As the clocks go forward an hour on 31 March to make way for lighter mornings and British summertime, the sleep patterns of millions across the country will be negatively affected. For insomniacs and sleep sufferers it can create a lasting impact, however there are some tactics, which employed now can ensure an undisturbed routine during the brighter months.
Over the last 10 years studying sleep, I have developed a practical guide to overcoming insomnia. My programme 'One week to better sleep' helps maintain natural and sustained sleep patterns. There are a number of factors which can contribute to insomnia and huge gains can be made by identifying these factors and subtly changing them.
The programme incorporates a BED (Behaviour, Environment and Diet) checklist, sleep diary and overall sleep efficiency score to help track insomnia for problems sleepers.However, changing just a few of the Behaviour, Environment or Diet changes outlined below should help aid sleep.
- Maintain a regular sleep and wake time and don't try to 'catch up on sleep' - it doesn't work like that!
- Avoid daytime naps - you may be tired but they disrupt more restful night time sleep.
- Don't exercise just before bed - this encourages the body to energise and be alert, rather than prepare for sleep.
- Enjoy a relaxation period before bed of at least 20 minutes down time before hitting the hay.
- Reduce stress levels by switching off - try soft music or lounging in a chair rather than TV or a book, which may over stimulate you.
- Go to bed when you're tired and not before.
- Avoid clock watching and remove clocks from eyeshot.
- Except for sex, using the bed to purely sleep in.
- Get out of bed when you awake during the night - don't lie there restlessly, it will just cause frustration and encourage negative feelings towards your bed.
- Return to bed when you feel sleepy again - don't fall asleep on the couch.
- Block out light - natural sleep results from the brain producing melatonin. This process is hampered by the presence of light. You need as much melatonin as you can produce so keeping the room as dark as possible will help you sleep.
- Lower the volume. Noise can be a major distraction so invest in some earplugs to reduce extra stimulation.
- Maintain a regular temperature. As your body heat fluctuates at night it is important to keep the room at a cool 21°C so you are not disturbed
- Remove any physical distractions. TVs, computers and other devices can distract you from sleep.
Changes to diet:
- Don't use alcohol to aid sleep. Many people incorrectly believe alcohol increases the chance of a heavier, longer and more restful sleep. In fact, it's highly counter-productive as it causes more night time wakefulness, by fracturing sleep and interrupting the normal flow of sleep stages.
- Cut down on caffeine. If your sleep problem is severe it is best not to indulge in any caffeinated products after noon.
- Increase carbohydrates. This may be a surprise, but uptake of available tryptophan in your system is greatly enhanced by the presence of certain carbohydrates. Carbs naturally act to shunt the tryptophan you ingested earlier in the day to the right place in your brain responsible for turning it into natural melatonin.
- Avoid protein three hours before bed. Natural melatonin production, necessary for healthy sleep, results from sufficient intake of high tryptophan foods such as milk, dairy, turkey, meats, nuts, eggs, legumes, pumpkin and sesame seeds. These are better consumed earlier in the day so the available tryptophan in your system is not overpowered by the other amino acids.
And one final note, don't forget the clocks go one hour forward. Ensure all clock changes are made before you go to sleep and don't overcompensate for the loss of an hour.You should allow your body to sleep and wake naturally and if you feel frustrated or are struggling to sleep, remove yourself from the bed area until you become tired again.