Sleep is an essential part of life and although there are still many things that we don’t fully understand about the role that sleep plays, we do know that it is vital maintaining good physical and mental health. During sleep, the body repairs itself and grows new cells and body tissue, it maintains a healthy immune system, regulates hormones, processes thoughts and promotes physical healing.
Lack of good quality sleep can affect your mood and stress levels, which can affect relationships and your ability to function day to day. If sleep problems persist, they can sometimes lead to further issues including depression and anxiety.
If you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep or you keep waking during the night, there are a number of practical steps that you can take to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. Here are my top five tips:
1. Create a restful environment
Your bedroom should be a relaxing and quiet place which is free from distractions. You need to create a strong association in your mind between your bedroom and sleep, so no more watching TV, working, studying or exercising in your bedroom. Instead, focus on creating a calm, quiet, comfortable and peaceful space where you can get a good night’s sleep.
2. Create your own sleep routine
Babies often have a sleep routine which might include a bath, followed by a bedtime story. The idea is to encourage relaxation, so that the body and mind begin to wind down in preparation for sleep. As we grow older, we often fall into bad habits and instead of having a relaxing sleep routine, we do the exact opposite and instead engage in activities which stimulate the brain such as watching TV or playing games on a mobile phone. A good sleep routine is important as it helps your body and mind prepare for sleep.
You should aim to start your unwinding routine about an hour before you go to bed. Having a warm bath and practising breathing or relaxation exercises can all help your body and mind to know that it’s time to sleep. Listening to relaxation and visualisation audios can also help as they encourage your mind to become calm in preparation for sleep.
3. Re-train your sleeping habits
The more we do something, the more likely it is to become a habit. So the more you lie in bed clock watching, the more it reinforces the message that you’re still awake and can’t sleep.
If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up, go to another room and do something relaxing that will encourage sleep and won’t stimulate your brain. Listening to relaxing music or practising relaxation techniques can help. Only go back to bed when you start to feel tired again. The idea is to strengthen the association in your mind between your bedroom and sleep.
4. Watch what you eat and drink
Many foods and drinks contain stimulants such as caffeine, which can make it harder to fall asleep, so try to avoid food or drinks containing caffeine for at least four hours before you go to bed. Avoiding or cutting down on alcohol during the evening is also a good idea. Although alcohol may initially help you to fall asleep, the effect soon wears off and your sleep will be lighter, meaning that you are more likely to wake during the night. Alcohol can also cause headaches and dehydration, which can make it harder to fall and stay asleep. Try to avoid eating late at night and instead plan to finish your evening meal around two to three hours before you go to bed. Eating later in the evening can also cause fluctuations in your blood sugar and insulin levels, which can disrupt sleep.
5. Stop using electronic devices before bedtime
Electronic devices such as computers, smartphones, tablets and TVs emit blue light and this can reduce Melatonin, which is the chemical that helps to regulate sleep. Surfing the internet, texting, checking social media, sending emails and watching TV when it’s time to go to bed, all stimulate the brain and can lead to information overload – which is the exact opposite of what you need when you’re trying to wind down and go to sleep.
Making these small changes might be all that it takes to help you overcome insomnia and get back into a good sleep routine, but if you’re still experiencing problems, you could consider hypnotherapy. Working with your subconscious mind, hypnotherapy sessions can help you to break the cycle of sleepless nights by addressing the cause, enabling you to relax and get a better night’s sleep.