A large percentage of people have difficulty sleeping, whether that is getting to sleep, waking during the night, or waking really early in the morning.
Falling asleep is quite a complex process made up of several stages, the first being alpha activity, quiet wakefulness. In this period, the brain progressively disengages from the external world. Your frontal cortex starts to relax, and your thoughts may start connecting to the emotional part of your brain, causing anxious thoughts and feelings that you have been distracted from whilst busy during the day. At night these now have a place to go and can become at the forefront of your thinking. Obsessing about anything, not just whether you can fall asleep, will interfere with this process, so a cycle of anxious thoughts will keep you awake.
According to the Sleep Foundation
, there are different ways to think about improving your sleep hygiene.
First, let’s think about changes you could make to create a sleep-inducing bedroom.
Minimise Light Disruption: Excess light exposure can throw off your sleep and your circadian rhythm. Blackout curtains or a sleep mask block light and prevent it from interfering with your sleep.
Keep noise to a minimum: If you can’t eliminate nearby sources of noise, consider blocking them out with earplugs or headphones.
Maintain a constant temperature: You don’t want temperature to be a distraction because you are feeling too hot or too cold. The ideal temperature can vary based on the individual, but most research supports sleeping in a cooler room that is around 65 degrees.
Aromatherapy: Essential oils such as lavender can have a soothing effect.
Now let’s focus on adjusting your sleep schedule:
Set a Fixed Wake-Up Time: Pick a wake-up time and stick with it, even on weekends or other days when you would otherwise be tempted to sleep in.
Budget Time for Sleep: Whenever possible, give yourself extra time before bed to wind down and get ready for sleep.
Be Careful with Naps: To sleep better at night, it’s important to use caution with naps. If you nap for too long or too late in the day, it can throw off your sleep schedule and make it harder to get to sleep when you want to. If you do bap, the best time is shortly after lunch in the early afternoon, and the best nap length is around 20 minutes.
Adjust Your Schedule Gradually: When you need to change your sleep schedule, it’s best to adjust little-by-little and over time with a maximum difference of 1-2 hours per night. This allows your body to get used to the changes so that following your new schedule is more sustainable.
And lastly, what you can do during the day
How light impacts on our sleep: Our internal clocks are regulated by light exposure. Sunlight has the strongest efgevt, so try to take in as much daytime as you can by getting outside or opening curtains to natural light. Getting a dose of daylight early in the day can help normalize your circadian rhythm. If natural light isn’t an option, you can look into a light therapy box.
Exercise: Daily exercise has across-the-board benefits for health, and the changes it initiates in energy use and body temperature can help good sleep. Most experts advise against intense exercise close to bedtime because it may hinder your body’s ability to effectively settle down before sleep.
Caffeine: Coffee and tea are often used during the day to stay awake to try to overcome daytime sleepiness, but that approach isn’t sustainable and can cause long-term sleep deprivation. To avoid this, keep an eye on your caffeine intake and avoid it later in the day when it can really affect your ability to fall asleep.
Alcohol: can induce temporary drowsiness, so some people are keen on a nightcap before bed. Unfortunately, alcohol affects the brain in ways that can lower sleep quality, and for that reason, it’s best to avoid alcohol in the lead-up to bedtime.
Don’t Eat Too Late: It can be harder to fall asleep if your body is still digesting a big dinner. Try to avoid late dinners and minimize fatty or spicy foods. If you need an evening snack, opt for something light and healthy.
Smoking: Exposure to smoke, including second hand smoke, has been associated with a range of sleeping problems including difficulty falling asleep and broken sleep.
Reserve Your Bed for Sleep and Sex Only: If you have a comfortable bed, you may be tempted to hang out there while doing all kinds of activities, but this can cause problems at bedtime. You want a strong mental association between your bed and sleep, so try to keep activities in your bed limited strictly to sleep and sex.
If you are still struggling to sleep, and you find you are awake for yours, after about 30 minutes try getting out of bed. Lying in bed awake or tossing and turning can start you to worry that you are not going to fall back to sleep, the harder you try the more elusive sleep becomes. If you get out of bed and read a book, or meditate, you will be more likely to start to feel sleepy and then when you do go back to bed, you are more likely to sleep for a block of time.