Although sleep is a natural and automatic event, difficult thinking and behavioural patterns can sometimes get in the way. Feeling that we can’t get to sleep isn’t very pleasant; nor is feeling tired when we have an important, difficult or long day ahead of us. Learning more about what influences our sleeping patterns can help us get a more satisfying night’s sleep and feel calmer and more in control of our daytime and night-time routines.
So what’s next?
There are a number of practical and effective ideas to experiment with to help you sleep better. Giving as many a go as possible, and seeing which work best for you, should result in a consistently better sleeping pattern and a feeling of early morning refreshment.
‘White Rabbit’ syndrome in the evening
“Since we’ve been married and quickly had two children, life is a bit of a blur especially in the evenings. I do a Part Time job so I don’t have much free time in the day. When I get home between 5 and 9, its ‘all go’ – there are so many jobs to do, I fall into bed knackered and stressed. I should be able to sleep but it’s difficult for no particular reason and I don’t feel great in the morning. What am I doing wrong?”
You are doing nothing wrong other than being a hard working and committed adult. Many of us find our daily and early evening routines not conducive at times to good sleep. I suggest you do one or two adjustments to daytime activities. For example, build in some easy daytime exercise (walking rapidly rather than driving/taking public transport), lay off caffeine and nicotine as both these are stimulating and generally tell yourself that sleeping will improve. The main advice, however, is to take active steps to improve your early evening and bedtime routines:
- Don’t eat or drink just before bed as your digestive system will be working overdrive as you try to relax. Try not to eat anything significant at least two hours before you want to go to sleep.
- Relax one hour before bed by turning off computers, phones and even the TV. Instead, do something to help your body and brain slow down and relax, like have a warm bath, some yoga or meditation, or just by reading a good book.
- Clear your head by writing out a ‘to do’ list for tomorrow before you go to bed. Feel relaxed in the knowledge that you are prepared for when tomorrow arrives. There is no need to think (or worry) about it now.
- Keep your bedroom clean and minimal. Make sure your sheets are cleaned regularly – just like putting on clean clothes, or walking into a clean home – getting into fresh sheets feels good. The less general clutter the better – it will only trap dust! Also make sure your bedroom is the right temperature for you and dark/light enough.
- Read something easy in bed. Taking on anything too thought provoking or ‘personal’ could keep you awake thinking. Read something escapist or trashy even. Get lost there…
I’m a tired ‘night owl’
“I work and play hard and generally have a good time but I’ve noticed that when I do have something on my mind it seriously affects my sleep. I wake up several times in the night, go downstairs for ‘tea and toast’ and feel tired in the morning. This is becoming a regular pattern. What can I do?”
Most of us can relate to this at some time in our lives. The key is not to worry if occasionally you have a bad night and to look at ways of remedying the issue. Typically your pattern readjusts the next night and you sleep through. However, night-time waking can become a habit which is both frustrating and tiring. If so, try the following:-
If you wake up needing the toilet, train your brain not to kick in with thoughts of the day ahead or one particular problem. Try and stay in your dream state as much as possible. Keeping the lights off (as long as this isn’t dangerous) might help.
If you can’t sleep, don’t toss and turn worrying. Try thinking of something pleasant and breathing deep, slow breaths. If this doesn’t work, try reading something escapist for 10 minutes or until you feel sleepy. This tires your eyes, calms your thoughts and beats worrying.
If you are still awake 30-45 minutes later, get up and do something boring and mildly productive around the home. Jobs such as doing the dishes, hanging up the washing or general tidying will help distract you from your worries, calm you down and helps you feel ready for bed again. Note – it’s best not to switch on the computer or TV as this may only stimulate your brain even more.
Don’t worry – remember that, no matter what, it is not the end of the world if you have one or two bad night’s sleep, you will still be able to function the next day. Write yourself a positive note and put it in your bedside drawer to look at if you are having a restless night. Use it to help reassure you things are going to be alright.