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How to get a good night's sleep

While some people can fall straight asleep as soon as their head touches the pillow, for others this is a distant dream. Missing out on a night or two’s sleep isn’t harmful but if your sleepless nights go on for longer, it can really take its toll. You may even start to get symptoms of insomnia.

But don’t despair – help is at hand. Here we will go through some simple things you can try to help you get a good night’s sleep.

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  • Sleep hygiene Sleep hygiene

    If you’re having trouble sleeping, first take a look at your bedroom. Check if it’s set up to give you the best chance of a good night’s sleep.

    It may seem obvious but if you’ve put up with a lumpy mattress or noisy neighbours for years, you might overlook them. Yet these could be the reason why you can’t sleep. Have a think about how and where you sleep and your sleeping habits – this is called ‘sleep hygiene’.


    Question

     

    The issue

     

    How to fix it

    Is your mattress comfy?

    A mattress that’s too firm or too soft won’t support you properly.

    Replace your mattress every 10 years to get the best support and comfort.

    Is your bedroom comfortable?

    Having a bedroom that’s too hot or too cold can affect your sleep.

    Manage your heating and layer your bedding to find the right temperature for you. In the summer, fans can help to keep your room cool.

    Is your bedroom noisy?

    A variety of noise – from street sounds and wildlife to a snoring partner – can wake you in the night.

    If you live next to a busy road, you might want to consider noise-reducing glazing in your windows. Earplugs may help if your partner’s snoring is the cause of your troubles.

    Is there any lighting that might wake you up?

    Anything from a street lamp outside your window to a badly fitting blind can cause light to get in and wake you.

    You might need thicker curtains or blackout blinds if you’re blasted with sunlight in the morning, particularly in the summer time. Or try an eye mask.

    What do you use your bedroom for?

    If you work, eat or watch TV in your bedroom, it can be hard to switch off and go to sleep.

    Only use your bedroom for sleep or sex.

    Do you use any electronics, screens or gadgets before you go to sleep?

    The light and stimulation from electronic devices can activate parts of your brain and keep you awake. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s even more important not to use electronic devices in the run up to bedtime.

    Don’t be tempted to watch TV or use a laptop, tablet or mobile when you’re in bed. Just take a book to bed.

  • Stick to a good sleep routine Good routine

    Our bodies can be real sticklers for routine. If you’re up until the early hours and sleep in late for a few days in a row, your body won’t let you off! You’ll probably find it hard to get to sleep if you try to go to bed early the following night. Try to stick to the following.

    • Go to bed and get up at about the same times each day.
    • Although it’s tempting, having a lie-in at the weekend will only make it harder to get up early on a Monday morning. This is because your sleep cycle has been reset. Plan something active to do at the weekend to get you up and out.
    • Don’t nap during the day. But if you really feel you need to catch up on sleep, keep it short (less than an hour). And don’t have a nap after 3pm.
    • Establish a regular bedtime routine – this is just as important for adults as children. Take some time out to relax and wind down before you go to bed. Have a soothing bath, sit in a quiet place or read a book for an hour before you go to sleep.
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  • Eat right and get active for good sleep Eat right and get active for good sleep

    What you eat and drink, and when, will have an impact on your energy levels.

    • Caffeine. Drinking tea, coffee or energy drinks in the hours leading up to bedtime may prevent you from dropping off because caffeine is a stimulant. Steer clear of these drinks by mid-afternoon. In the evening, choose to have a caffeine-free herbal tea or a warm, milky drink instead.
    • Alcohol. You might think that a glass of wine in the evening will help you nod off. In reality, it can actually interfere with your sleep and will most likely cause you to wake up in the night. If you have trouble sleeping, steer clear of alcohol for at least six hours before you go to bed.
    • Sugary foods and heavy meals. If you eat these too late at night, it can also affect how well you sleep. Try having your main meal earlier in the day.

    Regular exercise is a great way to help you sleep better. It helps relieve stress and anxiety that can disrupt your sleep. Try exercising during the day or early evening (but no later than 7pm). Any later and you may feel overly energised and have trouble getting to sleep.

  • Sleep and your mental wellbeing Is lack of sleep affecting your mental wellbeing?

    When you’re struggling to sleep it can really affect your emotional wellbeing. One reason why people often find they can’t sleep is because they’re worrying about things that are going on in their life. Frustratingly, this then turns into worry and anxiety about the fact that they can’t get to sleep and the cycle can go on and on.

    A simple way to combat this is to keep a notebook by your bed. If you’re having difficulty dropping off to sleep or you wake up in the night, write down your worries or the things you’re thinking about. This will help to organise your thoughts, rather than going over them in your head.

    You might find that practising relaxation techniques before going to bed can distract you from your day and make you feel calm before rest. Try listening to some relaxing sounds or music or try meditation or t’ai chi.

    Importantly, if you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Make a warm, milky drink or read in a quiet, dimly lit room then try to get back to sleep later.

  • When to seek help When to seek help

    If you’re not sleeping well, it’s important not to do activities that may put you or others in danger if you’re tired. This can include driving, operating machinery or having to make big decisions at work or home.

    If a bad night’s sleep becomes a regular occurrence and it’s affecting your quality of life, see your GP. They will discuss your sleeping habits with you and give you advice and support. They might even refer you to see a sleep specialist.

    Most sleep disorders can be treated, so don’t put up with endless restless nights. Sleep is really important to your health, both mentally and physically. See if our advice helps you to not only sleep better but feel better too.

  • Other helpful websites Other helpful websites

    Further information

    Headspace This tool describes itself as gym membership for your mind using meditation and mindfulness techniques. You can start off with free 10-day introduction to meditation and then choose to subscribe for access to more exercises covering a range of topics. You can use it on your phone or computer, depending on what suits you best.
    Mental Health Foundation The Mental Health Foundation is a charity that carries out research and offers information about many areas of mental health. If you have problems with your sleep, this page is for you. It has details of some reasons that are behind having trouble sleeping and suggestions of things you can try to help yourself sleep better.
    Mind The charity Mind has information to support people with a mental health condition and those who care for them. Their sleep content has tips on practical things you can do to help yourself if you’re not sleeping well.

    Sources

    • Insomnia. PatientPlus. www.patient.info/patientplus, reviewed 22 July 2014
    • Insomnia. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 21 January 2015
    • Sleeping well. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published July 2014
    • Insomnia. Medscape. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 10 July 2015
    • Insomnia. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published April 2015
    • Hysing M, Pallesen S, Stormark KM, et al. Sleep and use of electronic devices in adolescence: results from a large population-based study. BMJ Open 2015; 5(1):e006748. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006748
    • Hale L, Guan S. Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: a systematic literature review. Sleep Med Rev; 21:50–8. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2014.07.007
    • Feeling stressed. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published June 2015
    • Generalised anxiety disorder. BMJ Best Practice. www.bestpractice.bmj.com, published 10 October 2014 

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    Reviewed by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Content Team, September 2015.

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