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Do you often find yourself tossing and turning at night, unable to get a good night's rest? If so, you're not alone. It’s very common to have the occasional restless night but for those that have difficulty sleeping 3 nights a week, it’s likely you have a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea. One study found that as many as 33% of adults struggle with chronic insomnia.
Insomnia is a frustrating condition. A consistent lack of sleep has a significant effect on your day-to-day life and wellness, affecting your brain function, mood and concentration the next day. Sleep is also important for your physical health. For instance, your body needs sleep to help maintain and heal any broken blood vessels.
If you find that you aren’t getting enough sleep, it might be time to introduce some healthy sleep habits. Luckily, there are many things that you can do to improve your sleep hygiene and get back to a healthy sleep schedule. In this article, we’re breaking down 9 easy tips to help you sleep and deal with insomnia.
The key to tackling your sleep problems is keeping to a daily sleep schedule. This is because it helps maintain your body’s internal clock, also known as one of your ‘circadian rhythms’.
Whilst your sleep-wake cycle is regulated by external cues (e.g light and temperature), having a regular sleep pattern can help your body fall naturally into a routine.
A regular sleep schedule has also been found to help with immunity, mental health, concentration as well as digestion as it is also linked to your circadian rhythm.
Some things you can do include:
Sometimes you cannot avoid sleep pattern disruption, such as when you travel across time zones and get jet lag.
Whilst your bed may be inviting throughout the day, it’s important you reserve your bed just for sleep and sex.
If you only use your bed for sleeping, you condition your brain to associate your bedroom and bed with sleep as opposed to other stimulating activities like studying or working. This helps you feel more tired when you get into bed and helps you fall asleep easier.
The most important part of bedding is the mattress and pillows as they play an integral role in supporting you whilst you sleep. The right mattress and pillow can evenly distribute your body weight as well as reduce pressure on your back and spine.
Did you know that you may be buying the wrong pillows or mattress?
The perfect bedding will depend on how you sleep:
Your body weight will also affect the type of mattress you should buy. If you have a higher body weight, you’re more likely to sink into a mattress and will affect your spinal alignment. You should therefore buy a firmer mattress to protect your lower back.
You should also pick high quality and inviting bedding. It will help you stay at the right temperature whilst you sleep and make your bed more comfortable.
Having the perfect sleep environment is a major contributor to your sleep quality. So here are the best things to focus on to help you sleep.
Arguably, the most important factor in sleep is light. This is because it is the environmental cue for the part of your brain that controls your sleep cycle, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which is also known as your master body clock. Once the light receptors in your eyes recognise the lack of light, the SCN triggers the release of melatonin which induces sleep.
Therefore, it’s important to avoid any bright light whilst you sleep. If you don’t have blackout curtains in your bedroom, you could buy an eye mask to avoid light interference.
It’s also important to get natural light exposure during the daytime as this will keep you alert and awake throughout the day. If you are inside a lot either because you work in an office or you’re an older adult who lives in a care home, make sure that you can get as much light as possible by keeping your blinds or curtains drawn or consider getting a light therapy box.
The SCN is also responsible for body temperature during sleep. It coincides with the release of melatonin. Your brain signals your body to cool itself down by sending heat away from the core and to your feet and hands.
It may help to turn the temperature down before bed to help trigger this process, encouraging sleep. The ideal room temperature will depend on the person but one survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that the ideal room temperature is around 18.3°C.
Whilst it may seem obvious that environmental noise disrupts your sleep, there has been much research into the specific effects.
One study found that traffic and railway noise can affect specific stages of sleep, specifically increasing the duration of stage 1 sleep (dozing off stage) and decreasing REM sleep (deep sleep, responsible for good cognitive function and dreaming). That’s why you should limit any noise interference. If you can’t shut your window or you live in a particularly noisy environment, you could try wearing earplugs.
However, some people find some noise helpful to sleep. For instance, white noise is a type of sound where energy is equally distributed across these frequencies, creating a steady humming sound that is characteristic of a whirring fan, hissing radiator, TV static or a humming air conditioner. Because white noise contains all frequencies at equal intensity, it is great at masking other loud sounds that could stimulate your brain and keep you awake.
Having a mindful and relaxing bedtime routine helps you wind down before bed, helping you sleep better.
Some great ways to wind down before bed include:
Having a regular routine of one or more of these activities will not only relax you, but it will also help your brain learn over time the signals for sleep and you will naturally feel more tired at this time.
What you eat or drink before bed can cause poor sleep, as some have more stimulating effects than others.
Avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, fizzy drinks or sports drinks before bed. Although many of us consume these drinks to boost energy, too much of these can cause long-term sleep deprivation.
Another drink to avoid is alcohol. Alcohol is a sedative, meaning it does cause relaxation and sleepiness. However, that doesn’t mean it won’t affect your sleep. This is because, once consumed, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and is metabolised slowly, meaning you can continue to experience the effects for longer periods of time.
You should also avoid big meals that are fatty or spicy, especially late at night, as this can disrupt your sleep too. Instead, why not drink herbal tea with a light, healthy snack if you need one.
Using your phone, laptop, tablet or any screen before bed can affect your sleep. This is because these types of electronic devices emit a specific wavelength of light known as blue light.
Research into electronic device-use before bed has found that extensive blue-light exposure at night can disrupt sleep by making you feel more alert, elevating body temperature and heart rate. It also suppresses the production of melatonin.
However, studies show that blue light exposure during the day can be helpful and has been found to treat circadian rhythm disorders. Because it suppresses melatonin production, it can realign the body’s circadian rhythms.
For those who occasionally struggle to fall asleep, herbal sleep aids such as valerian root, lavender, chamomile or passionflower may be a good option. These can be purchased over-the-counter at most pharmacies and supermarkets and can even be found in certain ‘nighttime teas’.
However for those struggling with a sleep disorder like primary insomnia, you may benefit more from prescription medicine.
Whilst there is no straightforward cure for insomnia, there are several medications your doctor can prescribe for short-term treatment. They may prescribe you an antihistamine or sedative such as promethazine (sominex) or diphenhydramine.
The most common prescription medicine for insomnia is Melatonin which is often sold under the brand name Circadin. It is a prescription-only medicine that is a synthetic version of the natural hormone of the same name that induces sleep. They are modified release, meaning the drug mimics the body’s natural secretion of melatonin.
You can buy prescription Melatonin here at euroClinix for insomnia. Our service and products are safe and regulated, with an online consultation which is reviewed by a registered doctor. You don’t need to visit your GP and you can order Melatonin all from the comfort of your own home.
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