From time to time, sleep eludes me and recently, I’ve been making a concerted effort to rectify this. Most nights, I fall to sleep quite readily but there are times when my busy mind precludes this. Along with that, I’m a naturally light sleeper, something I’ve been aware of for as long as I can remember. I wake at the slightest noise or movement and find it difficult to fall back to sleep. This, coupled with my tendency to over-think everything, means there are some nights when I lie awake for hours.
So how can I get a better night’s sleep? I’ve been giving it some thought. I’ve done some research and have separated it into two distinct categories: the physical and the psychological, (or, in my case perhaps emotional), aspects of sleep and what I have been doing to help. I’ve presented them in a series of tips along with my thoughts and what works for me.
Tips For A Better Night’s Sleep: Physical
1. Wear comfortable nightclothes.
I have never been a pyjamas kind of girl, I find that the legs on the bottoms get twisted round so I prefer a nightie. Natural fibres work better for most people and I opt for either cotton jersey or silk, (rather than satin). The nightdress in these photographs is cool, soft, comfortable and looks pretty too. (It was gifted by UK Lingerie, an online company selling a wide variety of gorgeous nightwear and lingerie).
2. Open the window.
Apart from during the very depths of winter, I open my window to allow fresh air to circulate. If not, I wake up feeling rather stifled. If it gets chilly, I have a throw at the bottom of my bed to pull up.
3. Tie your hair back.
Although my hair isn’t long, it does get caught around my neck, (I sleep on my front or side), so I tie it back. If you sleep on your back, a side plait is more comfortable.
4. Make sure the bed is cool and neat
I love climbing into a neat, cold bed. I pull the duvet back first thing for an hour or so to let the bed cool, before making it. I change my bedding about every five days because clean sheets are heaven on earth.
5. Make sure the room is dark enough.
It sounds so obvious but is something I’ve only recently addressed. I have a semi-sheer roller blind which means that in summer, my room is almost fully light by 4am, (a full moon has the same effect). I added a blackout roller blind which has made a huge difference. Because of how it fits, it doesn’t block out the light completely but it’s made a noticeable difference and it’s been easier for me to get back to sleep if I wake in the early hours.
6. Get up and go to bed at the same time every day.
I tend to wake naturally quite early no matter what time I go to bed and regardless of whether or not I have slept well. Generally, I go up to bed at the same time most nights, unless I’m on a night out.
7. Try to sleep for a duration that’s a multiple of 90 minutes.
This is something I discovered very recently from my GP. She said that humans have a sleep cycle of 90 minutes. If we wake at the end of a 90 minute cycle, we feel refreshed; if we wake part way through, we don’t. This makes complete sense to me because I’ve never been able to take a power nap without feeling groggy and significantly worse afterwards. Without question, I could drift off for a snooze on the sofa if I let myself, but the occasional time I have, I felt rotten upon waking. Even when I was up frequently doing night feeds when my children were babies, I never napped during the day. For the same reason, I don’t snooze when travelling. I do know that some people swear by a power nap though and awake feeling refreshed, but it doesn’t work for me.
8. Make sure you won’t wake up feeling hungry.
This is another recent revelation. If you tend to wake between 2am and 5am it can be a sign of low blood sugar. This in turn releases stress hormones which can make the mind race and the heart pound, so interrupting sleep. Eating a protein snack before bed will help. I wake up ready for breakfast every day and have a good appetite. Although I don’t necessarily wake in the small hours feeling hungry, I sometimes wake with a racing mind, so I try to have a small handful of almonds and sometimes a few pieces of cheese (it won’t give you bad dreams, I promise), about half an hour before going to bed and it does seem to help. Unfortunately, alcohol before bedtime has the same effect on the blood sugar so the advice is not to have it too late at night.
9. Exercise regularly
This helps to regulate blood sugar, creates a body full of feel good hormones and is of course a known stress-buster. Without question, I sleep better when I’ve been to the gym or taken a long walk.
10. Swith off!
Research incresingly shows that blue light emitted from mobile phones, Ipads and other devices is detrimental to our circadian rythmns and sleep patterns. I struggle hugely to do this. There’s always one more comment to reply on, or one more Instagram post to like. I really, really need to make more effort to switch off an hpur or so before bedtime.
11. Tense and relax the muscles.
As you lie in bed, tense then relax each part of the body. Start at the feet. Tense and hold for a count of five, or longer if you can. Then relax. Do the same with the calves, followed by the thighs and so on, up to and including the face and scalp. I get tension in my lower back so pay particular attention to the back, pelvis and buttocks. The tingling sensation immediately afterwards is one of relaxation and is a very welcome feeling and an immediate way of feeling more ready for sleep.
Tips For getting A Better Night’s Sleep: Emotional/Psychological
Insomnia comes in many guises including difficulty falling asleep, poor quality sleep and waking up too early. I experience all of these from time to time. A common cause is chronic stress. It reduces the ability to relax because those hormones intended to help deal with stress interfere with sleep. Of course, switching off from stress is easier said than done but here are a few tips that might help.
12. Write a “to-do” list each day and aim to complete it.
My work is multi-faceted. I write for two magazines, I write my blog and I run a small online business. I’m a lone parent to two teenagers and have a home and garden to run. In common with so many, I have a lot of tabs open in my mind. Every morning, I write a realistic list of what needs doing which includes work, emails, calls, house work, admin and so on. I have a paper diary so I can see exactly where I am and can tick things off as I do them. I’m self-employed and work from home which means it’s easy to carry on into the evening. One the one hand, I tell myself I should stop work and relax whereas on the other, I’d rather tick everything off because I feel more stressed if I don’t. I’m working on finding a balance. If I get to bed and realise I have forgotten to do something, I’d rather get up and do it than have it hanging over me until morning. I have pen and paper in my bedroom should I remember something additional during the night. An old tip, but it works for me.
13. Don’t go to bed on an argument, try not to over-think
I honestly can’t remember the last time I had an argument with anybody but I’m going to apply the same principle here. My natural openness and honesty lead me to speak and act from the heart, sometimes before my brain has had a chance to catch up. I subsequently berate myself for this and ask “why did I say that?” I then second-guess the responses and thoughts of others, mull over conversations and analyse things that probably don’t need analysing. Over-thinking keeps me awake more than anything else. It isn’t that I’ve said something unkind or heartless because that simply isn’t me, it’s more that I’ve questioned something or said something that has left me open and slightly vulnerable; I wear my heart on my sleeve.
I try now to be more considered. I try and rationalise my feelings and emotions before voicing them and I ask myself if it will be just as important tomorrow. If not, then it’s probably better to keep quiet about whatever it is on my mind. If it will be just as important, then I try to work out a solution or a way of presenting it such that it will stop me over-thinking. This has helped hugely with being able to better “switch-off” at night. What helps too is knowing that those close to me understand my emotional, sensitive personality and love me for it.
Talk and set things out so everything is clear. Don’t leave room for misinterpretation. My mind needs to be at rest before my body can rest, so this is a vitally important ongoing process for me.
14. Cut negativity out of your life.
This is a tricky one but where possible, remove any negative influences. If a person or situation is bringing you unhappiness or uncertainty, can that person or that situation be removed from your life? I’m not suggesting you hire a hit man, but don’t be afraid to say if something doesn’t work for you. This comes down to being honest and open and to having the confidence to speak up. If something is playing on your mind, or doesn’t feel right, it’s better to address it than to lie awake worrying. Get things off your chest, (in a considered way), and trust your gut instinct. In the past I’ve tried to quash what mine was telling me, but on every single occasion, it was right right. I now actively ask myself what my gut is telling me and it’s served me very well indeed of late! Be brave, listen to it and take appropriate actions. It can only help with calming the mind.
15. Remind yourself that you deserve to, and need to rest.
As I said above, I have a busy life and it’s too easy to keep on working late to further build my blog and my business so to benefit both myself and my children. However, because I’m self-employed, there is no sick pay and no fall back if I get unwell. The temptation to keep going is always there but quality sleep is vital to stay healthy and for me to function to the best of my ability. I work hard so I deserve to rest. I need to rest so I can work hard.
These photographs were taken by Ian in the gorgeous Manor suite suite at Stirk House when we stayed earlier this month. Ian and I don’t live together but we chat on the phone most nights before bed. It’s a chance to unwind and to relax and he is brilliant at telling me to go to sleep and at putting my mind at rest about all sorts. It induces feelings of love and calm and is a reminder about what is truly important. Perhaps, talking to a loved one at bedtime is the best thing tip of all.