• Don Mackenzie

How to improve your sleep

Do you wake up tired or full of energy? Disrupted sleeps can affect all of us. There are many reasons that you may be having disrupted sleep. For example, some people's employment is shift-work with casualised, irregular hours, family, study or work stress, or other biological or social reason. However, it is important first to find out if there are any organic causes such as sleep apnea, low iron, vitamin B or thyroid issues before looking at social or psychological reasons for poor sleep. Talking with your GP is important and maybe getting a blood test to see what your levels are is a good start. Anxiety is also a common reason people have poor quality sleep. Children may often come to an adult's bed if they have untreated separation anxiety or other fears and phobias. We all release the hormone melatonin, from our pineal gland, at different times of the night and in different quantities. You may need to take a dose of melatonin to complement what you naturally produce to help you fall asleep. Some people toss and turn for 2-3hrs before having a restful, solid sleep. Generally, sleep experts say you should be asleep within 30mins of your head hitting the pillow. Chronic sleep disruption can cycle and build on itself. It also has mental and physical health affects as outlined below:

We all live according to our circadian rhythm, a near 24-hour internal clock that controls how our body’s functions change throughout the day. Your cognition, metabolism, sleep-wake cycle, and many other functions all follow a circadian rhythm. Sleep is when your brain cleanses, organises and stores its memories from the day. The master clock in your hypothalamus keeps track of time by queues such as light and darkness, physical activity, and mealtime schedule. Recent research is showing the amount of light in your home from lamps and LED downlights can adversely impact on your body's circadian rhythm. For children, slowly push back the bed-time in 30min increments if a child is tossing and turning before falling asleep. Recommended sleep duration by age are below:

Sleep is divided into 90-minute cycles of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which is composed of different stages. These cycles are repeated throughout the night. Stage N1: This is a stage of light sleep when you are in between being awake and falling asleep. Stage N2: The onset of sleep. This is when you become disengaged from your surroundings, and your body temperature drops. Stage N3: The deepest sleep stage. This is when tissue growth and repair happen, and energy is restored. During this stage, several hormones are released that control functions ranging from growth and development to appetite.

Here are some other sleep hygiene tips:

  • Keep the same, regular sleep routine or ritual even when you are on holidays. This is important to train your brain and body to fall asleep each night with the same expected routine. Having the same pattern of a shower/bath, warm drink, book to read and brushing your teeth can help your brain to predict it is time to sleep.

  • Use image scripting. This means you close your eyes and and run a ten-second movie in your head about you preparing for bed, sleeping soundly and waking up refreshed in the morning. Re-run this movie and imagine yourself having a good sleep and it can help.

  • Expose yourself to 30mins of sunlight during the day. This is important for your body clock.

  • If you can't sleep after 30mins of going to bed, get up and try again. Do something boring or calming though that helps reset your thoughts and prepares you to sleep.

  • Reduce or avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other drugs or toxins.

  • Listen to your body. Lay in bed and do a scan of your body. Where are your aches and pains, where do you feel the bed touching the back of your body. This is a good grounding exercise and help with mindfulness to relax and centre yourself for sleep.

  • Don't clock-watch. Frequently checking the clock can re-inforce negative thoughts about how late it is or what you have to do the next day.

  • Treat anxiety. Use breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yawning, shakti mats or other strategy to regulate your vagus nerve and calm your body and mind.

  • Nightmares. It is important to talk with a counsellor or GP about nightmares or other upsetting issues during sleep. Prepare yourself in case you have bad dreams by thinking of a bad dream then think of a different ending for it. Practice this new ending many times before going to sleep.

  • Setting aside some ‘worry time’ each day to write down any issues that are bothering or concerning you, then deciding to leave those worries behind until tomorrow (make sure to do this at least one hour before bedtime).

  • Reduce light before bed. Lamps, downlights and screens have been proven to interrupt your natural circadian rhythm so darken the house or turn of brightness of light sources to prepare your body for sleep.

  • Reduce screen time. We all know the blue light from screens negatively impacts our circadian rhythm. The increased cognition and brain activity of using social media, email, or other applications on laptops, tablets and phones is also counter-productive to preparing the brain for sleep.

  • Eat well. A balanced diet low in sugar and fat is good for sleep. Snacking and eating late at night can affect your quality of sleep and can put you at higher risk of developing diabetes and obesity. Avoid eating close to bedtime.

  • Exercise. Take a morning brisk walk, or in the late afternoon which can help to make your body tired and help you to sleep.Try to do some exercise every day. But not too strenuous exercise in the four hours before you go to sleep.

  • Calm space. Make your bedroom calming and welcoming so you feel safe and comfortable to sleep.

  • Use a sleep diary. Each night before you go to bed, write down what you ate, did and what happened before you went to bed. The next morning write down what happened during the night and the quality and quantity of sleep you got. Remember, sleep is about quality and quantity.

  • See a sleep specialist (links below) if there is no improvement where you can undergo a sleep study overnight and find out what is causing your sleep difficulties.

Useful links:

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