Some of us believe a good night's sleep is a 'nice to have' feature of our day - it is actually an essential feature. Some of us pride ourselves on our ability to manage with little or no sleep - wearing this apparent ability as a 'badge-of-honour'. However, we are learning more and more about the negative consequences or poor sleep both to our mental and our physical wellbeing. No matter what's going on in life, something as simple and important as a good night's sleep may help us cope far better.
Sufficient, good quality sleep is an important part of everyday life that affects our cognitive ability, mental health and physical wellbeing. The effects of a lack of sleep can affect your appearance and concentration levels during work as well as make you moody and irritable. Adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night, although this does vary in accordance to your age, lifestyle, and genetic make-up. A good night's sleep won't solve all of your problems but it can mean that you're able to cope with trying situations more easily.
So how can you improve your sleep? Below is what I suggest to my patients:
• Stay active during the day. Regular exercise during the day increases your metabolism and helps relieve stress and anxiety* by reducing stress hormones, which in turn will improve your sleep. Try a gym session in the morning before work, or pop in on your way home, just make sure you give yourself time to relax before bed as your body temperature needs to cool before you drop off.
• Eat and drink well. It's also advisable to watch what you eat and drink and avoid smoking. Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine are all stimulants that can affect the quality of your sleep, making you more likely to wake up during the night. Avoid a heavy or spicy meal just before bed, as your body needs time to digest your meal before it can switch off.
• Create a calm environment. Try removing any distractions that may keep you awake, and keep your bedroom free from computers, TVs and phones as this can help you keep a clear mind when attempting to drift off to sleep. Aim to create a calm sleeping environment by turning your room into a dark, quiet, clean and comfortable haven. Your body will soon adapt!
• It's all about routine. Try to develop a relaxing night-time routine that prepares your body and mind for sleep. It could be taking a hot bath, reading a book, listening to calming music or having a milky drink - the choice is yours! Just try and stay away from bright lights and stressful situations just before bedtime.
• If you can't sleep, get up. We all know how frustrating it can be if you don't fall asleep after 20 minutes or so. Next time this happens, try getting out of bed and reading a book or listening to music, only going back to bed when you feel tired. Likewise, if you find yourself dozing on the sofa too early, get up and do a few jobs so you save your shut eye time for the bedroom.
• Record your sleep patterns. Keeping a sleep diary can help you monitor when you fall asleep and wake up, how many times you wake up during the night and how rested you feel in the morning. After a week, reflecting on your notes can help you pinpoint the cause of your sleep problems, identify what helps and what makes the situation worse.
Whatever you do, don't suffer from sleep deprivation in silence and be tempted to self-medicate with over-the-counter sleep aids. Cognitive behaviour therapy or talking to a medical professional can help you identify triggers for insomnia so you can rest assured that someone is on hand to help. And remember... sleep is vital to keep you both physically and mentally fit so prioritise getting good quality sleep over any other task.
*AXA PPP healthcare, (2015), Ten top tips for a better night's sleep, AXA PPP Healthcare: https://www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/health-worries/mind-health-article/top-ten-tips-for-a-better-nights-sleep/