A guide to improving your sleep
Improve your sleep
Nearly a quarter of people in Britain have problems with sleep on a regular basis (The Sleep Council) and almost half of us lose sleep because of stress or worries. After a poor night’s sleep, you will often feel tired, short-tempered and find it hard to focus. However, the odd night without sleep won’t harm your health.
Yet, after several sleepless nights, you are likely to experience more serious effects. You will probably find your brain feels foggy, which makes decision-making and concentration difficult. You’ll potentially feel low and may drop off to sleep during the day. This also increases your risk of having an accident or injuring yourself.
It is recommended that adults should get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night so they can function at their best. Take this short test by the NHS to get your 'sleep score', to see if you should be getting more sleep.
So how can you maximise your chances of getting those precious forty winks?
Try our top tips to help improve your sleep:
Get into a routineGoing to bed and getting up at regular times – even at a weekend – can help your body’s internal clock to get used to a set routine.
Pick a schedule that works for you and stick to it as it will help to regulate your body clock. This may be tough at first – particularly if you’re used to lying in after having a bad night’s kip – but persevere and you are likely to reap the rewards.
Improve your bedroomThe place you sleep is just as important as what you do. Try to make your room as comfortable and relaxing as possible to improve your chances of getting to sleep. The ideal room is dark and quiet, with a temperature between 18C and 24C.
- Consider removing any gadgets that emit light, such as TVs or consoles
- If street lights disturb your sleep, consider putting up blackout curtains
- Some people find white noise machines, sleep masks or fans helpful to block out noise
- It has also been recently discovered that ‘pink noise’ can help sleep
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you should stop using electronic devices, at least 30 minutes before bedtime. It might be helpful to set a reminder to turn off all notifications to help you get into a good routine.
It’s also worth considering how comfortable your bed and pillows are. Mattresses have a lifespan of about 9-10 years, so if yours is older it may be worth shelling out for a new one.
Bedroom clutter can also be an issue – particularly if you can’t sleep because of stress – clear the space as best you can. This also makes the room feel more inviting and easier to relax in. If you can, keep your bedroom for sleeping, avoiding working or watching TV in it, as this may also help.
Have a 'wind down'Try to chill out for a bit before trying to get some sleep. For example:
- Read a book
- Listen to relaxing music
- Practice mindfulness – try the Headspace sleep meditations
- Have a warm bath/shower - at least 2 hours before bedtime
Did you know that if your bath or shower temperature is too hot just before bedtime it can actually hinder getting to sleep? Your body temperature needs to drop slightly as a trigger for your body to go to sleep.
Some people also find it helpful to write out a to-do list or a list of worries and how to solve them before going to bed.
You should avoid using screens that emit light – such as smartphones, laptops or eReaders – before going to bed. Studies have shown that using light-emitting devices before bed has a negative effect on sleep.
If worries tend to keep you awake, our information on stress may also be helpful.
Limit nap timeIf you find you have to nap during the day to keep your energy levels up, set an alarm and ensure you only have a lie-down for 10-20 minutes. If possible, try to avoid napping altogether – especially if you’re trying to establish a sleep routine.
Keep a sleep diaryIf you often have trouble sleeping, try keeping a sleep diary to help you spot any patterns – such as diet, activities or stress – that may be affecting it. The NHS has a helpful downloadable sleep diary on its website.
This will also be helpful if you decide to see your GP or a sleep specialist.
Cut back on the caffeine and alcoholIf you have trouble sleeping, try to avoid consuming anything containing caffeine – including tea, coffee, energy drinks and Coke – for 4–6 hours before going to bed. About half the caffeine you take in at 7pm will still be in your system at 11pm (UCLA). It won’t make a difference straight away, but you may notice a change within a week.
Drinking alcohol before going to bed may help you to get to sleep at first, but it has a negative effect on the quality of sleep you get. Avoid drinking it just before going to bed.
Exercise helps sleepA poll running on The Sleep Council’s website says that 71% of people find exercise helps them sleep. So, think about how to make time for exercise – and it doesn’t have to be an expensive gym membership. Go for a walk or run in the fresh air. For more inspiration, check out our tips on cheap ways to get fit.
Don't smoke before bedJust like caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant, so if you smoke, you are likely to get less sleep. It’s not just the quantity, but the quality of your sleep which is likely to be affected. The closer to bed time you smoke, the greater the impact on your sleep. If you would like to find out how to give up smoking, you can read the NHS’ self-help tips.
Food can fuel sleepThere are many things you can do to promote good sleep, including making changes to your diet, as some foods and drinks have sleep-promoting properties. Find out the nine best foods and drinks to have before bed to enhance your quality of sleep.
Some foods and drinks contain high amounts of specific antioxidants and nutrients, such as magnesium and melatonin, that are known to enhance sleep by helping you fall asleep faster or stay asleep longer.
To reap the benefits of sleep-enhancing foods and drinks, it's best to consume them 2–3 hours before bed. Eating immediately before going to sleep may cause digestive issues, such as acid reflux.
If you really can't sleep...If you can’t get to sleep, staying in bed for hours tossing and turning might not be the best idea. Get up, go to a quiet room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. Try sipping camomile tea and doing a sleep meditation. (Revisit the ‘have a wind down’ section).
Chat to your GPMake an appointment to see your GP if your sleep problems are having an effect on your everyday life. This is especially important if making some of the changes above hasn’t helped or it’s been going on for over a month.
Your GP may suggest keeping a sleep diary (see above), check your medical history for any illness/medication that may affect your sleep and ask about your lifestyle.
Try SilverCloudIf you would like more support with sleep, you can sign up free for our digital platform, SilverCloud. A number of programs are available, including on topics such as sleep, anxiety, depression, stress, money worries and resilience.
SilverCloud is completely free for anyone who works or has worked, in the automotive industry. Sign up free and get started today, using the access code: ben.
If you want to try a more practical sleep test, you can give this simple experiment a go at home to see if you are getting enough sleep.
Remember, if you need support with this, or anything else, we’re here for you. You can chat with us online or call our free and confidential helpline on 08081 311 333 (Mon-Fri 8am-8pm).
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