Sleep Awareness Week: Invest in Your Sleep Health

This week is Sleep Awareness Week, a time for us to recognise sleep as a crucial part of our health and well-being.

Occupational Therapists at Cygnet Health Care have shared some lesser-known, valuable advice on how we can enjoy a deep, rejuvenating night sleep to leave both our minds and our bodies well rested.

It is important to understand that not all tips and advice will suit everyone. Certain aspects of sleep hygiene may work better than others. With any skill, this needs to be practiced over and over.

1. Be compassionate

Around a third of “good sleepers” struggle with temporary bad sleep at some point in the year, so don’t overthink it.

One of the challenges many of us face at bedtime is a mind filled with worries about the prospect of another bad night’s sleep amongst the million other things we are facing in our busy lives. It’s a classic case of “tired but wired” or what’s clinically known as hyperarousal.

If you’re going through a bad patch with your sleep, you should let go of the idea of aiming for eight hours sleep and adopt a “I’ll take what I can get” approach instead.

2. Build your Sleep Drive

Most of us are familiar with the common advice around reducing hyperarousal; create a “sleep sanctuary”, don’t eat too late, lay off the caffeine, no devices before bed, exercise, meditate and so on. However, many of us are less familiar with the concept of “sleep drive” and the power it has over our sleep.

Sleep drive is the need for deep sleep and is at its lowest when we wake up in the morning. This pressure to sleep then builds up the longer we stay awake. So avoid naps as they will steal your sleep drive and you could be waiting hours for this to rebuild again.

Another way to build your sleep drive is getting up at the same time every day, no matter how tired you feel, so you get maximum time to build sleep drive. Equally, avoid the temptation of treating yourself to an early night after a bad night’s sleep as this again will disrupt your routine and sleep drive.

Lastly, if you get into bed and find that the sleep drive just isn’t there yet, try to remain calm and accept that you’re not quite ready yet. Get up and do a gentle task until the sleep drive has built up a little more and try again. Some ideal activities to help talk your mind off the frustration of not sleeping without overstimulating you would be writing a shopping list, reading a book, doing a puzzle, tidying a cupboard or drawer, sorting the laundry or listening to an audiobook or podcast.

3. The 90-minute rule: Circadian Rhythm

There is an optimal time for bed and if you calculate this it will enhance falling asleep and aid the quality of sleep. This can be achieved through mindfulness of recognising the signs of getting tired and calculating your ‘dip’.

When you get tired, you are heading for a dip. If you are yawning at 8.30pm, you are likely to be dipping and your next dip will be 10.00pm.

So preparing for bed at 9.45pm will mean you are asleep for 10.00pm.
Timing sleep with the 90-minute cycle can help reduce muscle soreness, promote muscle growth, and help mental rejuvenation.

4. Natural Daylight is Key

Natural daylight is the key to feeling tired at the end of the day. So ideally you need increase access to day light such as going for a walk, taking a break outside or your desk to face a window.

5. Alarm Clock Matters

Set the alarm at the same time each morning. Don’t sleep in late to make up for a bad night. This will only make it harder to sleep the following night. You may need to follow this programme for several weeks, to establish a regular pattern.

6. Morning Lark or a Night Owl?

Everyone needs different levels of sleep based on if you’re a ‘Morning Lark’ or a ‘Night Owl’. If you often don’t feel sleepy until well past midnight, you’re probably a night owl. If you usually find yourself yawning shortly after sunset and have trouble sleeping in (even when you want to), you’re probably a morning lark.

You know what the ideal amount of sleep is for you, and what time you like to go to bed and wake up. Remember, our need for sleep changes with our age.

7. Sleep likes quiet, comfort and darkness

Investing in a good pair of curtains, black out blinds or eye masks are really helpful, as are ear plugs (especially if you share a bed with a noisy sleeper).

Make sure you have a comfy mattress, pillows and nice bedding. Ensure your duvet is seasonally appropriate, so you are not too cold or too warm.

Don’t have a multipurpose bedroom – your bedroom needs to be a relaxing, low stimulus room, so don’t have your study/work desk in there or a TV/games console. Don’t have a cluttered bedroom.
If you live in a studio flat/open plan room – have a curtain around your bed which splits it off from the rest of the room.

8. Feeling worried and stressed? Relax the Mind.

If you struggle to ‘switch off’ when you go to bed, try writing your thoughts down in a book that you keep by your bed. If it is work related thoughts, try sending yourself an email of what you need to do, you can pick it up when you’re at work the next day, and it feels like you have ticked a part of your to do list off by sending yourself an email.

Try setting aside some time during the early evening for reflecting on your day. Think over any difficulties. Making an action list early in the evening may help you to avoid focusing on problems when you go to bed.

Try to wind down during the latter part of the evening. Avoid any complicated work or activity. If your brain is still busy with daytime concerns, listening to the radio quietly for a while may distract you.

Practise a relaxation technique before you go to bed. Breathe slowly and deeply: four seconds in, hold for four seconds and then four seconds out. Consciously tense and relax your muscles, in turn; start with your toes and work up.

If you feel physically exhausted, but your mind is full of racing, intrusive thoughts, don’t try to force sleep, it will only make you feel more anxious. Try keeping your eyes open, instead, and as they start to close, tell yourself to resist. The more you try to stay awake, the sleepier you’ll become.

Interrupt unwanted thoughts by repeating a soothing word (such as ‘peace’) over and over to yourself. If you wake during the night, go through your relaxation routine

9. Not feeling sleepy?

If you are not sleepy at bedtime, then do something else. Only go to bed when you really feel tired enough to sleep. Read a book, listen to soft music or browse through a magazine. Find something relaxing, but not stimulating, to take your mind off of worries about sleep. This will relax your body and distract your mind. If you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes, get up and relax in another room. Do something soothing until you’re tired enough to go back to bed. Repeat this process, if you are awake for long periods.

10. Timing of Exercise

Whilst it is true that exercise during the day can help us sleep better at night, the timing is important. Don’t exercise excessively before bed, this raises your blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature.

Fit people sleep better, on the whole, and if you haven’t had any exercise during the day, it will be more difficult to sleep soundly. Consider changing your habits and keep active during the day.

About Lisa Baker, Editor, Wellbeing News 4429 Articles
Editor Lisa Baker is passionate about the benefits of a holistic approach to healing. Lisa is a qualified Vibrational Therapist and has qualifications in Auricular Therapy, Massage, Kinesiology, Crystal Healing, Seichem and is a Reiki Master.