In my earlier blog post about maintaining or improving your mental health I highlighted sleep as being the most important factor in maintaining your mental health.
(If you want to see some of the other factors I identified here’s a link to the blog post)
Getting enough sleep is without a doubt the most important you can do to improve the quality of your day to day life and your mental wellbeing. In today’s fast-paced high-pressure world it’s very easy to sacrifice sleep or worse struggle to fall asleep in the first place! But losing sleep should be a big no-no for us as going without sleep can be both physically and psychologically damaging for us. So to help encourage you to get a good night’s sleep here are my tips to help improve your sleep.
The first and most important you need to do before sleep is to wind down and relax. For me that usually involves having a bath and reading a book. Other things you may want to try include writing to do lists for the next day so that you can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions. Relaxation exercises such as light yoga stretches can also help relax your muscles. Relaxation CDs (think whale music can also help!).
2. Get enough daylight
The second tip is that during the day make sure you have as much exposure to natural sunlight as possible. Not always easy I know but exposure to daylight helps regulate something called your circadian rhythm healthy which is what gives your body energy during the day and helps tell your body when it’s time to fall asleep at night.
Having a good routine is critical to regulating your sleep. If you go to sleep and wake up at the same times your body will train itself to go to sleep and wake up at those times, improving your sleep quality. So don’t go to bed early in the week and late on the weekends. Maintain the same sleep times and waking times each day and you’ll soon find you’re sleeping better.
Fourthly if you’re still struggling to sleep you can take a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone that your body produces to help you sleep. Therefore increasing the amount in your system by taking a supplement shortly before bed can help get to you sleep. As it’s naturally occurring there’s no problem with dependency or your body adjusting to it and it’s effectiveness reducing over time. However, for a few people it can cause headaches or other side effects so it’s always worth trialing it first before ordering too much!
If taking supplements doesn’t appeal to you then there are also foods you can eat (although if you eat these as part of a main meal then leave at least 2 hours before going to bed so that your body isn’t distracted by trying to digest food). Foods that can help are turkey, warm milk, and honey. Marmite, oatcakes, camomile and almonds are also good as are bananas.
6. Sleeping environment
If you’ve done all that but are still struggling to sleep then it may be worth looking at your sleeping environment. Maintaining a constant temperature in bed and in your bedroom is critical with 16-18 degrees Celsius being the most optimum (so don’t forget to get rid of that winter duvet as soon as it starts getting warm!). A good pillow is critical as well. Synthetic pillows should be replaced every 6-12 months whilst more natural down and feather pillows every 2 – 5 years. The best way to find out if your pillow needs replacing is to fold your pillow in half and place a trainer on top of it. if the pillow doesn’t spring open with the trainer on top of it then it needs replacing.
Another bedroom environmental tip is to banish blue light from your bedroom. Blue light is the type of light that computer screens, televisions and smartphones emit and is designed to keep you alert. However, did you know that it’s also emitted by your light bulb? Replacing your light bulbs with specially designed night bulbs can also help reduce your level of alertness.
7. If all else fails…
Finally, If you’ve done all the above and still find yourself lying in bed struggling to sleep then don’t just lie there. Get up! If you’ve been struggling for 20 minutes more then getting up and doing something relaxing like reading a book in a different room can help distract your mind and help you feel tired. But lying in bed worrying about getting to sleep will increase the amount of stress on your body and decrease the chances of you nodding off.
Give the above a try and let me know in the comments below how it goes for you! I’d be particularly interested in how replacing your pillows goes as I only became aware of the ‘trainer’ test recently but it really does work!