Struggling to get off to, or staying asleep? Find yourself tossing and turning throughout the night? Constantly clock watching?
With the cold, dark nights drawing in, this scenario is becoming all too familiar. By the time your morning alarm comes round, you’ve already hit the snooze button enough times that you wonder why you ever bothered setting an alarm in the first place. You end up starting the day feeling unrested, lethargic and unprepared, counting down the minutes, only for the cycle to repeat when the sun goes down.
We are a generation of ‘activity addicts.’ From the demands of our personal and working lives, right through to keeping abreast of all our social media handles. It has become tedious finding time in amongst all of that to breathe, let alone sleep.
Sleep problems make up a large part of what I see in clinic everyday. Everyone is after a quick fix, a sleeping tablet that will give them the recommended 8 hours, one that guarantees they will feel rested and energised come the morning. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it (pardon the pun!). The reality is that there is no ‘one tablet fixes all’ for sleep, and often it is the changes we make to our lifestyle, right from what we eat in a day to how we move, that will benefit us in the long run.
Here are my top tips I offer my patients keen to upgrade their sleep:
- IMPLEMENT A NEW CAFFEINE CURFEW
From energy drinks to tea and coffee, we find caffeine in a lot of our everyday food and drink that includes you too chocolate!. We tend to rely on it as an instant pick me up, but having it so late at night keeps our mind active, making switching off all the more difficult. If you are a caffeine fiend and struggling to sleep, limit sources from 4pm onwards, try substituting your caffeinated drinks for decaf alternatives, experiment with fruit teas or go old school and curl up with a Horlicks.
- SHUT DOWN YOUR SCREEN TIME
We have become a society of screen junkies. If we are not on our phones, we are scrolling our tablets, tapping ferociously on our keyboards or watching the latest box set on Netflix. With many of us doing all that right up until bedtime, is it any wonder our brains don’t get the signal to switch off? Turn off all your screens an hour before bed and curl up with a good book or wind down with some gentle music.
- CONSITENCY IS KEY
It is all too easy to undo five days of practicing good habits with a weekend blow out involving late nights and overindulging in our vices. This means you end up spending the following week playing catch up. Have some semblance of a routine, make sure you average at least 6-8hrs of sleep a night and try not to deviate too far from this come the weekend.
- SAY NO TO DAY TIME NAPPING
Trouble sleeping at night may mean that you give in to a daytime nap just to ‘play catch up’. Whilst this may make mathematical sense, all it does is offset your natural sleep rhythm and may in fact make it harder for you in the long run. If you can’t go without a daytime nap, keep it to as early in the day as possible and for no longer a 30 minute power snooze.
- MODERATION, MODERATION, MODERATION
Whatever your vice, be it overindulging in good food, alcohol or even cigarettes, moderation and timing is paramount. Avoid reveling in them too late on an evening; nicotine in particular is a stimulant which means one thing: an overactive mind!
- WHEN IN DOUBT, SWEAT IT OUT
We all know the role regular exercise plays in improving our overall physical and mental health, but did you know that it can also enhance our sleep? That being said, if you are an evening exerciser, try shifting high impact exercise to earlier in the day, as you may find that come bedtime your mind is overstimulated, making switching off all the more troublesome. Yoga, pilates and low impact exercise on an evening however may be beneficial in increasing a feeling of calm in the run up to bed.
And finally, if you have tried all of the above consistently for at least a couple of weeks and are still struggling to sleep, turn to your GP for advice.