light stretches.

The effect of light

The production of melatonin is directly linked to the amount of sunlight you are exposed to throughout the day. Bright sunlight in the morning induces wakefulness and dim lights in the evening induces sleepiness. Managing your exposure to light is important if you want to get a restful night sleep.

In the evening, dim the lights and limit your exposure to bright light. Putting yourself in a darker environment causes your pineal gland to secrete melatonin, easing you into a state of sleepiness.

In a study conducted by Deloitte, over half of the respondents used their phone before going to bed. Half of those involved in the study ages 18-24 admitted to using their phone in bed. Moreover, 58% of people said they start using their phone within 15 minutes of getting up.

There are many reasons as to why you should put down your smartphone before going to bed. Simply put, blue light being emitted from your smart devices suppresses the production of melatonin and keeps you awake. If you want to improve your quality of sleep, you should avoid using your smartphone before bed.

The optimal sleeping environment

Keep your bedroom cool - around 18 degrees Celsius is ideal. In order to initiate sleep, the body's core temperature needs to drop.

Irritating sounds can make it difficult for you to fall asleep, so try to mitigate any noises that could be keeping you awake.

You can easily combat both of these common problems with a fan. The cool air being circulated around your room will help lower your temperature, providing the right conditions for your body to sleep, while the gentle hum can block out other noises.

What should you do if your sleep is disturbed?

If you find yourself lying awake in bed and unable to get back to sleep, one of the best things you can do is engage in a light activity such as reading a book. This should help you drift back off to sleep, so long as the book you choose isn't a gripping thriller or a horror classic.

It's imperative that you avoid turning on any bright lights or checking your phone. While it might be tempting to read your social feed to help you get to sleep, it can cause unnecessary stress and anxiety - especially if you are one of the 40% of people who receive work emails on their phones.

A popular method of dealing with disturbed sleep is the 4-7-8 deep breathing exercise.

  • Breathe in through your nose to the mental count of 4.
  • Hold your breath for a mental count of 7.
  • Audibly exhale to the count of 8.

Repeat for as long as necessary until you feel tired again.

To summarise, if you are suffering from insomnia then you may just require a change in your diet or lifestyle. If you have been suffering from insomnia for a long time, you might want to speak to your doctor, who may prescribe Circadin (Melatonin) or refer you to a sleep specialist. We hope these tips can help you get a good night sleep. Sweet dreams.