If your sleep has been affecting your daily life, for months, in a way that makes it hard for you to cope and you’ve tried changing your habits, you should discuss this with your GP.
Six steps to better sleep
Sleep is crucial to staying well, and during the Covid 19 outbreak that’s more important than ever. Your sleep may be affected by worry, stress, anxiety, illness and many other things, but the good news is there are simple things you can try, based on research, to help you sleep well. Here are our 6 top tips for better sleep.
1. Stick to a sleep routine. Erratic sleeping patterns can cause you to fall out of sync with the natural light dark cycles, called circadian rhythms. A regular bedtime and wake-up time will help you take control of your internal clock. As a guide we need around 8 hours sleep a night, younger people may need more, older people less. Decide how much you feel YOU need, let’s say 7.5 hours, and subtract that from your planned wake-up time and go to bed then. Stick to this plan for at least 10 days, including weekends, and don’t sleep in. If you’re finding it difficult to go to bed earlier, try making small adjustments like going to bed 15 minutes earlier every few days until you reach your ideal bedtime.
2. Look for natural light in the mornings. Natural sunlight helps to regulate the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. So, try to get outside for at least 15 minutes every morning to take advantage of natural light. It could be part of your permitted Covid exercise.
3. Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. If you are having trouble sleeping, it’s a good idea to restrict caffeine to the mornings. As a rule of thumb cut caffeine after 2.00pm and substitute with decaffeinated coffee, herbal teas or water. The way in which we handle caffeine is determined by our genetic make-up. A DNA test can tell you more about how you react to it.
4. Exercise. Exercise is good for your health and it could also help you get a good night’s sleep. Research suggests that while the rise in body temperature from physical activity may make you feel more awake, the gradual fall in body temperature afterwards can make you feel more tired, encouraging sleep. Exercise also increases endorphins, which reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety enabling you to fall asleep more quickly. Exercise can also improve sleep quality and duration, increasing the time spent in the restorative stage of deep sleep.
5. Avoid drinking alcohol. Many people think alcohol helps them sleep, but in fact alcohol is much more likely to disrupt good sleep than to improve it. Yes, you might fall asleep more quickly. But as the alcohol is metabolised while you sleep, its sedative effects wear off, and there may be a rebound wakening. Alcohol is also a diuretic so you’re likely to be up in the night going to the toilet, causing even more sleep disruption. So, try not to drink too close to bedtime to give your body time to handle the alcohol efficiently.
6. Ditch the tech and get in the zone. The hormone melatonin controls the sleep/wake cycle, but it’s produced during darkness. So, any exposure to bright light and particularly the “blue” light emitted by your phone can suppress melatonin. It’s best to keep electronic screens out of the bedroom. If you can’t go cold turkey, try putting the phone into 'Night Shift' mode to establish a warmer light. For PCs, there’s a free programme called F.Lux which works similarly. Even better, establish a wind down routine that works for you: That could be having a bath, reading a book, meditating, or even dimming the lights an hour before bedtime. It’s also important that the environment you sleep in should be relaxing. If a messy bedroom makes you feel stressed, then tidy up to put your mind at ease.
Taking control of your sleep isn’t always the easiest of tasks but try not to identify yourself with being a poor sleeper. It’s much better to think about it in a positive way; for example, “I’m taking steps towards better sleep. And don’t panic." There’s loads of help and information out there. Click on the links below for more information.