Sleeping is wonderful, but many of us don’t have a healthy relationship with sleep. Understanding how to catch those precious zzz’s is crucial, so we spoke to the sleep experts.
Healthy sleeping habits can have a significant impact on your quality of life. Yes, really. Sleeping is probably one of the most important daily tasks. Yet many of us don’t value and respect our sleeping patterns the way we should and this can have an impact on productivity and mood.
GOING TO BED
“We have a massive problem with sleep,” says James Wilson, the Sleep Geek. “It tends to get treated like an illness, and a GP will give you sleeping tablets, but we need to look at it as a fundamental part of our life, like food and water.” Unfortunately, you’re either a good sleeper or a bad sleeper – and you’ll know which one you are. But there are things you can do to get more rest.
One important aspect of sleeping restfully is that you go to sleep at the same time every night. While that might not always be manageable, if you spend your weekend lying in until noon, you are creating a form of jetlag.
Quite literally, you’re confusing your body – and not getting any sunshine in return. James explains: “It’s important for people to understand their own sleep patterns. You might be sensitive to caffeine or you might only need six hours sleep. Simple things make a huge difference.
You might be going to bed too early, or too late, but the most important time is actually before you go to sleep. It’s imperative that you wind down properly. The hour before you hit the hay is when your heart rate drops, and you need to feel relaxed so that you’re not spending the night tossing and turning.”
This one’s for you night time scrollers (you know who you are), looking at artificial light or the blue and white glare of your phone, computer or tablet prevents your brain from releasing melatonin: the hormone telling our bodies it’s time for bed. Winding down, and staying away from those likes and comments, is one sure fire way to get some good shut eye.
“Keep it simple,” advises James. “You’re better off winding down properly than going to bed every night at 10pm. Half an hour before bed have a bath or a shower, and don’t watch any engrossing TV. You don’t have to meditate, but don’t get too into your favourite show.”
Managing your sleep is like managing your mental health – don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You can’t cure sleep problems, you can only be careful.
Even in the land of nod, many of us have severe issues of waking up continually during the night. “Around 65 per cent to 85 per cent of people wake up during the night. You have to figure out what’s causing it,” explains James. “If you’re female, a temperature dip or spike might be the culprit.
“Women are more sensitive to warmth than men, and even the material of your duvet or bedsheets contribute to your sleeping patterns. Certain materials trap heat – so watch out for that.”
James stresses that it’s important to pay attention to our environment and make sure that the bedroom is a restful place.
While banning TV, laptops and smart phones is one way to go about it, for some people that’s unmanageable, and James explains that you don’t need to go to extremes. All you need to do is be more careful about how you use technology.
“We’re on a one-and-a-half-hour sleep cycle, and our senses check to see if we’re secure. So, if we fall asleep listening to a podcast or Netflix and it finishes, our bodies wake up as the environment around us has changed,” he adds.
Apart from your partner snoring, children are the most common reason why you’re not getting enough sleep. Linda Russell, the Sleepy Lady is a former maternity nurse who is an expert in getting kids to sleep.
“Sleep-deprived parents can become very anxious and start to question everything they do and it can lead to depression, self-esteem and post- natal misdiagnosis. Exhaustion is very powerful. Families are really struggling to sleep,” Linda explains.
“It’s not about a routine,” she adds. “It’s more important to get children into good sleeping habits. Children need about three hours without TV for
their brain to shut down before going to bed, whereas adults need about 45 minutes.”
Linda encourages that there’s no wrong way to get your kids to go to sleep. Rocking your child or having a dependency for a dummy is normal.
“Falling asleep is a definitive process, melatonin is a hormone that sends signals to the brain to go to sleep and you need a relaxing half an hour where children get drowsy.”
It’s important to get children to be able to detach from their parents and be able to go to sleep by themselves, but this can be a long process, unique to the child. “As soon as you can, get your child to self-soothe,” advises Linda. “Find a way that’s comfortable to you. Get them to fall asleep next to you, and then move onto the cot, and then into a separate room: break habits slowly.”
Sleeping is one of the most natural things, and something our bodies actively crave. Simple steps can make sleeping effortless, less daunting and easier to achieve. Dim the lights and get cosy.