How to sleep well. A guide to a good night’s sleep - the elixir of life
Sleep, and the discord between such a fundamental human need and managing today's hectic lifestyles (late nights, early starts and full on in between), is a hot topic. A recent International study for Aviva has revealed that Britons are the most ‘under-slept’ country – over a third of adults in Britain, 37%, said that they were not getting enough sleep. Lack of sleep is cited as the single biggest reason we turn up for work crabby, negative and inefficient in the mornings, not to mention the detrimental effect it has on our relationships.
I have been a habitual insomniac, varying from times when I found it hard to go to sleep, other times when I’d go to sleep easily but then wake up in the night with my mind racing and be awake for a couple of hours, to times when I’d sleep through the night but wake up at an unsociably early hour. I have now cracked my sleep issues, or at least made peace with them and what a difference it has made to my entire life, not to mention the dark circles under my eyes!
Here are my top 20 tips, with personal anecdotes, for getting off to sleep and then staying asleep. I hope some of them work for you. The most useful is probably tip 20!
1. Create a sleeping sanctuary so you look forward to going to bed. Invest in a big bed, 6’ wide (if you share it with someone) - I sabotaged many years of good sleep in a 4’6" and then 5’ bed on the grounds of economy and when we eventually bought a king size bed, well wow, what a difference a foot makes! Also renew your pillows - in fact you get a better night’s sleep with just one pillow, so you only need the expense of one soft feather down pillow. A comfy mattress and lovely bed linen will also help make your bed somewhere that you long to be.
2. Ban all email devices from the bedroom - buy an alarm clock. My GP even says bedrooms shouldn’t have televisions in. He calls it good sleep hygiene!
3. Be active in the day - it helps to be physically tired at night.
4. Catnap in the day. I am a huge believer in the proverbial ‘power snooze’. If it’s not practical to actually fall asleep during your day, then at least find 10 minutes when you can sit quietly, breathe deeply and switch off. You will find yourself so much more creative and productive if you recharge during the day in this way and you will sleep better at night too.
5. Stop the cycle of falling asleep in front of the television during the evening, as this destroys your sleep patterns. If you feel yourself nodding off, either get up and walk around or just go to bed. Ask your partner to shake you if you start to doze off on the sofa.
6. Go to bed early. Aim for seven to nine hours sleep a night. Rejoice that you’ve gone to bed at 10pm three times in a week, rather than moan about how tired you feel.
7. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach - eat supper earlier in the evening. Also, I’m convinced cheese makes you dream, so avoid it.
8. No alcohol late in the evening - whilst alcohol can help you fall asleep, it disrupts your sleep and will wake you up later on in the night.
9. No caffeine after six. Try mint tea (aids digestion) or a milky drink, but beware of drinking too much or you will be waking up in the night for a pee.
10. Make a list before you go to bed about what needs to be done the next day, so you are not trying to store your action list in your mind.
11. Unwind before you go to sleep - don’t go straight from the computer to bed. Not only does your brain need time to stop buzzing, research has shown that light from computer screens obstructs the body’s production of melatonin, which affects our sleep cycle. I always read an easy novel before going to sleep.
12. Forbid WIB (words in bed) - agree not to talk about controversial issues or disagreements with your partner in the bedroom.
13. Relax your body. As you go to sleep, start by clenching your muscle groups in turn and then relaxing them. Curl your toes, relax, squeeze your thighs, relax and then your buttocks, stomach, hands, shoulders and finish by clenching and relaxing your jaw. Then focus on deep abdominal breathing. Breathe in deeply, to the pit of your stomach and take six breaths out. And repeat. Do this mindfully and you will be asleep in no time. Repeat this if you wake up in the night too.
14. Lavender does work. Try lavender hand cream or bath oil, but be careful of overdoing the smell. I once spilt a bottle of lavender oil whilst putting drops on my pillow in a small ski apartment and the place reeked. There was no way that any of us were going to sleep after that!
15. Buy some earplugs. Have foam earplugs to hand to grab in the night if the dawn bird chorus or your partner snoring wakes you up.
16. Keep a pen and paper beside your bed, so if you do have inspirations in the night, you can jot them down and then go back to sleep.
17. Look at your diet. If you feel bloated and your digestion keeps you awake, try a wheat free diet.
18. Consider whether you might have a medical condition that needs addressing. For me, it was my thyroid. Book an appointment to see your doctor; don’t put it off any longer.
19. Deal with the underlying cause of your sleep problems, be it your relationship, your job etc. and take proactive steps to sort it.
20. Stop trying to sleep. This is the single best piece of advice I can give you. If you do nothing else, please buy The Sleep Book by Dr. Guy Meadows. He teaches you how to sleep like a ‘normal’ person, someone who is not reliant on pills, potions and routines, someone who just gets into bed and goes to sleep. He explains that when you give up your struggle with sleep, and stop worrying about how to fix your insomnia and in fact accept it, then ironically you free your mind from looking for solutions and natural sleep comes more easily.