We’ve all been there: all day you were knackered, now it’s 3am and it seems like the perfect time to get that black mould out of the shower head. How can something that seems so simple – just lying down still and closing your eyes – be so difficult for so many people? Actually, there are a whole host of potential inhibitors and disruptions to a person’s sleep. Things like anxiety can not only keep you from falling asleep, but cause you to have vivid nightmares that feel worse than not sleeping at all. Insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnoea can also keep you from having a normal sleep schedule. While we can’t cure any of those, a good night’s sleep will do your body no end of good, and has a good chance of aiding your mental health. For the International Sleep Festival, during those days after Christmas when good sleep is a must, here are 3 tips to help:
I am definitely guilty of staying up until 3am watching Netflix when I know I’m supposed to be at work in a few hours. I might be guilty of watching Netflix with a tube of Pringles, getting hungrier and going across to the kitchen to cook a meal as quietly as possible while my flatmates sleep. Jury’s still out on that one.
However, health professionals will attest that this is one of the worst things you can do – distracting yourself is just keeping your body active and aware for longer. It might be hard at first, but try and train yourself to go to sleep and wake up at the same time. An adult needs around eight hours of sleep, so you don’t have to be getting into your pyjamas at 6 every night – try setting a bedtime reminder for midnight, and an alarm for 8, for a few nights. If you stick to it, your body will eventually get used to it and begin to tire and wake naturally at those times.
If you feel wide awake at these times, try shutting off all devices an hour or so before bed, and reading or listening to some soothing music. It sounds tacky, but lavender scented candles or a bath will help, as they will encourage your muscles to relax and release some of the tension your body may be carrying. If you need to stay connected, lots of devices offer a bedtime mode, which will restrict access to some apps and change the way your screen displays light to help your eyes relax during your specified bedtime hours.
Get Active Earlier
Sure, it’s no harm to lie in occasionally – but if you’re off for the winter and having a series of pretty heavy nights, you might find there’s only a few hours of light left for you each day. This can be unhelpful as getting uneven amounts of light each day can disrupt your body’s ‘circadian rhythm,’ the natural body clock that helps you wake up at the same time each day.
One way to help it understand better is to start your day in the light – sit outside for your breakfast if it’s warm, or go for a walk around your local area – even just sitting by the window if you’re working from home and seeing your surroundings will not only help balance out your light exposure, but tire you out by bedtime too. This is because the body finds it harder to regulate its own temperature outside, so you burn more calories simply by existing. It’s also much harder to sleep if you’re too hot than if you’re too cool, as the former can be solved by swaddling up in blankets but there’s few cures for a house that’s just too hot.
Even a cool shower at some point in the day if you’re feeling a little bit hot can help the body to regulate temperature, so you won’t go to bed absolutely freezing or melting your face off. Remember, it doesn’t have to be ice cold, but a blast of cool or lukewarm water will keep your body at a near constant temperature which is best for muscle relaxation.
Exercise & Exertion
We’ve already talked about fresh air, but exercise can be equally as helpful. We understand not everyone feels comfortable going out for a walk or run in their local area, or that you might not have access to a gym. There are a lot of helpful alternatives, like watching a Youtube tutorial for a workout you can do with no equipment in your own home. Simply look for one with the right difficulty level for you, and go for it!
Exercising burns energy, and doing a regular amount each day will both release endorphins and help tire the body out. You might experience a second wind of energy just afterwards (some call it a runner’s high,) so try to end all your exercise and have a few relaxed hours before bed. You don’t need to be gasping for breath the whole time – a gentle walk is as good for you as a long run, as long as you get out. There’s no need to punish yourself if you don’t manage it, it’s good to take a break from time to time!
A great summer alternative to a run or a walk is a swim – wild swims are becoming increasingly popular in the UK and are available for free in virtually every country in the world, just remember to check that the area you have chosen is safe for swimming and be mindful of local COVID restrictions. In the UK, it is illegal to swim in bodies like reservoirs because they can be extremely cold and contain machinery which poses a hazard if you get caught in it.
If you’re still struggling with anxiety before bed, or loneliness in the midst of all these lockdowns, a white noise machine might help distract your mind with a variety of ambient sounds designed to relax your mind to help you drift off naturally rather than lose yourself in frenzied thought. We hope these tips were of some help to you and don’t hesitate to get in touch if it’s something you’d like to write a Bloom article about!