Five steps to a better night’s sleep

Does getting a good night’s sleep seem impossible? Julie Jennings, Occupational Therapist and Head of Comfort at HSL has some important advice on how to beat your sleep struggles.

Lack of sleep can be the cause of countless health and well-being problems, including stress, hair loss, premature aging, a weak immune system and even obesity. Every night, millions of us struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep, and for many, bad habits through the day can lead to an irregular sleep pattern.

However, there are ways to combat your sleep issues. Changing your waking behaviours and improving your sleep can help ease stress levels, revitalise your skin health, help you to appear more youthful, give you much more energy and improve your mental performance.

Here are five steps to help you get rested and rejuvenated:

Rethink your diet

The food you consume before going to sleep can really influence how you sleep at night. You should avoid foods that contain large amounts of sodium, as these foods can leave you dehydrated and often result in you waking up during the night feeling thirsty.

Foods packed with large amounts of fat and sugar such as burgers, pizzas and other processed foods should also be avoided. They can be hard to digest and literally ‘lay heavy on the stomach.’

However, research has shown certain foods before bed can contribute to a better night’s sleep. One of the best known ingredients for this is tryptophan, an amino acid that can be found in milk. So, a glass of warm milk before bed can contribute to a peaceful night’s rest.

Interestingly, eating cherries has also been proven to improve sleep as they are one of the only natural foods to contain melatonin, the chemical tasked with controlling your body’s internal clock.

Avoid caffeine and nicotine

Caffeine is one of the main ingredients in coffee, tea, painkillers, sugary drinks and chocolate. It is a natural stimulant and lots of us rely on coffee and tea to give us a kick-start in the mornings. However, it is also one of the main offenders when it comes to interrupting our sleep patterns. In fact, consuming caffeine even six hours before we go to bed can interrupt our sleep by up to one hour.

Nicotine is another natural stimulant that can have a real impact on how well we sleep. Studies have revealed that smokers spend less time in a deep sleep and are also quicker to wake from sleep due to withdrawals.

By taking small steps to cut down on your caffeine and nicotine levels during the day and by avoiding drinking caffeine after mid-afternoon, you can make a real difference to the way you sleep.

Make sure your bed is comfortable

Although for many, a bed is a bed, the bed frame and mattress you sleep on could be the most important factor compromising the quality of your sleep. A poor quality mattress can play havoc on your sleeping pattern and also cause long term physical problems to your back, neck and legs.

Considering we spend a third of our lives in bed, getting the right bed for you should be a serious consideration for those struggling to sleep.

Equipping yourself with a supportive orthopaedic mattress should provide immediate improvements to your sleeping pattern. Many are none-turn for ease and are designed to help you get in the correct sleeping position, providing relief from any aches and pains.

;Consider your sleeping environment

Feeling comfortable in the place you sleep is essential to having a good night’s sleep. You should take a fresh look at your bedroom or sleeping environment and have a think about ways in which you can improve your sleep experience. Reduce any disruptive noises such as clocks and radios, or consider using ear plugs to block out any unwanted sounds.

Colour and lighting is also key. Using thick curtains will decrease artificial and natural light, which could be affecting your sleep pattern. You should also keep colour schemes neutral and calming. Make sure you leave any tablets, phones or computers downstairs as the lights and sounds can keep you awake at night.

The bright light of TV, plus the contents of the programme can stimulate the brain, which can affect the secretion of melatonin, a hormone necessary for quality sleep. Laptops and tablets used at the brightest setting are just as harmful before bedtime.

The healthiest night time routine is to turn off the TV and spend an hour with a good book instead. Reading under a dim light won’t disrupt your brain’s melatonin production, plus studies have shown that overall memory improves if you learn right before falling asleep.

Finally, keep your room temperature cool. This will stop you from overheating and becoming restless.

Exercise

Research has shown that those who exercise for at least two and a half hours a week have significantly better sleep and also feel more awake during the day than those who don’t exercise at all.

Keeping active and regularly exercising can really improve your sleep levels, so instead of jumping in the car to go to the local shop, consider walking. Maybe even try taking up a new hobby to burn some energy. For those who struggle to move about easily, light gardening and gentle housework can be just as effective.

Importantly, try to avoid day time napping as this will reduce the quality of night time sleep and could lead to longer term physical and mental health problems. Try taking a gentle walk after meals or mid-afternoon, when fatigue usually sets in, to freshen the mind and body.

However, it’s important to remember that exercising too late in the evening can actually disrupt sleep, as exercising produces a chemical called cortisol, which makes you feel more alert. It’s therefore best to exercise during the day and avoid evening exercise to get the best result.

You may not be able to make all these changes but every little helps and little differences can have a big impact when it comes to getting that crucial good night’s sleep.