Good sleep is one of the basic foundations of health and wellbeing. Getting a good nights sleep is so important, not only for helping you feel refreshed mentally but also for allowing the body to have a chance to rebuild and repair, strengthen the immune system and for muscles to relax.
We all know the importance of getting a good night’s sleep, especially in this demanding world we live in. It is becoming harder and harder to wind down for bed what with the ‘always on’ nature of work, countless social media apps to scroll through mindlessly and on-demand TV providing countless opportunities to binge watch the latest shows.
We have two young children, and have always placed a huge importance on them having a regular, consistent bedtime routine - as parents, we are always told how children ‘need routine, they need to know its bedtime, these habits will help them sleep’ and so on. Obviously sometimes life gets in the way and the routine goes out the window, especially during the holidays, but we are usually pretty set in giving them an early-ish dinner, followed by a nice warm bath, a little bit of ‘sleepy’ TV – usually this is Moon and Me, a gentle and quiet children’s show on CBeebies designed for the bedtime hour - followed by a few storybooks, and then straight to bed. The girls know this routine signals bedtime is around the corner and gives them a chance to slow down and prepare themselves to sleep. It doesn’t always work – at the moment our youngest is a bit of a challenge at bedtime! But it is comforting for us all to have this structure in place and generally is a positive thing.
Despite the emphasis we place on this bedtime routine for our children, we are both guilty of not having a very good bedtime wind-down in place - being self-employed means we have erratic working hours, and in the evenings is when we catch up on emails, life admin, housework, clearing up, all the usual chores. We had noticed recently that more and more frequently we weren’t practicing a good bedtime wind down or taking time for self-care for ourselves in the evening – be it a warm bath, time to read a book or magazine and take a moment out. This meant we were taking a lot longer to fall asleep, and having disrupted sleep throughout the night, then resulting in waking up feeling a bit bleary-eyed.
So, we are now trying really hard to practice what we preach, by reducing our time on our phones or devices in the evening, by taking time to have a bath or read a book or magazine. Even just taking time to sit down for 10 minutes and enjoy some peace and quiet after a hectic day has made a huge difference. We are noticing improved quality of sleep and it is taking less time to actually fall into a nice deep sleep! We will definitely be keeping this up as the improvement in energy levels and general mood-lifting properties of better and longer sleep is hugely noticeable.
Here are a few steps if you are in need of some ideas of how to create healthy bedtime habits and how to help prepare your body to shift into sleep mode.
SCREENTIME - the time we spend attached to our digital devices is ever-growing. That’s a topic for a whole new blog post in its own right but, for the purpose of this article consider reducing the use of your smartphone /laptops / ipads if you can before bed. Ideally cut off screentime about an hour before you go to bed, but you will feel benefits even if you stop using your phone just 30 minutes before bedtime.
The reasons why:
- Your mind will have time to quieten down as it won’t be psychologically engaged with whatever information your phone is trying to provide
- The blue light from screens suppresses the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. The blue light mimics daylight, which can then affect your internal body clock and disrupt your circadian rhythm, resulting in insomnia and tiredness
SLEEP SCHEDULE - try to stick to regular times for bedtime and getting up - creating a regular ‘sleep schedule’ is proven to reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and improves your circadian rhythm which will help you feel more energized.
RELAXATION/SELF-CARE - try to take some time to relax. You might find you have more time on your hands if you are reducing your phone before bed usage! Use this time to do some light stretching, read a book, do some yoga, you could listen to music, speak to a friend or family member, have a hot bath, practice mindfulness. Whatever relaxes you – give it a go.
ROOM EVALUATION - take a good look at your bedroom. It might seem silly but even a bit of clutter in your bedroom can have a huge impact on your sleep. Keep things orderly, clear surfaces and clutter-free. Make sure there aren’t any disturbances in the room - are there any noises that are annoying you? If your partner snores maybe try some earplugs. Are there any devices emitting light that could be switched off? Are your curtains shutting out light effectively? Is the temperature of the room ok, not too hot and with a bit of fresh air circulating? We have also started using an aromatherapy diffuser - this is an ultrasonic diffuser which wafts essential oil into the air. We have ours on for about an hour just before bed, with some lavender, sweet basil and jasmine oils. These diffusers create a spa-like atmosphere and are proven to aid relaxation and uplift your mood.
EXERCISE – even just 10 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to significantly improve the quality of your night-time sleep. Exercise can help alleviate stress, which is one of the main things that can keep people awake at night. Exercise is also proven to improve the quality of your sleep, help you sleep longer, and decrease daytime sleepiness. Even just a good brisk walk will help.
HOBBIES – writing, reading, crosswords - whatever it may be, taking some time to practice a hobby can help you relax (see above!) and slow your mind down in order to prepare for restful sleep.
CONNECTING – spend time with loved ones - partners, children, family or friends. Have a chat, play a game, just take time to connect. This feeds in nicely to relaxation and self-care above.
FOOD/DRINK – Avoiding caffeine and heavy meals in the evening can help you sleep better. Alcohol is another suppressor of melatonin and disrupter of the circadian rhythm. Eating a large heavy meal before bed fires up your metabolism and it can be uncomfortable having it sat in your stomach. Try to stick to lighter evening meals or eat a little earlier if you know it's going to be a heavier meal. A cup of decaffeinated tea – try herbal teas - before bed can help you digest food (especially peppermint or ginger) and relax. Pukka have lots of really nice herbal teas widely available and these are a good alternative to drinking normal caffeinated tea/coffee.
BEDDING - did you know that we spend approximately one-third of our lives in our beds! So it’s important to make the surface as comfortable as possible. Choosing bed linen for you and your family that is soft, breathable and comfortable is important – cotton and linen are good for this and natural fibers in general. Heavily synthesised materials such as polyester can be scratchy, clammy and cause inflammation. Same goes for pajamas/nightwear. Assess your mattress and pillows - do they need changing? Some people prefer their pillows to be quite firm and supportive whilst others prefer a softer pillow. Make sure you have what you need to get a good comfortable sleep. Keep sheets washed regularly, there is nothing better than getting into bed when the sheets are freshly washed and dried!
If you are struggling with sleep or dropping off to sleep, try and give these a go and see if they make any difference for you! It goes without saying that if you are struggling with insomnia, or having continued disruption to your sleep which is effecting your daily life please don’t hesitate to speak to your GP or a sleep professional so that you can get your sleep back on track and take care of yourself.