How are you feeling this morning? Fresh? Ready to start the day? Or are you feeling like an extra hour/two hours/ day in bed would go down pretty well? You’re not alone, it’s estimated that one in three of us aren’t getting enough sleep and are feeling the effects the next day. Whilst getting the recommended six to nine hours a night can boost your immunity, sex drive, mental well being and give you enough energy to tackle the day, repeatedly falling short of enough sleep can lead to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes not to mention it shortens your life expectancy. It’s enough to keep you up at night, but with a few tweaks here and there, you’ll be sleeping soundly without having to count any more sheep.
Regular Bed Times
Humans are creatures of routine and the same goes for sleep, so work out how much sleep you need, the recommended amount is around eight hours but some of us need a little more or less, (if you’re falling asleep on the tube, take that as a sign that you need a bit more) then you can plan a bedtime routine. Admittedly life can get in the way, but try and get into the habit of going to bed at the same time each night. If it helps, set a reminder on your phone telling you when you need to start winding down. Likewise try and get up at the same time each day, even at the weekend. It might be tempting to switch off that alarm come Sunday morning, but it’s just going to confuse your internal body clock. Instead use those extra hours at the weekend to catch up on Netflix or get that missed gym session in. Once your body is set in its new routine you shouldn’t need that lie in anyway (or so we hope anyway…).
You’ve come in from a bar, you’ve gone straight to bed and now you’re just lying there wide awake. Sound familiar? We all need a little time to wind down at the end of each day to get ourselves ready for sleep. In the hour before you go to bed, try and limit screen use or ideally not at all, yes, you will have to put your phone down, the lights from the screen can have a negative effect on sleeping patterns. Instead pick up a book or listen to the radio, both of which can relax your mind and if you feel like your mind is still whirring, then write down your thoughts or a to do list for tomorrow. Have a warm (not hot) bath to get your body to the right temperature and avoid alcohol, caffeine or vigorous exercise, basically chamomile tea and yoga are in and sprinting after downing an espresso martini is out.
Sort Out Your Bedroom
Help set the stage for a better night’s sleep by getting your bedroom in order. Ideally your bedroom should be dark, quiet, tidy and most importantly comfortable. If this means investing in blackout curtains, earplugs and a decent mattress, so be it, you are investing in your health after all. Your chances of getting a good night’s sleep are going to be hampered if you’re trying to get to sleep to a soundtrack of sirens, traffic or if your room is illuminated by street lights. Remove any distractions like televisions or laptops, your room should be just for sleeping and sex, because unlike other exercise, sex makes you sleepy due to the chemicals that are released. Sex helps you sleep and sleep helps your sex drive – it’s a no brainer.
Bedtime Stories and Meditation
We read to children before they go to sleep so why not ourselves? Whilst you might not be able to rope someone in to reading to you each night, you can download apps like Headspace and Calm, both of which have sleep stories, soothing noises and meditations all designed to have you nodding off before they finish. You’ll find snug tales of antique shops, and midnight launderettes and different breathing techniques and visualisations to help calm you down. If you can find something more soporific than Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones describing lavender fields let me know.
Don’t Force It
You’ve done everything you can, and you still can’t sleep. You’re calculating how much sleep you can still have if you get to sleep in the next 45 seconds. You’ve had 13 cups of chamomile tea and pumped your pillows numerous times. Just like with most things in life, don’t force it. Focusing on sleeping can heighten anxiety which means you’re less likely to sleep, and sleeping less can cause more anxiety about sleeping – it’s a vicious circle. Instead accept that whilst you will feel tired in the morning, you can get through the day with a couple of bad night’s sleep, then get up and sit somewhere else and read a book or listen to a podcast until you do feel sleepy.
Get Back to School
We had a pupil at school who fell asleep during an A Level exam, we’re talking full on snoring, safe to say they didn’t get the result they wanted. And whilst we’re not suggesting you go back to your school and be bored into sleeping, we are saying head to a school that specializes in sleeping, like London’s, The Sleep School. As well as an app and one to one online calls, the medical team host weekly workshops that focus on insomnia, providing support and tips on how to tackle it. And they’ve got impressive stats, research shows that 86% of clients successfully recover from insomnia.
Keep Your Toes Warm
Can’t sleep? Then warm your feet. When our feet get too cold the blood vessels constrict and that can cause less blood to circulate. Whereas when you put on a pair of socks or warm the foot of your bed with a hot water bottle, vasodilation occurs, which means that the blood vessels dilate and that can signal to the brain that you’re ready for sleep.
Eat to Sleep
We all know that eating cheese before bed is a terrible idea, likewise an espresso but there are foods you can eat which should all help you to get to sleep. Take bananas for example they contain magnesium to relax your muscles and contain both serotonin and melatonin, both of which encourage sleep. Or you could eat, honey which includes melatonin and switches off the hormone that keeps you alert, orexin. So if you fancy cooking up a bowl of porridge with banana, honey, almonds and a side of turkey… you’ll be eating five foods that should have you soporific in no time.
Get on the Herbs
Whether you take them as capsules or make a tea from them, there are some herbs that can really help to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation and sleep. Lavender with its nerve calming properties is probably the most well known but it’s also worth trying limeflower if you suffer from nightmares or ashwagandha which helps to induce sleep.
Just as we swaddle babies to help them sleep, so it seems that wrapping up in weighted blankets can help us drift off too. The science behind it suggests that the extra weight helps to mimic being held or hugged which is also known as Deep Touch Pressure and can release serotonin that helps to calm you. It’s also thought to release oxytocin which can relieve anxiety, whilst the extra weight can physically stop you from restlessly moving you around at night.
Hum Like a Bee
Admittedly this one might be a little tricky if you’re sharing a bed or bedroom (maybe start handing out the ear plugs) but it’s said that humming like a bee can help us to sleep. The technique is known as brahmari and involves breathing in through your nose and as you exhale you make a humming sound like a bee. Not only is the noise soothing, rather like your own version of a white noise app, but it also increases how much you exhale which can also help to relax you.
Of course, if you’re constantly lacking sleep or think you might be suffering from insomnia then visit your doctor, but give these tips a go and see how you get on. Sweet dreams.