Sleep is something we all need, but so many of us find it so difficult to achieve. 2021 statistics found that almost half of the UK have trouble getting to sleep on a monthly basis,
36% of adults struggle sleeping every week, and almost a fifth suffer from insomnia every night. Adults should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep every night, but a recent survey of 2,000 British adults found that this target was not being met. The men in the survey were getting an average of 6.17 hours, and women even lower, at just 6.04 hours a night.
Consistently having a poor night’s sleep can have some nasty effects, both physical and mental. It can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to illness, it can affect reflex times and put you at risk for accidents, and can even cause high blood pressure if you’re consistently getting less than five hours kip a night. Furthermore, it can lead to memory issues and problems concentrating, increase mood swings and anxiety levels, and can eventually lead to low mood and depression. This is why sleep hygiene is so important. Sleep hygiene refers to science-backed habits and behaviours that promote and enforce healthy sleep patterns. Here are some tips on getting started, that aim to improve your fraught relationship with sleep.
Making a consistent schedule
Reports show that one of the most important things in achieving healthy sleep is a consistent sleeping schedule. This means going to bed and waking up at a similar time every single day. Of course, falling asleep at 11pm on the dot every night is a difficult ask for the best of sleepers, but near enough impossible for you insomniacs. The most important thing here is to settle down at a consistent time, and be strict with yourself when it comes to waking up, no matter how little sleep you’ve gotten. If you don’t, it can seriously affect your circadian rhythm cycle, which is essentially an internal 24-hour body clock. This rhythm aligns sleep and wakefulness with night and day, and irregularities in this can cause havoc on your body. Irregular sleeping schedules can create excess sleepiness in the day whilst increasing your risk of insomnia, whereas a consistent sleep pattern helps to improve your cognition and ability to concentrate.
Creating a pre-bedtime routine
It’s important to have a winddown period that prepares your mind and body for bed around an hour prior. Once you’ve washed your face and brushed your teeth, you should begin the calm-down process. Limiting screen time (whether that be your phone, laptop, even TV) is the first step to slowing your mind down. Instead, do something you find relaxing; this could be reading, taking a bath, doing a guided sleep meditation, knitting or crocheting, or listening to something soothing may help. This could be a sleep story, (essentially audio bedtime stories) rain sounds, or even ASMR, and all can be found on YouTube or meditation apps like Calm and Headspace. If these sounds become a part of your pre-sleep routine, remember to keep your phone screen dimmed or completely off!
You may have other steps to your night routine; having a herbal tea (a calming chamomile or peppermint perhaps), or taking supplements. CBD, melatonin, and Vitamin C have all been found to help with achieving a good sleep.
Be mindful of your caffeine intake
If you struggle with your sleep, you probably find yourself relying on coffee to get through the day. While there’s nothing wrong with a caffeinated drink or two, consuming them too late or too often can create an endless cycle of poor sleep. Reducing the amount of caffeine you drink and setting yourself a time limit on when to stop can improve your ability to sleep dramatically. It’s recommended that caffeinated products such as energy drinks, coffee, and tea (herbal is fine – it may even help!) shouldn’t be consumed for a minimum of six hours before you plan on winding down for bed. Depending on how sensitive to caffeine you are, it’s best to stop by around 2-3pm. Beware of sugary fizzy drinks too – whilst not all of them have caffeine in (Cola products do!) the sugar can make you feel like you’re bouncing off the walls, especially if you have one in the evening.
The idea of a midday nap can be particularly seductive, especially when working from home and you feel your eyes struggling to stay open. However, having long naps (which may feel great at the time) can actually make things worse in the long term. No matter how little you slept the night before, having a four-hour nap won’t make up for lost time – it’s much more likely to negatively impact your circadian rhythm, eating into the sleep you need that night, until it’s a vicious cycle.
If you absolutely have to have a nap one day, limit it to a 20-30 minute power nap, and try not to have it later than 2pm. A short nap is less likely to hinder your ability to sleep that night, as you remain in the lighter stages of sleep. Any longer than this and you risk waking up feeling groggy and disoriented – perhaps even worse than you did before.
Creating a good environment
Your bed is supposed to be for two things – sex and sleep. Avoid sitting in bed to work, watching a film or TV, and other daytime activities, as it confuses your brain into thinking your bedroom is for those things. Trying to get to sleep when your brain is geared into work mode is going to make it more difficult – it’s good to set healthy boundaries! Also, make sure your bedroom is designed to aid your sleep; keep it cool, keep it clean, and make sure it’s dark when it’s time for bed – no big lights on for you!