Health and Wellbeing

10 Top Tips to Improve Your Sleep

Did you know that today, January 3rd, is the Festival of Sleep?

We all know that Christmas is far from the most relaxing holiday – and after the year of 2020, rest and relaxation has evaded many people. With the busyness of the festive period along with the stresses of this time of year and 2020 as a whole our overall health and sleep cycle can both suffer as a result.

Festival of Sleep Day is a great opportunity to give your body some much needed rest and relaxation. The event was created in order to promote taking the time to regain a healthy sleep schedule in the new year.

But what exactly makes good sleep and how can you improve yours?

Good sleep is about quality not about quantity. How much sleep we need varies from person to person. Teenagers often need around 10 hours of sleep, whereas adults need around 7.5 hours. Sleep is essential to good health and mental wellbeing. In all the areas I have worked in as an Occupational Therapist, sleep has been critical to the physical and mental wellbeing of all my clients. Oversleeping impacts our wellbeing just as much as lack of sleep.

Sleep Fact #1: Pythons sleep for up to 18 hours a day, whereas giraffes generally only sleep for 2 hours a day!

We wanted to share 10 simple tips to improve your sleep quality…

10 TOP TIPS!

  1. Light. Being stuck at home, especially if it has low levels of natural light, may reduce light-based cues for wakefulness and sleep, known as zeitgebers, which are crucial to our circadian rhythm. Open your windows and curtains during the day. Try and get outside each day, this will help the natural sleep-wake cycle.  
  1. Screen time. Whether it’s checking the news on your phone, joining a Zoom with family, binge-watching Netflix, or putting in extra hours staring at a computer while working-from-home, social distancing can mean a huge increase in screen time. Excess screen time, especially later in the evening, can have a detrimental impact on sleep. Not only can it stimulate the brain in ways that make it hard to wind down, but the blue light from screens can suppress the natural production of melatonin, a hormone that the body makes to help us sleep.
  1. Beware the nap!  Napping tends to do more damage than good – unless you are driving or operating machinery and are feeling dangerously sleepy.  If you feel sleepy in the day try getting up and walking about, get some fresh air or do something challenging for a short while e.g. a puzzle, Sudoku.
  1. If you’re not tired – get up!  Don’t lie there worrying or trying to force yourself to sleep. This will only make it harder.  Get up and make yourself a hot (non-caffeinated or sugary drink. E.g. hot milk) then return to bed once you feel sleepier.  If you have an important day coming and lots on your mind, write a list so that you know you have everything covered and don’t have to keep all the information in your head.

Sleep Fact #2: The Beatles’ song “Yesterday” came to Paul McCartney in a dream.  It was only when no one he spoke to recognised the tune that he realised he had written it himself!

  1. Lifestyle.  Eating healthier and having regular exercise increase the quality of your sleep and make you naturally tired.  Eating wholegrain rice, oats and dairy contain chemicals that increase your desire to sleep.  However don’t eat a big meal or exercise near to bedtime, your body will be processing the food and creating energy or still contain high level s of adrenaline.
  1. Relaxing…Don’t stress it – thinking about sleep or trying to force yourself to sleep will only keep you awake longer.  Learn how to relax your mind and body.  Try having a warm bath with a scented lavender candle before bed. Progressive relaxation, mindfulness and breathing exercises are ways to relax your mind and body whilst lying in bed.  
  1. Busy mind. Try keeping a notebook by your bed to jot down thoughts and ideas to get them out of your mind for your future self to deal with.
  1. Environment – You should only associate your bedroom with sleep and sex!  Remove all electronics, try not to watch TV or look at electronic devices at least an hour before sleeping, the blue light suppresses melatonin, the hormone needed to make you sleepy.  The amount of noise, light and distractions in your bedroom, as well as the temperature will affect your sleep.  Your room should be a relaxing place to be, try decorating it in neutral colours with pops of colour for a calming effect.

9. Apps – There are so many apps that you can download, often for free, that can aid your sleep. We love ones where there is a mix of relaxation exercises and sleep stories. Here are a few we would recommend. Let us know what you think of any that you would recommend.

  • Sleep Restore
  • Calm
  • Headspace
  • Spotify – search “sleep” or “sleep stories”
  1. Get Support:

It’s common to have short term sleep difficulties for a few days or a couple of weeks when something stressful happens or when you are adapting to change, but if it’s going on longer, it is OK to ask for help. If you would like to discuss your sleep and how it is impacting you wellbeing in more depth then our Occupational Therapists can offer a sleep assessment and intervention. Improving sleep problems can help to improve and protect your overall health in future, so it’s worth investing in specialist support. Contact us to book a free 20 minute telephone consultation.

Blog post written by Catherine Gray, Lead Occupational Therapist, Cup-O-T: Wellness and Therapy Services 02/01/2021.

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