Sleeping well is essential to maintaining a healthy body and mind, but many peoples quality of sleep is not where it should be. Fortunately we are able to take more control over our sleeping pattern then we think
I am someone who has and still occasionally struggles with insomnia. My issues were rooted in an anxiety disorder but there were many other factors that were also playing a part in my lack of sleep which I have now been able to rectify. Here are some factors that may be affecting your sleep.
- Irregular sleeping patterns
This may be hard to begin with, but getting in a regular sleeping pattern will massively benefit the quality of your sleep. We are creatures of habit, and having a regular bedtime will help set your internal clock so that eventually you’ll be sound asleep at 11pm and wide awake at 7am, for example.
2. Bright lights.
This was the hardest thing for me to accept but staring at your phone and laptop before bed really does not help your sleep. The reason I have now (mostly) stopped looking at my phone is because I learned how light affects melatonin in your body. The way it makes sense to me, is to think about how your body would be reacting if you were outside camping, away from artificial lights. As soon as the sun goes down and it becomes pitch black outside you begin to feel sleepy, this is because melatonin begins to be produced as the lights go down. So if someone was to then shine a torch in your face you would begin to wake up again because the production of melatonin has been disrupted. So to improve how lights affect your sleep, turn the brightness down on your phone, and on iOS devices enable ‘Night Shift’ and set up a timer for it so that the brightness of your phone begins to dim in the evening. Also invest in curtains that actually block outside light, whether they are blackout or not, and if you get up in the night avoid turning on lights and checking your phone.
The worst thing for my sleep is worrying, which is hard to combat as then worrying about worrying makes things worse! So if I am feeling anxious I try to find ways to relax before bed to help ease the stress. For example taking a bath, reading or listening to music all help me unwind without staring at a screen. I also recommend writing down any thoughts that are lingering, or discussing them with someone else so that you are not stuck in an endless cycle of worry in your own head. If you are tossing and turning still then wake yourself up and start doing another activity, such as reading or listening to a podcast, until you begin to feel drowsy again. The worst thing to do is to try and fall asleep when your brain is wired, also don’t constantly check the clock and count the hours you have until you need to get up, trust me that makes it a million times worse.
Caffeine may seem like an obvious factor in affecting your sleep but I am including it because you may not be aware how much it affects you. Caffeine can stay in your body hours after drinking it so try to avoid having any caffeinated drinks 4-6 hours before bed.
5. Meals before bed
Even though a dominos pizza party at 10pm might leave you in a food coma, having big meals before you go to bed will affect how you sleep. However, going to bed hungry won’t help either so there needs to be a perfect balance. Have dinner relatively early and if you are still feeling peckish later then perhaps grab a yogurt or banana, or food you know won’t affect your sleep.
7. Not exercising enough
This was something I definitely noticed affected my sleep, if I hadn’t left the house during the day and at least done a little exercising such as walking then I would really struggle to sleep. However, exercising just before bed is a bad idea as it stimulates the nervous system which can make it hard to fall asleep. So try exercising earlier in the day or at least 3 hours before bed. If you do feel restless in bed then perhaps try doing some progressive muscle relaxation. This is a fancy way of basically saying to tense and relax muscles until your whole body feels heavy and relaxed, this has really helped me to fall asleep, sometimes I can’t even finish the exercise! There are videos you can find online but i would recommend finding an app for your phone, this way you can just fall asleep listening to your phone without worrying about closing your laptop. The app that works best for me is Sleep Well available for free on the iOS app store, but the £2.99 I spent on unlocking the full features was probably one of my best purchases ever.
I really believe that working on your sleeping habits is essential, but what’s most important is not to feel hopeless if you still struggle even after trying everything you can to improve your sleep. If it gets to this point then please go and speak to your doctor about it, I did and it has honestly helped me so much not only with my insomnia but my mental health and wellbeing over all. It is also important to note that you can still function if you did have a bad nights sleep, changing your perception on tiredness and sleep can help massively too.