Sleeping well is vital for our mental and physical health. It’s just as important as eating well and getting enough exercise. The amount of sleep we get each night can affect our mood and our concentration as well as our metabolism and immune function.
Most adults need around seven to nine hours’ sleep each night, however, for many of us, that just isn’t happening. Insomnia is thought to affect about a third of people in the UK, especially those over 65 years of age.
Many things can contribute to sleep-related problems including illness, environmental factors, lifestyle habits, stress and anxiety, jet lag or certain medications.
Sleeping pills and other medication prescribed by your GP can offer a short-term solution, and plenty of people go down this route. However, most of the time, these prescription sleep aids come with unwanted side effects such as headaches, weight gain, constipation, low mood, fatigue, trouble concentrating and dizziness. Plus, once you have finished taking a course of sleeping medication, the insomnia could come back at any time.
Therefore, before you decide whether or not to start using prescription sleep medication, it is well worth trying a set of natural remedies first. Often it is possible to improve sleep quality by adapting your own lifestyle and altering habits. Here are some suggestions to help improve your personal sleep hygiene.
Establish a sleep rhythm
Everybody’s lives are very different, with work and family factors contributing towards our daily routines. However, when it comes to sleep, our bodies crave routine and stability. If, on some nights, you are going to bed at midnight after binge-watching a box set, and then the next few nights you go to bed at 7am to try and catch up on the sleep, your body will find it hard to develop a natural sleep rhythm.
If, on the other hand, you always aim for a 10pm bedtime and a wake-up time of 6am, then chances are that your body will start to form a sleep pattern, recognising when it should be in sleep mode and when it should be awake. Obviously, on some nights, it won’t be possible to adhere to your usual rhythm, due to other factors, however, if the majority of the time you are following your usual routine, you should feel the benefits.
Shutting off before sleep
It’s important to allow your mind and body to relax before you try to drift off to sleep. If you are having trouble getting off to sleep, it could be that your brain is over-stimulated. Try to keep your bed for sleep and intimacy only. That means no laptops, no phones, no TV and even no books. These activities stimulate your brain, instead of relaxing you and should be wrapped up at least thirty minutes before your scheduled bedtime.
Similarly, eating too late should be avoided. When you eat, your brain prompts the release of insulin; a process that is also linked to the circadian rhythm. Eating could trigger a signal of wakefulness in the brain, and therefore interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Women may be especially vulnerable to these food-related sleep disruptions it is thought.
Breathing, mindfulness and journaling
Breathing and mindfulness exercises can be very helpful in aiding relaxation and reducing racing thoughts before bedtime. Even if you find it easy to get off to sleep initially, but wake up in the early hours, practicing some deep belly breathing or progressive muscle relaxation techniques (going through each muscle group – tensing and then relaxing) could assist you in drifting back off to slumber.
Finally, try noting down what’s on your mind before bedtime in a journal or on a notepad. This will help you to offload any thoughts (positive or negative) which may prevent you from relaxing into a good night’s sleep. Similarly, it might be useful to write a quick to-do list on an evening, so that you feel prepared for the day ahead, without worrying about it during the early hours when you should be asleep.
According to numerous studies, regular massage has been shown to improve quality of sleep. Massage sessions can help to decrease depression and anxiety levels because they trigger the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can help you feel calm and happy.
Massage can also help to alleviate back and muscular pain, which in turn could also result in fewer sleep disturbances. Muscular ease and elimination of lower back pain encourages more time spent in the deep sleep stage, which is the most restorative for the body. The technique has also been found to benefit children and teenagers who suffer from mental health issues.
Acupuncture is a system of healing which has been practised in China and Japan for over 3000 years. The practise involves fine, sterile needles being inserted into the skin at specific points, which are considered to be lines of energy (meridians).
Regular Acupuncture is recognised by the World Health Organisation in treating a wide range of health conditions, relieving pain and promoting good health. It has also been cited as an effective treatment which is linked to improved sleep as well as reducing anxiety and stress.
If sleep is causing you stress and upset, and you would like to discuss the various options I could offer you, then I would love to hear from you.