Open your eyes to better sleep
How to get better sleep
Setting up your day in a sleep-promoting way could be the smartest gift you’ll give yourself – and those around you too
Remember what a good night’s sleep feels like? That sense of being refreshed that’s satisfying and positive? Sleeping well helps us think clearly the next day, connect with others, feel motivated to get stuff done and better equipped to respond to life’s challenges.
Just like food, drink and exercise, sleep is hugely important for all of us. But although we generally recognize the benefits of balanced diets and physical exercise and know to review lifestyle choices accordingly, sleep for some reason rarely even makes it onto our wellbeing radar.
Embracing positive sleep patterns can however be game-changing. Encouraging them is the one gift within our grasp which could support the mental wellbeing of generations to come – an amazing legacy and the best present we could ever give our family, friends and ourselves. So, what are we waiting for? And why are we talking about it now?
Not getting the right quality sleep? You’re not alone
As many as 9 out of 10 of us think we could get better sleep. Post-pandemic, up to a third of us consider lack of sleep an issue. What’s more, if we’ve caring responsibilities as parents/grandparents or looking after partners or elderly relatives, we’re possibly amongst the estimated 30% of the population affected by insomnia or at risk of poor-quality sleep.
Those stay-at-home months of low, no, or different social contact and limited activity didn’t just take a toll on our immediate mental wellbeing by preventing us from meeting emotional and physical human needs. They impacted and unpicked established routines – particularly our sleep patterns – leaving us out of kilter for the longer term too.
Sleep – our body’s natural repair-and-renew resource for protecting us physically and mentally – consists of cycles which balance cell-restoring deep sleep with calming, cortisol-stress-hormone-dispersing REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. When faced with the persistent negative impact of unmet needs, the resource risks being overwhelmed. Left unchecked, this can progress to anxiety, depression and lead to cognitive decline/dementia.
The pandemic showcased how environment affects our mental health, but now we’re back making more of our own life-choices, we can make positive changes too. Supporting better sleep is a great place to start. There’s lots we can do to turn poor sleep patterns around, stop their slow-motion creep and prevent us from potential long-term mental ill-health.
A good night’s sleep starts with your day
Carpe diem. Reaping the day can set ourselves up for a good night’s sleep. It’s something we can do for ourselves, with no stigma attached. The outcome will not only help us better support those in our care, but we can set a great example in the process too!
Start by treating sleep like we do exercise – understanding its value can be motivating and once we’ve experienced the positive feelings which the ‘right sort of sleep’ can bring, our pattern-matching brains will help us. Chip away through day-to-day life-style choices and establish a pre-bedtime ‘wind down’ pattern. Exercise regimes have crucial warm ups/wind downs – sleep is no different.
8 things to do in the day to get a better night’s sleep
Here’s a quick steer from the experts to help you on your way:
- Tire the body, burn the cortisol hormone released in response to stress. Best factored in earlier in the day, if you can.
- Eat well. Aim for a balanced diet. Avoid heavy meals late in the day.
- Cut back the caffeine. Make it just a morning thing. Limit alcohol intake too.
- Find a few quiet moments. Take private time-out to reflect on thoughts arising in the day, so you don’t challenge sleep’s dream-time. Try not to leave it until just before bed!
- Punctuate your day with patterns. Morning/evening routines aren’t just for children – bedtime rituals and avoiding stimuli like TV/internet before bed, help our pattern-matching adult brains know what’s coming next – sleep.
- Hone some relaxation techniques. In for 7, hold, out for 11 breathing exercises can support sleep at bedtime, in the night and be calming during the day. Check out suffolkmind.org.uk and get practicing!
- Keep your bedroom focused on sleep. Don’t let distractions build up in the bedroom. Park the ironing basket or watch TV elsewhere. Create separate areas if it’s your work/study/chill-out place too. And if you share it, maybe set some ground rules, so your intentions are recognized and respected.
- Be mindful of your emotional needs. Meeting them provides the best chance of getting a good night’s sleep and, as humans, we’re born with the resources and skills to do that.
Help is at hand too
For info, videos, tips and support on how to meet emotional needs in healthy ways and improve the quality of your sleep check out our other articles on sleep – Sleep Archives – Suffolk Mind