Sleepy? Strategies to Sleep Better

Sleepy? Strategies to Sleep Better

Do you have difficulty getting a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone. Our sleep can be affected, especially during times of stress and when juggling multiple demands. Whether we are staying up late to finish work to meet deadlines or dealing with life’s challenges, poor sleep can take a toll on our well-being and productivity.

Understanding the benefits of sleep

Sleep is just as critical to our health as eating well and staying physically active. Our bodies and minds recharge during sleep, setting us up to function well the next day. When our sleep is disrupted, we are not as alert because tired, making it harder to think clearly, make sound decisions and work effectively.

Moreover, inadequate sleep can impair our memory and reaction times, putting us at risk, particularly when driving. In addition, poor sleep can lead to increased irritability and impulsive behaviour.

What prevents us from sleeping well?

A variety of factors can interfere with our sleep patterns. High stress levels, irregular sleep patterns, excessive screen time and lack of exercise can disrupt our natural sleep-wake cycle.

In today’s digital age, we rely constantly on electronic devices. While they keep us connected and entertained, excessive screen time, especially before bedtime, interrupts our sleep cycle.

The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, the hormone that alerts us to sleep. Additionally, constant notifications can keep our minds active, making it harder to relax and fall asleep.1Foster, R. (2022) Life cycle. The new science of the body clock, and how it can revolutionize your sleep and health. UK: Penguin Life.

Some may try to catch up on sleep at the weekend, however, this does not restore our sleep cycle. In addition, if we do not spend time outdoors, the lack of exposure to daylight and lack of exercise also affect our sleep.2Walker, M. (2014) Why we sleep. London: Penguin, Random House.

Getting to sleep, however, requires more than just a desire to do so. We cannot command our bodies to fall asleep. However, we can create the conditions to improve our sleep.

Benefits of sleep

Most of us know it is essential to protect our sleep to support our health and wellbeing. During sleep, our body repairs and restores cells to keep our bodies functioning well. It enhances our brain functions and supports our cognitive functions such as thinking, memory, planning, and regulating our emotions.3Espie, C. (2006) Overcoming insomnia and sleep problems. A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques. London: Robinson Publishing.

.Our bodies and minds function optimally when we get enough sleep. The brain clears toxins and restores energy during sleep. A consistent healthy routine that includes exercise, eating well, and staying hydrated helps regulate blood pressure.

This helps to reduce the incidence of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.

Research also indicates that sleep contributes to regulating our emotions and our immune system. So, when sleep is altered our immune system is suppressed leaving us more vulnerable to illnesses.4Macciochi, J. (2020) Immunity. The science of staying well. London: Thorsons.

Strategies for better sleep

Create a bedtime routine: Establishing a flexible routine can restore our sleep patterns. Getting to bed and getting up at the same time every night of the week (including weekends) will restore our internal body clock. This is one of the most effective way to train our bodies to know when to sleep.

In addition, try dimming the lights at least an hour before bedtime. Get into your pyjamas and relax while reading or listening to calming music. Make sure all electronic devices are turned off and out of sight about an hour before bedtime.

Include relaxation in your sleep routine. If we are tense it is less likely that we will fall asleep. Instead of controlling your sleep time, focus on resting and relaxing. As your body becomes less tense, sleep will be more likely.

You may know about mindfulness, the practice of focusing on the present moment and letting thoughts pass by as you breathe mindfully. During this technique, we focus on our breath. Slow, deep breaths, paying attention to the present moment, are an effective way to release stress and trigger the body’s natural calming response.5Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

We may resort to drinking coffee when feeling tired due to lack of sleep. However, coffee is a stimulant that keeps us alert long after drinking it and prevents sleep. It is recommended not to have coffee after 2pm.

Some recommend taking a short nap during the day to improve concentration and creativity. If you do not have sleep problems, a nap can be beneficial as long as it is only for 20 minutes or so.

However, if you are trying to restore your sleep pattern, avoid napping as it reduces sleep pressure. It is an essential part of the sleep cycle, where we need the pressure accumulated during the day to get to sleep when it is bedtime.6Espie, C. (2006) Overcoming insomnia and sleep problems. A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques. London: Robinson Publishing.

Create a sleep-friendly environment: Having a dark and quiet bedroom helps create an appropriate environment that promotes sleep. It is helpful to negotiate different preferences for bedtime and quiet time with family members and partners.

Sometimes, it is not in our control to manage noise (noisy neighbours, living near train tracks, etc), so it may be helpful to wear earplugs. If possible, discuss with neighbours a way to compromise to reduce noise levels.

When not able to sleep, rather than staying in bed tossing and turning which increases tension and we then associate the bed with not sleeping, specialists recommend getting up and moving to another room where we can read until we feel sleepy.7Walker, M. (2014) Why we sleep. London: Penguin, Random House.

Manage stress: It is a normal physiological response when demands exceed our resources. It is how our brain and body respond to any challenge.8McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion.

As the body’s stress response mobilises energy to manage challenges, it is normal to experience muscle tension, an increased pulse rate, and faster breathing. It also helps us adapt to changes. Chronic stress, however, suppresses our immune system making us more vulnerable to illnesses.9Macciochi, J. (2020) Immunity. The science of staying well. London: Thorsons.

A stressor may last for a short or long time. For example, when we must deal with complex work or a challenging life situation.10Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why zebras don’t get ulcers. The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. Revised and updated. New York: Hold Paperbacks. When we feel we do not have control or cannot overcome the problem, our brains react like we are in physical danger. We may worry about not doing well academically, at work, have financial concerns, or worry about future work or educational options.

Take a break, have a cup of camomile tea and drink it mindfully. It helps us be present, and eases tension. Exercise has many benefits for our health, and it helps us restore our energy.

We can start by changing how we view stress: research indicates that if we change our mindset, we can alter the way our mind and our body react. McGonigal11McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion. says that the effective way to manage stress is to view it as a challenge and use the energy released to address the situation.

By looking for alternative ways of interpreting situations, we can identify ways of dealing with them and use the energy available to act. Next, focus on what you can do rather than what you cannot change.

Manage worry thoughts: Our brains are designed to anticipate negative scenarios to prepare for them. When having self-doubt, or imagining negative scenarios, view these thoughts as just thoughts, not facts. Next, bring your attention back to the present and focus on something you can do to move forward.

A way to manage pressure is to reframe the situation and view it as a challenge. When the body triggers the stress response, we can interpret it as a signal telling us that something is important and we need to do something.

Another useful strategy is to practice self-compassion, where we acknowledge our human condition and acknowledge that we can make mistakes and are vulnerable. We can be kind and understanding, like when talking to your best friend.

It is also helpful to focus on what we are grateful for as it can redirect our attention away from worry thoughts, boosting our wellbeing.12Williams, M. & Penman, D. (2011) Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Piatkus.

When it is difficult to manage worry thoughts, writing down what we worry about can reduce tension. This helps us process our thoughts and feelings. Relaxing our bodies and focusing on resting can reduce tension and help us sleep.13Pennebaker, J. (2014) Expressive writing: words that heal. Washington: Idyll Arbor, Inc.

Develop healthy habits: Maintain a healthy diet to manage energy levels and protect your health. Include movement in your daily routine to keep your body functioning well as it maintains our cardiovascular system working well, which benefits our brain too. Exercise promotes sleep, repairs our bodies and restores our energy.

Include spending time outdoors. Exposing ourselves to natural daylight in the morning is particularly helpful. In addition, green spaces contribute to relaxation and wellbeing.14Foster, R. (2022) Life cycle. The new science of the body clock, and how it can revolutionize your sleep and health. UK: Penguin Life.

 

 

Footnotes
  • 1
    Foster, R. (2022) Life cycle. The new science of the body clock, and how it can revolutionize your sleep and health. UK: Penguin Life.
  • 2
    Walker, M. (2014) Why we sleep. London: Penguin, Random House.
  • 3
    Espie, C. (2006) Overcoming insomnia and sleep problems. A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques. London: Robinson Publishing.
  • 4
    Macciochi, J. (2020) Immunity. The science of staying well. London: Thorsons.
  • 5
    Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.
  • 6
    Espie, C. (2006) Overcoming insomnia and sleep problems. A self-help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques. London: Robinson Publishing.
  • 7
    Walker, M. (2014) Why we sleep. London: Penguin, Random House.
  • 8
    McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion.
  • 9
    Macciochi, J. (2020) Immunity. The science of staying well. London: Thorsons.
  • 10
    Sapolsky, R. (2004) Why zebras don’t get ulcers. The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. Revised and updated. New York: Hold Paperbacks.
  • 11
    McGonigal, K. (2015) The upside of stress. Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). London: Vermilion.
  • 12
    Williams, M. & Penman, D. (2011) Mindfulness: a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Piatkus.
  • 13
    Pennebaker, J. (2014) Expressive writing: words that heal. Washington: Idyll Arbor, Inc.
  • 14
    Foster, R. (2022) Life cycle. The new science of the body clock, and how it can revolutionize your sleep and health. UK: Penguin Life.

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