If you’ve had more than your fair share of sleepless nights this year, you’re not alone. The first lockdown increased the number of Britons suffering from sleep deprivation, from one in six, to one in four of us having less than the required amount of hours needed for restful, restorative sleep which is essential for good mental health and wellbeing.
Five years ago, I was diagnosed with an unidentifiable sleep condition. I found it difficult to concentrate at work, my memory was impaired, I’d forget things and I often felt tearful or irritable because I was so tired and frustrated.
I attended a sleep clinic where I was attached to lots of wires and machinery to monitor my brain patterns as I slept, or not.
The specialists soon realised there was a problem with my deep sleep cycle, the one that we need to make us feel refreshed in the morning. They didn’t know what was causing the issue and I didn’t have any bright ideas either, apart from the lack of sleep I was happy. I’ve since seen a psychologist, a therapist and attended sleep classes to establish what the issue is or at the very least, how to find a way for me to sleep better, if not longer.
It would be fair to say that because of my weird relationship with sleep which later turned out to be something called Idopathic hyperinsomnia, I know a lot about the importance of good sleep habits and the detrimental effect that poor sleep has on all areas of our lives, relationships, work, family life, friendships, hobbies and overall mental wellbeing.
There are lots of reasons that people don’t sleep, stress, anxiety, overthinking, health concerns, money worries and medical issues to name but a few. The current uncertainty of the global pandemic has a lot to answer for when it comes to hours spent staring at the ceiling in the twilight hours.
While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need eight to ten hours, and people over 65 need about six hours sleep per night. The average sleep/wake cycle is five stages of sleep, with stages 1-2 as light sleep, 3-4 as deep sleep, and the fifth stage as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep where we process our thoughts and dream.
If you aren’t sleeping well and like me, you’re starting to feel frustrated by your lack of ZZZ’s here are a few simple tips for you to try;
- Clean bedding. Dead skin cells, sweat, and saliva soon build up creating a breeding ground for germs. Fresh bedding is more hygienic, relaxing, and restful
- Try opening a window just a little bit to let the air circulate. Scientists believe that sleeping in a cool room can improve your sleep quality and even help combat Insomnia episodes
- Have a regular sleep routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Your body will become accustomed to the routine and will ease into a steady rhythm of when you should be falling asleep when you should be ready to wake up. Your body will become so used to this, that you probably won’t need an alarm clock to get you out of bed
- Don’t go to bed on an argument or disagreement. Try and resolve any tensions or issues that you might be having. Going to bed feeling unsettled will likely lead to overthinking, worry and anxiety, preventing you from a peaceful night’s rest.
- If you drink caffeinated drinks, tea, coffee, soda, or energy drinks, try to switch to the decaffeinated versions after lunch. That will allow the stimulus of caffeine to leave your system before you go to bed
- If you are light sensitive it’s worth investing in a good quality blind or blackout curtains, failing that try an eye mask to block out any unwelcome light. Ear plugs are also handy if you are a light sleeper and easily disturbed by background noises.
- Alcohol might have the desired effect in making you fall asleep more quickly, but it can soon wake you up to go to the loo several times in the night because it’s a diuretic. It also disturbs your sleep cycles, so you could wake up feeling like you haven’t slept well at all
- Reduce screen time at least an hour before bed. Mobile phones, computers and TVs emit a blue light. And it’s that exposure to bluish light during the two hours before bed that can keep us from getting a good night’s rest, the brain mistakes the blue light for daylight and thinks it’s not time to sleep, making it harder for us to switch off and rest. The same applies for scrolling through the phone in the middle of the night. If you can, use a traditional alarm clock and leave your phone more than arm’s length away from the bed, so you aren’t tempted to check social media, texts, and emails
- Physical exercise is essential to good mental health, wellbeing and sleep. Do something daily to get your heartrate pumping, there are loads of free online exercise classes to try or look for local community classes to keep you motivated
- Mindfulness and meditation are excellent ways to relax before bed- lots of free apps online – yes, I know I said don’t go on your phone before bed, but this is an exception. Reading or audiobooks are also good ways to relax and unwind your mind before sleep
Sleep is a necessity not a luxury, so if you are struggling with your sleep routines seek advice from your GP or visit the NHS website for more ideas and suggestions to get you back on track.
Shannon Humphrey is a First Aid for Mental Health Instructor and wellbeing advocate. For details of her courses see www.pathwaysforpositivity.com or call 07470 887783