Most of us have struggled to fall asleep or stay asleep all night at some point in our lives. Perhaps it’s the odd night here and there, or perhaps the problem is ongoing. According to the National Institute of Health, it is recommended that adults aged 18-60 should have at least 7 hours of sleep every night. The reality, however, is quite different.
Mental Health UK suggests that almost 1 in 5 people aren’t getting enough sleep. A YouGov tracker suggests that while 32% of UK adults get seven hours of sleep a night, 27% only get about six hours and 12% are surviving on just five hours.
With poor sleep affecting our moods, making basic day-to-day tasks more difficult, and even contributing to cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, we need to shift slumber up our list of priorities.
Sleep more, be happy
Most of us know the importance of eating well and exercising for our physical and mental wellbeing, but there is less awareness about the importance of sleep. We underestimate its value for adults and children and many of us don’t make as much of an effort to get a good night’s sleep as we could.
Some sleep difficulties can subside within a month. It’s when the problem persists that it can start to affect our lives. Sleep problems manifest themselves in all sorts of ways too. Some people struggle to fall asleep in the first place, while others lie awake for hours in the middle of the night. Some wake up early and can’t fall back to sleep, while others wake up for short amounts of time, but multiple times throughout the night. Any one of these can be frustrating and affect how we feel day-to-day.
Tips to improve your sleep and feel refreshed
You may be surprised to learn that improving your sleep patterns has as much to do with your morning and even daily routine, as it does with your evening routine.
Light and dark – most of us know that a darker room will help us sleep better. That’s why UK homes are full of black out blinds and curtains. However, as important, is the light exposure we have in the morning. If you have managed to achieve a suitably dark environment for the duration of the night, when you wake up, open the curtains, and expose yourself to some daylight to alert your body to the fact it’s time to wake up. Do this as soon as possible after you wake up so that the body gets into a routine.
Set your alarm and stick to it – we’ve all been guilty of hitting the snooze button in the morning, but sleep experts say this isn’t doing our overall sleep cycle any favours. When you eventually get up after hitting snooze a few times, you are likely to feel worse than if you got up straight away. Try setting your alarm for when you know you need to get up and get out of bed straight away. It may be hard for the first few days, but it will get easier, and you will feel better for it.
Exercise to boost natural sleep hormones – taking a brisk walk isn’t just good for keeping us in good physical health, it also boosts the effect of sleep hormones such as melatonin. The longer you can walk the better, but even 10 minutes of fresh air and exercise in the morning will help you to feel more alert.
Cut back on coffee and alcohol – drinking less caffeine and alcohol, especially closer to bedtime, can improve your sleep. If you can’t leave these things out of your diet entirely, try reducing the amount of coffee you drink to one each morning, and reduce your alcohol intake so you perhaps only drink in social situations. You may not see immediate results, but after a week or so, you should start to notice a difference in your sleep patterns. Alcohol often helps us fall asleep, but then leads to a restless night as our liver attempts to recover, so getting rid of it altogether is likely to help you have a more restful night and allow you to feel more refreshed in the morning.
Create a sleep routine – a routine is a sequence of actions you complete regularly and creating a sleep routine should start in the morning and finish at bedtime. In the morning it’s useful to try and wake up at a similar time every day. It’s nice to stay in bed a little longer when you don’t have to get up for work, but if you allow yourself to sleep for too long on these days, you will feel groggier when you next have to wake up early. Even if you feel tired in the day and have the opportunity, try not to take a nap. If you are suffering from long-term sleep problems, it is better to try to establish a good sleeping pattern overnight, before introducing naps in the day. Then, closer to bedtime implement a bedtime routine with no technology, a calm environment, and activities that you find relaxing.
Stare sleeplessness in the eye – it’s common when you’re struggling to sleep in the night, to worry about the fact you’re not sleeping, think about how tired you’ll be the next day, and desperately try to will yourself back to sleep. However, all these things stimulate our brains more and keep us awake for longer. So instead, get out of bed and do something you find relaxing. You might find this helps you to switch off the part of the brain that has been keeping you awake and allows for a more restful night’s sleep.
Additional sleep support
Sometimes we can laugh off the fact we feel a bit grumpy after a bad night’s sleep, but for those suffering with ongoing sleep deprivation, it really is no laughing matter. You can start to feel extremely low and find functioning day-to-day enormously difficult. If you have tried all the tips above to no avail, it may be that sleep medication will help you. However, talk to your GP first because this type of medication does come with side effects. There may also be an underlying cause for your sleeplessness, such as severe anxiety or menopause symptoms for women, which can be investigated as a separate issue by a doctor.
Sleep deprivation is bad for our mental and physical health, but in many cases, natural solutions can deliver fantastic results in terms of a good night’s sleep and waking up feeling refreshed the next day.