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Practical steps you can take right now to improve your sleep

There’s nothing more frustrating than waking up and not feeling well-rested.

Especially considering how vital sleep is for both our mental and physical wellbeing.

Clare Anderson, a wellness expert and founder of Sensory Retreats, stresses the importance of getting good quality sleep.

She says: ‘While we sleep, our brains and bodies complete numerous key tasks that keep us healthy. This includes everything from repairing and building muscles to transporting the day’s events into long-term memory.

‘Not getting enough sleep can cause far more severe effects than simply feeling tired. A lack of sleep is commonly associated with weight problems, overeating, a lack of concentration, forgetfulness, and much more.’

As a result, anything we can do improve our sleeping habits is always welcome.

And, sometimes, it’s the simple things that can make a real difference.

We asked the experts for some practical tips for improving your sleep that you can try tonight.

Get an eye mask

Investing in an eye mask is a great place to start.

These work by blocking out any artificial light – which might keep us awake. So it can be a simple, yet effective, solution to disrupted sleep.

Clare explains: ‘Light, especially at night, can disrupt our internal clock that helps to regulate our sleep-wake patterns and intrusive light can result in shallower periods of sleep.

‘Exposure to artificial light (such as street lights, light from a clock, a TV standby button, or blue light from your phone) suppresses melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, which can lead to sleeping issues or disorders such as insomnia.

‘Melatonin sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to go to sleep, so light exposure – especially at night – sends the wrong signal to the brain, which disrupts your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.’

It’s worth pointing out that eye masks might not be required every night, but if you’re struggling to sleep, feeling stressed, or are sleeping in a new environment, they could really help.

Opt for ear buds

Never underestimate the power of earbuds – and they can be a game-changer if you’re a light sleeper.

‘Our world has become so noisy, demanding and over-stimulating; this affects the nervous system and sends it into overdrive,’ explains Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.

‘The opposite of what is needed in order to get a good night’s sleep.’

As a result, earbuds can be a great way of blocking out external noises and eliminating distractions.

Limit screen time

A digital detox in the hours before bed is another helpful tip.

Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist and health advisor for Chemist Click, says: ‘It’s no surprise at all that using screens before bed time can leave our mind feeling wired, this is because the amount of information it’s processing right before bed is huge, and often using apps like social media before bed can leave us feeling more awake than before.

‘Not only this, the blue light emitted from screens can also leave us feeling awake and wired. This is because artificial blue light can boost alertness and mental sharpness – but, of course, this right before bed means you may have trouble sleeping or getting to sleep.’

Experts suggest leaving all screens outside of the room two hours before you go to sleep – this includes phones, laptops, tablets and TVs.

Create the right bedroom environment

A messy bedroom could unknowingly be impacting your sleep.

Abbas adds: ‘The environment you sleep in plays a huge role in how well you sleep. If your bedroom is messy or filled with too much stuff, you may find it harder to relax your mind ready for a good night of sleep.

‘Many studies have shown that going to bed in a messy room can leave you feeling agitated and uneasy, because your mind also feels disorganised.’

Keeping your bedroom clutter-free and calm, is a great way to create your own sleep sanctuary and will encourage better sleeping habits.

Read a book

If you struggle to nod off, reading a book can be a great way to help you on your way.

Abbas says: ‘Reading before bed is a sure-fire way for setting yourself up for a good night sleep.

‘Reading allows us to feel sleepy due to its repetition, as well as the relaxing nature of reading a physical book – as opposed to staring at a screen.’

Meditate in bed

Meditation can calm us down in all sorts of circumstances – particularly before bed.

‘Meditation can be a great way to promote a relaxed body and mind, and has been used as a way of de-stressing for centuries,’ explains Abbas.

‘Try and dedicate 15 minutes a night to meditation, either right before bed or earlier in the evening.

‘It can seem difficult at first but with the right amount of practice you should find that you are able to meditate for 15 minutes with zero distractions – and this can be life-changing for your quality of sleep.’

Decompress your day

Sleep specialist Kerry Davies suggests taking some time – ideally two hours before you get into bed – to decompress your day.

She explains: ‘Make lists around what you have completed and what needs to be done tomorrow. Doing this is an actual notebook can be really symbolic as you are almost “closing off” for the day.

‘You can also spend time writing down the things that you are worried about. Take this notebook to bed with you (as we all have these moments when we suddenly remember something that we desperately need to do), so you don’t forget the notebook is there, then add to it if you need to and, again, close it off.’

Wellbeing coach Joanna Shurety stresses the importance of this ‘daytime thinking time,’ too.

She says: ‘Our brains need time to process life and, if we don’t give it the time to do that in the day, then it is likely to wake us up at 4am to think/worry/have a great idea.’

Plan your bedtime around your body clock

‘Set your bedtime for the time you are naturally falling to sleep – if that is later than you would like, you can stop the time and routine back by 15 minutes every three nights,’ explains Kerry.

‘Couple this up with darkened lights around an hour before falling to sleep – as this will help with melatonin production.’

Up your exercise levels

As well as being essential for overall health, exercise directly impacts your need for ‘deep sleep’ at night, explains Dr Linsday Browning and a sleep expert for And So To Bed.

‘Moderate exercise like a brisk walk has been shown to increase your deep sleep during the night, which helps you to wake up the next day feeling more refreshed,’ she says.

‘The more you exercise, the more deep sleep you will have – and it’s deep sleep that helps you to feel refreshed when you wake up, and helps with sleep continuity.’

But Dr Lindsay stresses to make sure you exercise during the daytime, and not too close to bedtime, as exercise in the evening can sometimes be disruptive to sleep – due to the release of endorphins and adrenaline.

Stop your caffeine intake 5-7 hours before bed

Caffeine and good sleep do not mix well together, so this is something to avoid – especially in the afternoon and evening.

Dr Lindsay says: ‘Caffeine has an average half life of 5-7 hours. That means that 5-7 hours after your cup of coffee, half of the caffeine is still in your system.

‘Caffeine is not only found in tea and coffee, but also in chocolate and in soft drinks such as cola and energy drinks – including the sugar-free variety.

‘If you have trouble sleeping then it’s recommended for you to have your last cup of caffeine of the day at around 2pm.’

Have a warm bath before bed

A relaxing and warm bath before bed will not only help you to wind down after a busy day, but the temperature of it will also help you sleep, explains Dr Lindsay.

She adds: ‘When you go to sleep, your body temperature naturally decreases, which is why more than half of the UK find it so difficult to sleep when it’s hot.

‘If you have a warm bath, then you artificially raise your body temperature and when you come out of the warm bath, your body temperature will naturally start to drop, mimicking the drop in temperature that happens as you fall asleep, making you feel sleepier.’

Cut down on alcohol

Alcohol is a sedative and can help with falling asleep. However, as alcohol is processed by our body, it promotes wakefulness in the latter half of the night – meaning that you wake frequently in the early hours.

Dr Lindsay continues: ‘Alcohol affects the normal progression of the sleep stages we go through each night, meaning that the sleep we do get is not as restorative.

‘Lastly, alcohol is a mild respiratory depressant, meaning that it makes breathing slightly more difficult.

‘This is really important for people with sleep apnoea because their sleep apnoea will be worse when they have consumed alcohol – making them wake up more frequently, as they repeatedly stop breathing with the apnoea.’

Make your bed as comfy as possible

An uncomfortable bed makes sleep far less appealing.

Clare adds: ‘If you’re uncomfortable in bed, then falling asleep is going to feel like an impossible task – and even if you do sleep, you may well be waking up feeling tired, with neck and back pain to boot.’

She suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is your mattress the right balance of soft/firm?
  • Does your pillow offer sufficient support to your head and neck?
  • Is your duvet too thick (hot) or thin (cool)?
  • Is your bedding soft and luxurious or scratchy and uncomfortable?

If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these it might be time to update your mattress, bedding or even bed.

 


Credit: Source

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