A good night’s sleep is a vital part of our well-being and crucial to our health. There’ll always be the occasional random bad night, but on the whole we should be getting a normal night’s sleep as often as possible. More on ‘normal’ later.
Unfortunately, modern living doesn’t lend itself to good sleep and we all know the culprits: late night use of mobile devices, caffeine, alcohol, long working days, financial pressures etc. The current lockdown is bringing new stresses and pressures into the equation whether it be entertaining and schooling our children, loss of income or general insecurity about what the future holds.
It’s ironic that, in times of stress such as these, just when we need to be having some good quality sleep, it’s often the first thing to be disturbed. We find it hard to drop off, we wake up in the small hours, we wake up early. If you’re off work or working from home, you might find your sleep pattern has altered or become a bit random.
Problems with sleeping?
This stress and pressure can really impact on our sleep. Poor sleep will lead to poor health: your immune system and cardiovascular system will be impacted, you’ll have higher levels of stress hormones (causing more disturbed nights); it can also lead to weight gain and memory issues and can also affect the level of pain that you feel if you are struggling with an injury. In stressful times we need to be firing on all cylinders and, if we become unwell, we really need our bodies to be working to their optimum to help us recover. So, taking care of our sleep is essential at the minute. How do we do it? We need to practice good sleep hygiene!
Are you normal?!
First of all, don’t worry about the amount of sleep you’re getting; what’s important is the quality of the sleep. We hear a lot about the ideal of 8 hours but, really, this is just an average. ‘Normal’ can be anywhere between 3 and 11 hours and this can change with age. So don’t stress if you don’t get 8 hours.
Originally coined as ‘sleep hygiene’ in the 1890’s and recently rebranded as clean sleeping, it describes a set of habits – good and bad – that can affect the quality of your sleep.
Have consistent times for going to bed and waking up.
The former isn’t always possible but, as far as possible, be consistent. As counterintuitive as it seems, the biggest game changer to quality of sleep has been shown to be having the same wake up time. This means 7 days a week, 365 days per year. Your body will start to wake 90 minutes before it actually wakes. By getting the body used to the same time, you can start to program it to fall into more consistent sleep cycle patterns aiding a restful night’s sleep.
Avoid daytime napping
Power napping has its uses but if you’re finding the need to do it regularly, it’s a sign that you’re not sleeping well enough at night. A power nap should be for no more than 20 minutes. With the time needed to fall asleep and come to, this should be no more than 30-40 minutes. This will give you the ideal nap time of 20 minutes.
Limit evening use of phones and other electronic devices
Ideally no use of them half an hour before bedtime. If you can, keep them out of the bedroom. The blue light that they use will interfere with the body’s production of melatonin which we need for sleep. This is naturally produced after sunset due to the lack of natural light. Overuse of screens in the evening makes it harder to fall asleep and affects the general quality of the night’s sleep.
Keep your bedroom as dark as possible
Also, keep a cool temperature: somewhere between 60-67 degrees has been shown to be ideal
Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Not necessarily the easiest one as drinking in the evening can become quite a fixed habit in times of stress. It will help you to drop off to sleep but will interfere with your ability to get the deep restful sleep that we need so, if you can, avoid it. If this is a struggle, nominate a few days in the week where you won’t drink to let your body catch up.
Program your body to recognise that it’s time to wind down by having a routine. This will be different for all of us but humans respond well to known patterns and triggers. So, it might be a relaxing bath, listening to the radio or music, relaxation or breathing exercises or reading a book but have some sort of routine before bedtime.
So, in Stress Awareness Month, use the simple steps above to maximise those resting hours. There’s nothing better for dealing with the day’s challenges than feeling rested and recharged after a good night’s sleep. You owe it to yourself!