You’ve spent another night fighting sleeplessness, hours restlessly turning and still sleep just won’t come. You consider giving up and switching on the light to trawl through some news sites for a while or reaching for some powerful medication to send you straight out. However, the medicine makes you really groggy in the morning and you’re concerned that an occasional intervention may turn into a reliance on sleeping tablets. You just need to sleep, surely there must be a better way to get back in to the habit?
Sleep is a powerful tool that the human body uses to run repairs and help process the day’s challenges and situations. We all recognise the symptoms of a poor night or nights’ sleep. Aside from just an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion you find yourself battling against poor concentration, irritability, mood swings and even a lack of control over your body temperature. In short, sleep is vital for the proper functioning of the brain and body and not just any sleep, good quality sleep that sends you deep, deep into unconsciousness. Whether you wake up remembering your dreams or pass the night in blissful oblivion, deep sleep is essential for a normal, productive day.
More and more of us are reporting that we are struggling to drop off and stay asleep, insomnia appears to be on the rise. Hardly a surprise in an age of 24-hour a day technology and the hectic lives most of us lead, juggling work, family, social and sporting commitments. Downtime is an area that needs scheduling in and is often completely overlooked in favour of a more exciting alternative.
But how can we rescue our sleep in an increasingly sleep-hostile environment?
What’s Going On Inside?
The stresses and strains of everyday life can take a real toll on your nights. It’s hard to simply stop worrying about the pressures of work and even relatively small issues can begin to mount up and threaten to overwhelm us if we let them. Often these worries rear their ugly head just as we’re trying to sleep, as our brains struggle to work out solutions and instead of winding down begin to ramp up in activity.
Most people are well aware of what’s keeping them awake and these periods of insomnia are directly linked to increased feelings of anxiety and stress.
The good news is that there are several approaches to take when dealing with an emotionally challenging situation that’s having a knock-on effect on your shuteye.
You can, of course, go down the route of medication either prescribed by your doctor or a less powerful over-the-counter alternative. Either way, for the reasons described above this is very often not a long-term solution.
Instead consider techniques including mindfulness relaxation before bed. This therapy allows you to face your anxieties head on, to acknowledge their presence without feeling overwhelmed and then to find more appropriate ways to think and deal with them other than panic and stress.
Other techniques can include a guided meditation or relaxing yoga session, all of which are designed to wind your body and mind down and prepare you for a blissful night’s sleep. Exercise too can help exhaust the body, but try and schedule it in earlier in the day and not right before bed as it can also stimulate the body.
All too often we reach the end of another busy evening and just throw ourselves into bed and then….nothing. Sleep doesn’t want to know. It’s hardly surprising when our brains haven’t had time to slow down nor our bodies begun to relax. Once in a while, this is fine and a great night can be just what the doctor ordered but for the most part we need to break the habit of unpredictable sleep patterns and create a routine that gives the signal to body and mind that the time has come to sleep.
Experts say that switching off our screens at least 90 minutes before heading to bed is the best way to stop our minds from becoming over-stimulated. Easier said than done when your evenings are spent catching up with friends on social media but vital for the production of Melatonin, the chemical produced in our body that helps us doze off and then stay fast asleep.
Creating the perfect environment is also a surefire way of changing sleep associations in your favour. You need to stop seeing your bedroom as a sleep battleground and instead replace those images with your bedroom as a sanctuary of peace and restfulness.
If you live in a shared house or noisy street, don’t hesitate to invest in a pair of earplugs. Being woken by excessive noise is not only frustrating it alerts your body to danger and can make falling back to sleep difficult after a surge of adrenaline associated with waking with a start.
The same goes for eyeshades, if your room is a little on the light side then create darkness. Studies show that a dark room goes a long way to keeping you in a deeper sleep for longer, giving a deeper quality of rest.
If eyeshades aren’t your thing than a simple blackout lining on your curtains will do the job just as well.
People who live in hot countries often report trouble sleeping at night so keeping your room cool without being freezing cold is better than being too warm. A cooler environment tells your body it’s time to shut down.
Lastly, put that phone down, better still leave it another room entirely. Don’t undo all the good that you’ve done winding down just to fire up your brain again. Go old school and pick up a book or listen to music before heading off to dreamland.
Image courtesy of Pexels
As mentioned above, changing the associations you have with your bedroom and your night time environment can help in the battle for reclaiming your sleep. Everyone from psychologists to lifestyle bloggers know how powerful and deep these associations run and the benefit of spending time adjusting your thought processes.
Sleep experts suggest that when you do wake up in the night, with your mind racing it might help to get out of bed rather than lie there tossing and turning and feeling frustrated. Your subconscious needs to stop thinking of your bed as a battleground so leaving it during your wakeful time will help break that association.
Suggestions to get back to sleep can include taking a bath, going to another room to read or making a warm drink until you start feeling sleepy again. Calming your mind, not stressing about your lack of sleep and avoiding spiralling into negative thinking can help to re-establish a more positive bedtime experience and eventually lead to a better night’s sleep.
As tempting as it is to self-medicate it is beneficial to avoid alcohol before bed. While it make you feel like going to sleep, very often its dehydrating effects can wake you up feeling thirsty and disorientated. Similarly avoid caffeine for similar reasons.
Get A Better Bed
Finally, take a closer look at what you’re sleeping on. We forget how old our mattresses are and get used to sleeping in a certain position to avoid a spring or dip. Nowadays there are an incredible range of mattresses for every kind of sleeper and domestic set up. If you love to sink deep down into a soft surface then a super soft option is for you. Some will prefer a firmer set-up that supports the body while others still will opt for memory foam, which moulds around you and holds you in your favourite sleeping position.
Similarly pillows offer varying levels of support, so take some time to experiment in finding just the right level of comfort. It might just be that a change of style can help break those mental barriers so swapping your divans for wrought iron beds, or your sleighs for low-slung frames might help establish a more positive thought pattern. Either way it never hurts to update your style so throw in some new bed linen for added value.
If you’re battling against lost sleep and endless nights then you know all too well how easily exhaustion can lead into stress and depression. But don’t lose hope. With so much research and a greater understanding of how sleep works, there are so many more ways to help save your sleep and give you that deep rest your body craves.
Take a look at some relaxation therapies and creating the perfect restful environment for your bedroom, kick that snoring partner to the sofa and put in place some routines that are guaranteed to help you fully wind down.
If you’re still struggling don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about what you think the root causes of your issues are and set aside some time to talk a sleep consultant about how you can get the sleep you need and rekindle your love affair with the land of nod.
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