By Sarah Finley
We all have sleep stresses and are often left wondering how to sleep better. From struggling to nod off to waking up in the middle of the night and failing to get back to sleep, it can sometimes be a real struggle for something that should come naturally.
The NHS says adults need six to eight hours of shut-eye to get a good night’s sleep. This gives the body time to repair itself and gives us enough energy for the day ahead, while also improving and regulating our brain function, immune system and even our bowel movements.
But there are lots of outside influences that can affect our quality of sleep, including stress and anxiety, not having the best pillow for a comfortable and supportive sleep environment, a lack of bedtime routine, our obsession with our mobile phones, easily accessible streaming services like Netflix, and general bad sleep hygiene.
The good news is, we don’t need to make huge changes in order to sleep better. Starting small when it comes to adjusting your lifestyle can really help when it comes to getting higher quality sleep.
So, if you've ever found yourself wondering 'Why can't I sleep?', try these expert top tips for getting better rest every night.
How to sleep better and for longer, according to the experts
There are changes you can make, from first thing in the morning right through to just before bedtime, that will help you get a better night’s sleep.
1. Create a sleep sanctuary
First things first, if you’re struggling to sleep, you need to look around you and assess your environment. According to the Sleep Foundation, if your bedroom isn’t dark enough, you’ll block the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us sleep. If you find this to be the case, invest in some black-out blinds or try an eye mask at night.
Comfort is also important – a lumpy pillow or an old duvet won’t aid good sleep. Sleep expert for Emma Mattresses, Dr Verena Senn, says, “Your pillow should support your head and neck whilst keeping it in a neutral position while you sleep, otherwise it can lead to stress on the cervical vertebral structures – the seven vertebrae that make up your neck.”
The temperature in your bedroom is also super important for creating the right sleep environment.
“Maintaining a bedroom temperature of 18 degrees Celsius or lower will mimic the body’s hibernation state and help maintain a calmer state of mind,” says Hope Bastine, a resident sleep expert at Simba.
2. Write in a journal every day
Stress from the day can build up and keep us awake at night, which is why journalling at the end of every day is a great way to empty your mind.
Dr Guy Meadows, founder of the Sleep School app, explains, “As we get older, we have more mental and physical baggage so our thinking mind can sometimes keep us awake at night.
“The organic compound adenosine, which helps us to naturally fall asleep, isn’t as present so we are more likely to be wide awake and worry about work or personal stresses.”
Dr Meadows also says having awareness of these stresses will help. “Labelling what type of stress it is – work, relationship or something else is a great way of telling your brain that you know that the stress exists, but it’s something you’re not able to deal with right now.”
3. Establish a good wind-down routine
When you say yes to one more episode of your favorite Netflix show or pick up your phone late at night, you’re affecting the quality of the sleep you'll get, says Dr Senn.
“Social interactions are keeping your brain busy when it is really craving to relax. Take some time away from bright screens to settle your mind.” Instead, she suggests, “Reading a book in the evening instead of texting on your mobile. And make sure that book is physical and not on an e-reader if you can.”
As well as keeping your mind busy, the blue light on your mobile phone can also be damaging to your sleep cycle. “Modern light sources contain a high level of blue light that disrupts melatonin production and throws off our natural circadian rhythms, keeping us awake when we should be sleeping,” reveals Hope. So put your phone down, turn off Netflix and enjoy one hour of peaceful, low-light stimulation one hour before bed.
4. Try meditation
Meditation can help calm the body and mind, helping us to unwind and hopefully fall asleep quicker. Recent research shows that over 85% of participants who meditated with the meditation app Calm for 10 minutes daily reported better and longer sleep. As well as a range of meditation practices to try, the Calm app also has sleep stories to listen to as you doze off.
If you still need a little convincing to give meditation a go, FitBit has just launched a series of videos and audio sessions, called Deepak Chopra's Mindful Method, where the wellness guru leads a look at the impacts of mindfulness, how we can manage stress and our mind-body connection – all factors that influence our sleep patterns.
You could also try a bedtime yoga routine to get you ready for sleep. A few simple and restorative yoga poses could help relax your body and mind by triggering the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the body down to rest.
5. Cut down on your caffeine intake
If you’re tired, you’ll no doubt be reaching for the caffeine as soon you wake up and to keep you going throughout the day. But too much caffeine can negatively impact our ability to nod off.
“Caffeine increases vigilance and mental performance. The most common side effect of caffeine is blocking off processes in the brain that allow the body to sense tiredness, thereby making it harder to fall asleep," Dr Senn explains.
6. Invest in sleep supplements
If used right, natural supplements for sleep can help us relax as we settle down for the evening. There are so many supplements out there, from melatonin to valerian root, and they come in a range of forms such as pills, capsules and teas.
CBD supplements for sleep have become really popular over the last couple of years. For example, CBD oils like Pure Sport’s oil can be dropped into the mouth before bed, helping you relax and get ready for sleep.
Wicked Gummy Co’s Peaceful Zzzzz passion-fruit flavored gummies can also help with sleep as they’re made of 5-HTP, an amino acid that your body uses to produce serotonin and that contributes to wellbeing. If you’re really struggling to nod off, Kalms Night One-A-Night, a traditional herbal supplement containing valerian, can be used to temporarily relieve sleep disturbances.
Always consult your doctor before taking any sleep supplements, as if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any other medication they may not be suitable.
7. Sleep aids to help you drift off
If sleep supplements aren’t for you, there are other natural sleep aids you can incorporate into your bedtime routine to dispel stress and help you relax. Start by running yourself a bath with Epsom bath salts.
Before you jump in the bath, brew yourself a cup of sleep tea such as Pukka’s Night Time Tea, made from organic oatflower, soothing lavender and silky-sweet limeflower. Once you have your duvet and pillows in the right position, spray a calming sleep spray such as This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray that’s said to induce a restful night’s sleep.
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