The art of sleeping well to improve your health – words Alexa Wang
When you were a child or a teenager, the likelihood is that you slept really well.
In fact, the problem was often not about getting to sleep or staying asleep, it was more likely to be about having to be dragged out of your bed when it was time for school or college.
However, many adults experience problems with their sleep at different times in their lives, and a lack of good sleep can lead to health problems, stress and anxiety, as well as a reduction in your ability to function well. On the other hand, being stressed and anxious or having health issues can also lead to poor sleep patterns, so it’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation.
Take heart in the fact that you’re not alone if you have insomnia. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of American adults do not get enough sleep on a regular basis.
If you’re experiencing a period of stress or uncertainty in your life, your worries can sometimes trouble you in your dreams. People who are dealing with difficulties often find that they have particularly vivid dreams until they find a way to resolve an issue they are facing. Some dream analysts suggest that our dreams are almost working as a way of therapy – allowing us to process different ideas, thoughts and information that we perhaps avoid thinking about during the day at a conscious level.
If you are troubled by recurrent bad dreams, it may be a sign that you have some issues to address in your waking hours. You can also reduce the chances of having disturbing dreams by ensuring that you have a good bedtime routine and that you reduce stress before going to bed. When woken by a bad dream, you may find it helpful to note down what happened in the dream, in order to clear your mind before you get back to sleep.
For some people, it’s not the dreams that disturb their sleep; it’s the difficulty they have in falling asleep to begin with, or staying asleep once they’ve had just a few hours. Sometimes the art of sleeping well is not so easy. Whatever sleeping problem you have, the tips below should help give you the best possible chance for a peaceful night.
- Prioritise sleep and follow a routine. Don’t have big lie-ins at the weekend and then get up really early during the week – make your sleep and waking times consistent.
- Relax before bed. There are various ways you can unwind before bedtime, rather than filling your evening with manic activity right up until the moment you hit the hay. Take a bath, listen to some soothing music, or read a book (a paper one, not an electronic one).
- Enforce a tech ban in the bedroom – no TV, smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer. The backlighting of electronic devices triggers chemicals that encourage your brain to stay alert rather than encouraging sleep. Try to turn off devices at least two hours before going to bed.
- Make the bedroom a sanctuary. Assess your sleep environment and see what needs to change. Is it dark, cool, quiet and comfortable enough to ensure optimal sleep? Make sure your mattress and pillow offer a good level of support and comfort, or is it time to replace them? Also ensure you have enough space in the bed – it may be worth upgrading for a bigger bed to give you enough room to stretch out.
- Limit caffeine after lunch. The caffeine in coffee, tea and fizzy drinks can stay in your body for a long time after consumption. Switch to water only after lunch, and if you drink alcohol at all in the evening, then the earlier the better so your body has time to digest it before you go to sleep.
- Regular exercise can improve sleep, but make sure you finish exercising two hours before you go to bed. Some people find that they have problems getting to sleep after exercise as the increased adrenaline and cortisol in their bloodstream keeps them alert. However others find a brisk walk an hour before bed can actually make it easier for them to fall asleep. Experiment and see what works best for you.
Making adjustments to your bedroom and your bedtime routine can work wonders for the amount of sleep you get. If you have any issues, it’s worth following these tips and seeing if you can improve your sleep patterns.