By Tanya Pearey
According to sleep experts, good sleep hygiene is the key to getting the best night's sleep.
Poor sleep hygiene is the cause of an estimated one in three of us failing to get a good night's sleep, leaving us feeling tired and irritable the next day.
But our poor sleep doesn’t have to turn into an ongoing nightmare, according to independent sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley who says, "the beauty of most sleep problems is that we have the power to solve them ourselves”.
A few lifestyle tweaks to improve sleep hygiene could help you fall asleep more easily and sleep through the night. These changes may include investing in one of the best pillows on the market, trying a temperature regulating blanket or simply getting into a better bedtime routine.
How to develop good sleep hygiene
There are three steps to developing good sleep hygiene.
1. Have a consistent wind-down and evening routine
"Most women flop into bed after a busy day without giving their brains or body a chance to unwind," says Dr Stanley. "Quite simply they’ve forgotten how to relax.”
Establish a 30-minute wind-down bedtime routine each night to programme your brain and body for sleep.
“Find something which relaxes you,” says Dr Stanley. We’re unique, so different things work for different people but try these basic guidelines for relaxing in the evening:
- A warm bath – dilates blood vessels in your extremities and cools the body once you leave the tub, mimicking the natural drop in temperature your body needs to sleep.
- A hot milky drink – contains tryptophan, a natural sleep-promoting amino acid. Snacks such as a banana or turkey sandwich contain it too, but you should avoid big meals late in the evening.
- Deep breathing, meditation or listening to soothing music - try a breathing technique where you breathe through your nose, using your abdomen not your chest. Breathe in for three seconds, then out for three. Pause for three seconds before breathing in again. Repeat for three minutes.
Make sure you go to bed and get up at the same times every day, and choose a bedtime late enough that you will feel sleepy.
Write a to-do list at least an hour before bed. “It helps you put the day to one side so you can concentrate on relaxation,” says Dr Stanley.
Avoid the telly or computer. Brightly lit screens stimulate, rather than calm, your brain. Read a book or a magazine instead.
Avoid strenuous exercise at least four hours before bed to give your body temperature a chance to cool.
2. Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
"Of all the things I talk about when it comes to sleep, the bedroom oasis is a game changer and something many people do not pay enough attention to," says author of The Art of Sleeping, Rob Hobson.
"What makes this even more pertinent right now is that many people are working from home and if you don’t have the luxury of owning a home with plenty of space, you may find your bedroom has become both sleep oasis and daytime workspace."
Putting the bedroom/office issue aside, there are a number of things you can do to create the perfect sleep oasis and promote good sleep hygiene. "If you have trouble sleeping then any little thing can become the focus of attention whether that’s a standby light on your TV, overflowing laundry basket or gap in the curtains," says Rob.
Mess causes stress so declutter to create the perfect sleep environment.
If your bedroom has become a workspace during the day then make sure you tidy your desk at the end of the day and switch off any standby lights - don’t forget your end of day to do list for the following day to help you switch off.
"Lay your clothes out the night before for the day ahead to help calm a busy overactive mind - don’t get sloppy while working from home - getting up, showered and dressed as if it was a normal day in the office can help normalise the day which can help with sleep," says Rob.
If your mattress is more than 7-10 years old then think about replacing it. Research shows that 20% of people attribute joint pain to poor sleep and a new mattress may be the solution. This is a big investment, so take your time to decide on what works best for you and shop around.
"Choose hypoallergenic bedding made of natural fibres, ideally cotton. These not only ward off bugs that cause allergies but also help to maintain body temperature during the night," says Rob.
Keep your bedroom cool, and stick to light, cotton nightwear and bedding which isn’t too thick or bulky.
Your pillows and mattress should be supportive and comfortable and not too soft or hard. Go for the biggest bed you can, particularly if you’re sharing it – and ban pets from the bedroom. Then you’re less likely to get disturbed during the night.
Make sure the room is dark and free of noise. Try blackout curtains or blinds, particularly in summer when sunlight streaming into your bedroom in the early hours can disrupt your sleep.
Don't forget a little bit of luxury, which is all part of self-care and so important right now. Get that lovely scented candle burning before bed or invest in a soothing bed linen spray. "Try scents such as lavender, ylang-ylang or lemon balm - in fact just use a scent that means something to you and helps you to relax," says Rob.
3. Reduce alcohol and caffeine and increase exercise
“Behaviour and lifestyle choices can influence sleep quality,” says Dr Stanley. If you’re a smoker, try to quit and reduce the amount of alcohol or caffeine you drink, especially in the six hours before bed. Alcohol may make you sleepy initially but will wake you when the effects wear off.
Physical activity is crucial for improved sleep quality and reducing anxiety. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes, five times a week, ideally outside. Something as simple as a brisk walk will do the trick.
If you have experience ongoing sleep problems, seek advice from your GP.
With thanks to sleep expert and founder of The Sleep Consultancy, Dr Neil Stanley.
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