A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.
- Charlotte Brontë
Getting a good nights sleep is wonderful, however most of us know what it’s like to toss and turn for hours, feeling like we’re never going to get to sleep. The result is normally a groggy, uncoordinated, and sluggish self the following day!
Many people who suffer from poor sleep patterns opt for caffeine, sugary foods, or prescription drugs in an attempt to stay awake and increase their productivity, however this is a very short term option.
If you’re sleep deprived you may experience:
- Low mood
- Reduced ability to retain information
- Poor memory
- Lack of concentration
- Difficultly communicating
- Critical thinking
- Time wasting
How can you avoid the pitfalls of poor sleeping habits? Here are a few suggestions:
#1 Aim for the optimum sleep every night – this is an average of 6 – 8 hours. Some people view sleep is a waste of time, however research suggests that those who sleep well are much better at problem solving, concentrating on daily tasks, and retaining information, therefore think of your 8-hour quota as an investment.
#2 Establish a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and getting up at the same time, even at weekends. Having a routine will encourage good quality sleep, however if you keep waking up at a different time each day, your body clock goes out of sync, causing you to feel groggy for hours.
#3 Make sure your sleeping environment is healthy – your room should be quiet, dark, and cool. If you live in a noisy area try using earplugs, or drown out the sound with a fan. If your bed is uncomfortable think of investing in a good mattress.
#4 Eat well:
- Try not to eat late at night.
- Consume smaller meals.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid caffeine, caffeinated drinks, and alcohol.
- Avoid spicy foods.
Ideally you should finish dinner several hours prior to bedtime, however if you are hungry, snack on foods that won’t affect your sleep, such as milk and plain biscuits – the tryptophan in milk is thought to help us feel sleepy.
#5 Get physical – research suggests exercise improves our sleep quality, andreduces the time it takes to get to sleep. Try aerobics or a brisk walk earlier in the day, and if exercising in the evening, choose relaxation techniques, such as pilates.
#6 Avoid late night tv on crime or violence! Particularly if your mind is highly active at night, it’s best to avoid late-night news bulletins, scary movies, novels, or crime re-enactment programmes, as they can affect your ability to drift into a peaceful sleep.
#7 Establish a bedtime routine, which begins one hour before going to bed. Your routine may include taking a bath, listening to soft music, reading, or relaxing exercises. Just try to avoid stressful activities such as work deadlines, or discussing emotional issues (these tend to raise cortisol secretions, increasing alertness).
#8 If you find it difficult to unwind, try keeping a notepad beside your bed so that you can record what’s on your mind, then allow yourself to switch off. You’ll be better able to cope with everything you need to do if you’ve had a good night sleep.
#9 Switch off your electronics. This means turning off your mobile, computer, and MP3 player – you can live without gadgets for a few hours, and the total darkness and quiet will signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep.
#10 Avoid the deadly clock-watching syndrome. If you find yourself unable to get to sleep for more than 20 minutes, it’s best to get out of bed and do something quiet in dim light, until you begin to feel sleepy. Tossing and turning is counterproductive – it leads to increased stress levels, which keep us awake.
#11 Use guided imagery – if you continue to struggle check out Health Journeys, for a range of guided imaginary to help you fall into a peaceful asleep.
#12 Begin and end your day in gratitude – try taking a few moments in the morning and evening to quietly give thanks for those things that are a blessing in your life. This will help to focus your mind on the positive aspects, reducing stress hormones than can keep you awake at night. Check out Are You Truly Thankful for What You Have?
If you continue to experience sleep difficulties, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor or a sleep specialist for advice tailored to your individual needs.
Check out how to improve sleep quality in 5 steps.