How to get a better night's sleep

Posted on November 2, 2017 by Helen Field

Lady stretching

Struggling to reach the land of nod?

Can you believe that nearly two in five people in the UK aren't getting a good night's sleep? That's 38% of adults in the UK - this is the highest percentage out of the 14 countries analysed in a survey. Lack of sleep can have a detrimental effect on our health - for instance problems with sleeping have been linked to illnesses like Alzheimer's disease, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, colds and flu.

So what can you do to make sure you're getting enough shut-eye to ensure you stay healthy? These tips might help you.

Darken your room

Do you have street light right outside your bedroom window? Maybe it's time to get some blackout curtains. Having too much light while you're trying to sleep inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone which makes you sleepy. You can always wear an eye mask if you're on holiday or staying at a friend's house.

Exercise often

Apart from making you physically tired, regular exercise is brilliant for helping you fall asleep. It helps you reach a deeper sleep which is the most restorative part of your sleep cycle. Exercise is often recommended for people suffering with sleep disorders like insomnia - this could be due to the positive effects it has on your internal body clock, known as your circadian rhythm.

Eat heavier meals a while before bed

Ever noticed how uncomfortable it can be to lie down on a full stomach? Your stomach works hard after a big meal which gets your heart rate going, keeping you awake. It can also make you feel a bit sick! Heartburn is a common result of overeating before bed and eating certain foods that are spicy, acidic or fatty.

Consider eating a heavier main meal at midday, like the Swiss - their evening meal consists of lighter food such as bread with honey, jam, cheese and meats. Eat heavier meals at least 2-3 hours before bed to give your stomach acid time to process your meal before you lie down.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed

Stimulants get your heart racing, which is the opposite of what you want when you go to bed. Rather than coffee or black tea, try cherry juice - due to the melatonin which makes you sleepy - or chamomile tea, or a warm milky drink. Believe it or not, decaf tea and coffee still contain caffeine, so best avoid those too.

Many people think that a tipple or two in the evening helps them get to sleep - this isn't entirely true. Although it can produce a sedating effect, studies show that drinking alcohol in the evening and before bed stimulates you more compared to other times of day. It also reduces the time you spend in deeper sleep - the most restorative stage - giving you a lower quality of sleep overall.

Avoid looking at screens before bed

What's the last thing you look at before sleep? If it's your mobile phone then that could be the reason for your wakefulness. The blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer screen reduces the production of melatonin, making it harder for you to fall asleep. There are phone apps you can use which filter the blue light. Or why not read a book before bed instead?

Block out noise

Earplugs are a great way of blocking out unwanted noises late at night -like a snoring partner. Having carpet in your bedroom and soft furnishings can help absorb sound, so you get a better night's sleep. Dogs' claws can make a distracting sound in the middle of the night when they walk across a wooden floor - with carpet, you won't know they're there!

Keep your room cool

When you fall asleep your body temperature drops, so making sure your bedroom is a little cooler than you'd normally have a room can help trigger the process. Why not open a window and let some fresh air in? You'll wake up feeling more refreshed. 

Feel relaxed

If you've been dashing about, having a frantic day or been somewhere noisy like a restaurant, take some time to unwind and get in the mood for sleep. Wind down after a long drive - read, relax, meditate, try some mindful movement, write down things you need to remember for the next morning. Overworking can make your mind 'buzz' so make sure you get enough breaks throughout your day.

Turn your bedroom into a sleep-friendly environment

Remove anything that reminds you of stress, like exercise equipment or a computer. Dimmable light switches are useful for creating enough light to see by - you don't want a bright, cold, white light flooding down on you while you're getting ready for sleep! Using soft lighting and calming colours in your décor, cushions, curtains and a soft throw can really help you relax. A comfy mattress can help avoid back pain or even allergies, so you can fall asleep easier too.

Get a better night's sleep

Hopefully you'll have a better night's sleep tonight with help from these tips. If you're still struggling to get some quality shut-eye, speak to your GP for more advice. There's a sleep self-assessment which can help you learn whether you have a sleep problem on NHS Choices. Sweet dreams...

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