A couple of months ago, we wrote about how to cope with sleep deprivation. Sleep is such an important part of our physical, mental and spiritual health that it’s unsurprising that many of our community members have questions about how to get better sleep. This week we heard from Allison, who struggles most nights to get enough rest.
Q - I’m really struggling because I’m always tired, and I wondered if you could help. I have a very busy schedule with work and my family - I have a husband and two teenagers, and I seem to spend all my free time cleaning! So you’d expect that when I get to bed at the end of the day, feeling exhausted, that I’d be able to drop right off. But every night I struggle to fall asleep while my husband snores away next to me, and when I do eventually drop off, I usually wake up at least three times a night. So I wake up the next morning feeling like I haven’t slept a wink, and the cycle begins again! Do you have any tips for getting a better night’s sleep? - Allison
A - Hi, Allison. I’m very sorry to hear you’re struggling so much with your sleep - I really feel your pain! As well as being extremely frustrating, lack of sleep affects a number of different areas of our lives; being well rested is essential to our health, and ensures that we are able to function properly during the day. Without sleep, we don’t perform as well as we could do, and this affects our jobs, our relationships, and so on.
There are a number of different factors that affect sleep, and they fall into two main categories: how you use your bedroom, and what you do in the time leading up to bedtime. Here we take a look at those two things, and how you can change both to improve your sleep.
The way you use your bedroom affects your sleep
It’s tempting, especially in the cold winter months, to get into your nice warm bed and spend the night under the covers, watching TV, reading, or browsing the web. However, this makes it difficult for your brain to switch off when it comes to bedtime, because it is associating the bed with being active. There’s a number of changes you can make to your bedroom to make it the perfect sanctuary for sleep.
Make your bed a sacred space
Yes, your bed is comfy and warm, and the perfect place to curl up with a book. However, you need to train your body and mind to associate the bed with sleeping only. This may be difficult for those people whose bedroom is also their primary living space (such as those living in studio apartments or who live with housemates and use their bedroom to entertain guests for privacy), but then it’s especially important. If you want to read a book or watch TV, invest in a comfy armchair and sit in that, or throw some cushions and a blanket down on the floor and lie on there. Then, when you’re really tired and on the verge of falling asleep, get into bed and close your eyes. You should find that you drift off a lot quicker and easier.
Keep the room dark
Our brains associate light with daytime and being awake, so it’s important when sleeping to keep your bedroom as dark as possible. Turn out all lights, unplug any light-emitting electronics, and invest in some heavy curtains to keep outside lights such as street lamps out. Or better yet, try wearing an eye mask - this will also stop you from opening your eyes and looking around your room and finding things to distract you from sleep.
Block out noise
Another big thing that stops us from being able to fall asleep is distracting noise, including partners snoring, phones beeping, etc. It’s important to make your sleeping environment as silent as possible, so make sure that televisions and laptops are turned off and phones are switched to silent. And about the snoring - earplugs might be the best option.
Keep it cool
Our bodies naturally cool down as we fall asleep, so it’s a good idea to help them out by keeping the room temperature low (but not too low). Being too hot or cold is a common frustration when struggling to sleep, so make sure to keep your bedroom at a consistent cool temperature.
What to do before bedtime to help you sleep better
To help you fall asleep easier, it’s important to prepare for bedtime well, starting a couple of hours earlier. Here are some tips.
Pay attention to what you eat or drink
If you have a busy lifestyle that results in struggling to fit in a decent evening meal, you may find yourself snacking later on. What you eat and drink in the hours before bedtime is important, and you have to strike a healthy balance to ensure a good night’s sleep; don’t go to bed starving, but don’t try and sleep when you’re stuffed either. Another important thing to keep in mind is caffeine; drinking beverages with a high caffeine content more than a few hours before bed will leave you feeling wide awake, and understandably it’s hard to switch off when it comes to bedtime.
Take time to wind down
It’s important to take some time before bed to wind down and relax, especially if you have a hectic schedule. Dedicate half an hour before sleep to relaxing in the best way for you; this could be reading a book, writing in a journal/making a to-do list, or having a warm bath. Avoid television just before you go to bed, as this is stimulating rather than relaxing, and the light from the screen suppresses melatonin, which helps you sleep. A highly recommended way to relax before sleep is to practice meditation; not only is this a good way to ensure you’re sitting quietly, it also helps you clear your head of the events of the day, meaning you have less to think about when you’re in bed.
Exercise during the day
Though working and managing a household is tiring, it’s important to fit exercise into your day whenever possible. A good workout is not only good for your physical and mental health, it will also help tire you out, helping you fall asleep quicker and also have a better quality sleep, meaning you should find it easier to sleep without interruption. This doesn’t mean you have to spend an hour in the gym every day; instead you could go swimming, join an exercise or dance class, practice yoga, or simply go for a walk or a run. Anything that gets your heart pumping will do the trick.