How to manage sleep problems
If we consider the effects of poor sleep on our mood, we know that it causes irritability, fatigue and poor concentration. We are more likely to worry and catastrophise after having a bad night’s sleep than when we are rested. Moreover, when we struggle to sleep, we may worry about the fact we are not sleeping, and this in turn can prevent us from getting to sleep, thus a vicious cycle arises.
Tossing and turning? Frantically googling ‘how to get to sleep fast?’ We all know the frustration of when you can’t fall asleep. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why you’re not sleeping. Stress and sleep are often interrelated, the more stressed you are, the harder it is to doze off. However, it could be to do with a multitude of things from, feeling overwhelmed, too much caffeine, hunger pangs, too much light and even having messy surroundings. Whilst we can’t control all these factors, make sure you do what you can to ensure a peaceful night’s sleep. Such as:
- Write down any concerns you might have before bed in your journal
- Don’t consume caffeine after 3pm
- Have a cup of chamomile tea before bed
- Try some natural products, such an aromatherapy lavender pillow spray
- Make sure your blinds or curtains blocks out as much light as possible, and only use a soft, warm glow side light if needed
- Keep your bedroom tidy by dedicating 10 minutes before bed to clearing your space
Understanding your daily mood & sleep cycle
When we are stressed, our body enters a state called ‘fight or flight’ mode. It is during fight or flight that our body releases stress hormones, and specifically, adrenaline. Adrenaline is a stimulant that inhibits our ability to get to sleep. When we are stressed, our brain may be in overdrive, constantly thinking of all the things we need to do or worrying about. A ‘busy’ mind will prevent us from relaxing and being able to successfully fall into slumber. If we have a good sound sleep, we feel much better equipped to deal with the day. Conversely, if our sleep has been disjointed, or we have struggled to get many hours of sleep in, it can negatively impact our functioning. We may notice we have difficulty concentrating and being productive. We may experience irritability and fatigue. This can impact all aspects of our life including work, socialising and relationships. Sleep hygiene encompasses a whole host of healthy sleep habits. However, adopting a regular sleep routine and having a bedroom dedicated just for sleeping are two important habits to begin with. A regular sleep routine means waking up at the same time each day, and if sleep permits, going to bed at roughly the same time each night.
During an ideal night's sleep, your body can go through five cycles. In general, each cycle moves consecutively through each stage of sleep: wake, light sleep, deep sleep, REM, and repeat. People tend to enter REM sleep within the first 90 minutes of falling asleep, during which your breathing fastens, your blood and heart rate increase and your leg and arm muscles temporarily paralyze. It is understood that most of our dreaming takes place during REM sleep and it is also thought to be responsible for shaping our learning, memory and mood. As we age, we spend less and less time in REM sleep, with adults experiencing roughly 20-25% of their sleep cycle in REM, whilst children spend around 50% of their sleep in REM.
Ways to relax (physical & mental)
- Mindfulness and meditation
Being mindful and focusing on the present, rather than worrying about the future, can be an important step in helping you feel relaxed before bed. Learning how to meditate could bring benefits such as staying positive, balancing your emotions, reducing stress, helping your ability to introspect, and helping productivity.
- Create a calming environment
Blackout curtains and a weighted blanket are great items to have to help you sleep a little better, but there are a few other things you can do to create a calm environment before you go to sleep. Listening to some classical music, a podcast or relaxing sounds before bed can help you switch off. White lights can be quite harsh on the eyes, so opt for some warm yellow bulbs instead. You could also light some scented candles while you cuddle up with a book, just remember to blow them out before you go to sleep!
- Take a warm bath
Having a regular bedtime routine that lets your body know it’s time to start winding down is helpful. A warm bath about an hour before bedtime can help you unwind and prepare for sleep. A study done by Cornell University in 1997 suggests that a rapid drop in your body’s core temperature –can help you fall asleep. So, if you raise it a little with a warm bath, the drop-in temperature when you get into bed may help you nod off in no time.
- Take deep breaths
Sounds simple, right? But it takes practice to be aware of our breath. Slowing down and taking three deliberate, deep breaths is a great way to relax your whole system and find some sleep help through a natural sleep remedy. The trick is to make yourself as comfortable as possible and take a long, deep breath in through your nose. Exhale through your mouth slowly, counting to eight. Repeat until you are feeling more grounded.