Sleep – we all do it, but nearly half of us don’t do it well. And whether you sleep well or not, it is essential to our health and wellbeing. Without it we’re not much good at doing anything else.
If you’re having trouble sleeping and can’t understand why, keeping a Sleep Diary can help identify what’s keeping you awake. Sometimes your sleep troubles are a result of bad sleep habits for example drinking too much caffeine before bedtime, not exercising or poor sleep hygiene. The diary will help to pinpoint if you’re consistently waking at a similar time, what you’ve done that day, what you’ve eaten etc to see if there is any pattern.
Start keeping a sleep diary as soon as you begin to recognise a problem and complete over a two week period. If you need to see a GP or healthcare professional about your sleep issues you will have evidence of your sleep-wake pattern which can help with a diagnosis and treatment.
n an ideal world you would wake up naturally and at the end of a sleep cycle.
Unfortunately with work, school runs or other commitments it’s not always possible to wake naturally and often an alarm. It can be hard to get out of bed when the alarm goes off but rather than you feeling tired because of lack of sleep, it could be because you’ve woken mid sleep cycle.
When you wake mid cycle, you are more likely to feel groggy and disorientated. The best way to make sure you wake at the end of a cycle is to work back from when you want to get up to get your ideal bedtime. Sleep cycles are around 90 minutes and we tend to go through around five a night.
HOW TO WORK OUT THE IDEAL BEDTIME
Multiply 90 minutes (each cycle time) by five (the number of sleep cycles per night) to get 450 minutes or 7.5 hours of sleep. (Four sleep cycles would give just six hours of sleep, six sleep cycles would give 9 hours of sleep per night)
If you need to wake up by 7am then count back 7.5 hours to find that bedtime is around 11.30pm. Make sure you’re in bed before then so you’re relaxed ready for sleep and allow yourself 15 minutes to drop off. You can use the sleep calculator to find the ideal bedtime for you.
It’s important to remember that the sleep calculator is just a guide to help you understand your sleep routine and to help you wake more refreshed. Always work on the knowledge on how you feel the next day after being asleep – if you wake feeling refreshed and ready to tackle, chances are you are sleeping just fine. If you wake feeling tired then it’s likely you need more sleep, or better-quality sleep.
When we first fall asleep we enter non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM). This is divided into three stages, with each becoming progressively deeper. NREM1 and NREM2 are light phases of sleep, from which we can be easily roused. NREM3 becomes deeper, and if woken up, we can feel disorientated. Following on from this is rapid eye movement sleep (REM), the stage at which we dream.
Each sleep cycle lasts around one and a half hours, and in order to feel fully rested and refreshed when we wake up, we must experience all four stages. A full night’s sleep will include five or six cycles, while a disturbed, restless night consists of fewer.
If you feel like four cycles is too little (six hours of sleep) but five cycles is too much (7.5 hours of sleep) then try to make sure you wake up in stage 1 or 2 of sleep which are lighter phases of sleep. These two stages will last no more than 30 minutes altogether.
Sleep. We all do it, but many of us don’t do it well. A good night’s rest is essential to a healthy existence, protecting you physically and mentally as well as boosting your quality of life. Unfortunately, many of us struggle to fall asleep, have bad dreams, can’t wake up in the morning and then feel constantly tired!
Sleep plays a significant role in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. It helps us maintain a healthy weight and a good balance of hormones, as well as controlling sugar levels. In terms of mental health, a great night’s sleep makes the brain work properly. It helps us to learn, remember, solve problems and make decisions, as well as safeguarding against stress, mood swings and depression. It’s rather worrying that the majority of people don’t sleep very well!
Fortunately, there are many practical ways to improve your sleeping habits. Find out our advice on sleep with the following seven steps.
1. Your Bedroom
If you’re having trouble sleeping, one of the first things to consider is your bedroom. In order to get a restful night’s sleep you need the right setting, which means a clean, peaceful and welcoming room. Many of us are unknowingly sleeping in a bedroom that’s simply not fit for purpose, and that environment could be the key cause of a restless night.
Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to transform your bedroom into a space that encourages a peaceful night’s sleep. Here are our top tips:
When it’s time for bed, make your room completely dark. This can be achieved with a blackout blind or curtains, an additional window dressing, or even an eye mask.
Maintain an ambient temperature in your room. If you’re too hot or too cold, you won’t sleep soundly. We recommend a cool temperature of around 16-18° C (60-65° F).
A tidy room makes for a tidy mind… and a restful night’s sleep! De-clutter your bedroom and create a space that’s clean, neat and simple. Even just relocating the laundry basket, stacking up some books or blitzing your bedside table can make a real difference.
Say no to technology in the bedroom! That means avoiding televisions and computers. Having access to these will urge you to switch on when you can’t drift off, which in turn can lead to even more disturbed sleep.
LED displays are particularly troublesome when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. When it’s time to snooze, switch off your mobile phone, tablet, and any alarm clocks with a digital display.
Avoid treating your bedroom like an extension of the rest of your house. That means you shouldn’t use it for work, watching TV, eating, and even talking on the phone. Save the bedroom for sleep and sex.
Add special touches to the space, which will help you feel more connected and peaceful. Family photographs, plants, flowers and ornaments will help to create a room that’s pleasant and relaxing.
Avoid using certain colours when decorating. Remember that bright reds, yellows and oranges are jarring, while browns and whites are boring and drab. Instead, choose soft, muted tones that will make you feel calm.
Certain smells can affect your mood, helping you to feel more calm and relaxed. Lavender and germanium are naturally calming, so invest in some essential oils to help you drift off. Remember, these should not be used in pregnancy or children’s rooms.
Take the time to really consider your bedroom. Realise that you have a duty of care to yourself, and should therefore create a sleep area that’s as effective as possible. Boost your wellbeing by making your bedroom more sleep-friendly – you’re worth it! For more information, on how to create the perfect sleep environment
2. Your Bed
The foundation of a great night’s sleep is a comfortable bed. The right mattress can make a huge difference between a restful and restless night, saving you from fatigue and irritability for the rest of the day. An unsupportive mattress will encourage a poor sleeping posture, which prevents you from good sleep. If you regularly wake up with aches and pains, it’s probably time to change your mattress.
There’s a huge amount of choice on the bed market, which can make selecting the right one difficult. It’s always worth doing your research! Here are some of the factors you should consider when selecting the best bed for you:
Always put quality above price. Of course, there are some perfectly acceptable low-priced mattresses available, but when it comes to your bed, spend as much as you can afford.
The right support is crucial. If your bed is too hard or soft, it will be uncomfortable and unsupportive. Your mattress should be firm enough to support your spine in the correct alignment while conforming to your body’s contours.
Always try before you buy! Lay down on each bed that you’re seriously considering, spending a good 10-15 minutes realising its comfort and support levels. Try several different positions (we all move 40-60 times per night), and remember that if two people will be sleeping on this mattress, test it out together.
Avoid waiting until your bed has ‘worn out’ completely. Research shows that sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress can rob you of up to one hour’s sleep per night, which adds up to a full night’s sleep over the course of a week! You should consider changing your bed after seven years.
3. Your Lifestyle
The 21st century lifestyle is typically fast paced, chaotic and jam-packed with technology. From the moment we wake up we switch on our brains with smart phones, and as our day progresses, we’re presented with even more triggers. The continuous content that’s fed from TV and radio, real time social feeds and our constant checking of emails all make for a non-stop stimulation… It’s no wonder that many of us can’t switch off or fall asleep, then struggle to wake up in the morning and spend a lot of time complaining “I can’t sleep!”
There are simple ways to adjust your lifestyle to promote a better night’s sleep. These minor changes will help you to wind down and relax, removing you from the hectic, technology-crammed world that we live in.
Reduce the intensity of artificial light in your home by using dimmer switches or low wattage bulbs.
Maintain a regular bedtime routine and sleep pattern.
Use a hot water bottle if you get cold.
Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine before bed.
Switch off your tech a couple of hours before bedtime – that includes your phone!
Empty your bladder before bed, and try not to consume too many liquids before you sleep.
Don’t nap during the day.
4. Stress and Worry
Scientists have found a direct correlation between anxiety and rhythm of sleep. When a person is anxious, their heart rate increases, which causes the brain to ‘race’, too. An alert mind produces beta waves, making you far too stimulated to sleep. To make matters worse, an active brain triggers other worries, so it’s even harder to achieve sleep.
Once this pattern sets in, bedtime can become a thing of anxiety. So how can you combat the stress of sleeping?
There are several techniques to banish anxiety and calm your heart rate. Cognitive behavioural therapy is one of them, helping people to ‘unlearn’ thought processes through psychological treatment.
You can also manage your heart rate by placing your hand on your heart and listen for the beating. Breathe in deeply for four seconds, and then breathe out slowly. Repeat this until you can feel your heart rate slowing, which in turn slows down your busy brain activity.
Eliminate your anxious thoughts by practising the speaking technique. This means voicing the thoughts that would otherwise live in your head. Speaking aloud overrides thinking, which stops your negative thoughts in their tracks. Practise by thinking the alphabet in your head, and when you reach ‘J’, start speaking out loud. What happened to the alphabet? Well, you stopped thinking it in your head, because speaking overrode those thoughts. Use this technique when you start worrying in bed: instead of thinking ‘the mortgage is due and I don’t have the money to pay it’, say aloud ‘we will find a way to pay the mortgage this month.’
They say you are what you eat, and when it comes to getting a restful night’s sleep, the food and drink you consume has a drastic effect. The best foods for sleep include milk, cherries, chicken and rice, while fatty meat, curry and alcohol are some of the worst. Some people choose not to eat after 6pm, as late meals can make it difficult to sleep. However, if you are eating before bed, remember that there three main chemicals that promote good sleep: tryptophan, serotonin and melatonin. Here’s how you can include them in your diet.
All proteins involve amino acids, and tryptophan is one of them. It is, however, the rarest amino acid, but it can still be found in turkey and chicken, as well as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts and beans. Milk also involves a small amount of tryptophan. When this chemical reaches the brain, it converts into serotonin.
You may be most familiar with this sleep-promoting chemical, which is connected to drugs like Prozac. Serotonin carries messages between neurones and other cells, and when levels are decreased, individuals can feel anxious, depressed and crave carbohydrates. At night time, serotonin undergoes metabolic changes to become melatonin, the chemical that induces sleep.
Melatonin is a hormone that helps to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, promoting a restful sleep. The best way to ensure optimal melatonin production is to sleep in a dark environment. Even low amounts of light can suppress the production of melatonin, which not only affects sleep, but has other health consequences too.
The Sleep Council can offer plenty of dietary advice to help you sleep better:
Always combine a protein food with a low to medium glycaemic index carbohydrate, which optimises tryptophan levels.
Don’t buy melatonin supplements online. They are only available on prescription in the UK. Taking prescribed melatonin will disrupt your own natural melatonin production, potentially suppressing your ability to generate this important hormone.
Don’t stop taking sleep medication suddenly. The best course of action is to speak to a doctor and develop a strategy to slowly wean yourself off in a healthy manner.
Avoid stimulants like caffeine and cigarettes.
Avoid sedatives, such as sleeping pills and alcohol, to help you sleep. They have short term benefits and long term counter effects, such as dependency.
Changing your diet can help you sleep, but it takes time. Start a sleep diary to keep track of your progress, and don’t give up if you see no sudden improvement – sleeping soundly takes practice!
Sports and exercise can help you to enjoy a better quality of sleep. Working out effectively can tire your body out gently, promoting a better night’s sleep. Releasing pent up tension through exercise is also highly beneficial, helping to banish stress before bedtime. Exercising also lowers your body’s temperature, which induces better sleep. However, there are several things to keep in mind when exercising to improve your sleeping habits.
Don’t overdo it. Contrary to popular belief, wearing yourself out physically is not likely to induce sleepiness. In fact, it can often be counter productive, leading to additional alertness when trying to sleep.
It’s believed that exercising close to bedtime can disturb sleep, however there is no evidence to back this argument. As such, exercising in the evening is much better than not exercising at all!
When it comes to exercise, the most important thing is to feel fitter and healthier. If you are experiencing sleeping problems, try to exercise a little more or change the type of activities you do. Yoga is renowned for its relaxation and sleep benefits, while moderate-aerobic exercise like walking has been found to help people fall asleep more quickly.
7. Relaxation and other Therapies
Many of us lead stressful lives. Demanding jobs, long hours and active families all contribute to a hectic lifestyle, and that’s not helped by the intense media that surrounds us. These elements make it very difficult to wind down, but fortunately there are a few relaxation techniques that can help promote a deep, restful sleep.
RELAX YOUR BODY
This method is best done in bed, though it can also be can be practised throughout the day if you’re in the right environment. By relaxing separate groups of muscles, you become more aware of your body and able to wind down mindfully.
Tense a muscle, for example your bicep, by contracting for 7-10 seconds. Flex it gently – do not strain.
At the same time, visualise the muscle being tensed, consciously feeling the build up of tension.
Release the muscle abruptly and then relax, allowing the body to go limp. Take a few moments before moving on to the next muscle.
Remember to keep the rest of your body relaxed whilst working on a particular muscle.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIOURAL THERAPY (CBT)
CBT is commonly prescribed for depression, but clinical trials have shown it is the most effective long-term solution for insomniacs. CBT helps you identify the negative attitudes and beliefs that hinder your sleep, then replaces them with positive thoughts, effectively ‘unlearning’ the negative beliefs.
A typical exercise is to set aside 30 minutes per day, in which you do your day’s worth of worrying. During this worry period you keep a diary of your worries and anxious thoughts, writing them down in order to reduce the weight in your mind. Once this task is complete, you are banned from worrying at any other point in the day.
Before you go to sleep, you can also write down the worries that you think may keep you awake. Once you are in bed with your eyes closed, you should imagine those thoughts floating away, leaving your mind free, peaceful, and ready to sleep.
STIMULUS CONTROL – THE 20 MINUTE RULE
We should all go to bed when we’re tired, but if you’re not asleep after twenty minutes, it’s recommended that you get up and find another activity to do. This should be quiet and peaceful, and not involve your phone or other digital displays. Listening to music, reading or doing yoga are all recommended as great 20 Minute Rule activities.
When you feel sleepy again, you should return to bed. The idea of this is method is to build a strong association between bed and sleeping, and eventually you’ll be able to fall asleep quickly.
This technique involves only spending the amount of time in bed that equates to the average number of hours that you sleep. For example, you might only get five hours of sleep per night, even though you spend seven hours in bed. By using the Sleep Restriction method, you limit yourself to only five hours in bed per night.
This technique might make you more tired at first, but it can help you fall asleep faster and wake up fewer times. However, it’s not suitable if you’re only getting a couple of hours sleep per night, and should be supervised by a qualified CBT Sleep Practitioner.
TIME TO SLEEP BETTER WITH THE NEW SLEEP HYGIENE GUIDELINES
The definitive advice on getting a good night’s sleep comes recommended by one of Britain’s top sleep gurus, Professor Jason Ellis of Northumbria University. The guidelines are aimed at increasing or maintaining good sleep health and are not for the management of sleep disorders. Sleep health takes into account quality, quantity and timing – including its regularity – of sleep in addition to vulnerability towards poor sleep and the impact of sleep on daytime functioning.
With the wealth of studies, surveys and expert opinions, it has led to a lot of conflicting messages. By looking at the different advice and scientific evidence, it’s been possible to create a simple, best practice guide for achieving a healthy night’s sleep.
The guidelines are simple to follow and shows how making a few changes to your routine over a 24 hour period can make a huge difference to your wellbeing.
KEEP A REGULAR SLEEP/WAKE SCHEDULE
Keeping regular hours helps the body’s sleep system stay in harmony and promotes feelings of sleepiness and drowsiness when your body is ready for sleep. Therefore, where possible, wake up at the same time each morning and go to bed at the same time every night.
GET OUT INTO NATURAL LIGHT AS SOON AS IS PRACTICAL IN THE MORNING, PREFERABLY AROUND THE SAME TIME EVERY DAY
Natural light, which can still be effective on a cloudy or grey day, helps reset our internal body clock. It helps us get over feeling groggy when we have just woken up and makes us more alert.
ENGAGE IN DAYTIME EXERCISE
Exercise promotes the quantity and quality of your sleep, making it deeper and more refreshing. However, a few studies have shown that exercising too close to bedtime can prevent sleep so we suggest leaving a window of at least 2 hours before bedtime without exercise.
AVOID STIMULANTS THAT CONTAIN CAFFEINE 8 HOURS BEFORE BEDTIME
Although there are significant individual differences in how caffeine affects each of us, give yourself enough time between your last caffeine intake and your sleep time to make sure that it does not interfere with your ability to get off to sleep.
DON’T GO TO BED FULL, HUNGRY OR THIRSTY
Eating at regular times helps strengthen our internal body clock. However, eating a heavy meal before bedtime can make it challenging to sleep at night. Drinking lots of liquid before bed will also increase the chances that we have to go to the bathroom during the night. Conversely, being hungry or thirsty at night can increase the chances of waking up. A balance should be struck between being sated but not full up before we go to bed.
REDUCE ELECTRONIC USE BEFORE BEDTIME AND AVOID ELECTRONIC USE IN THE BEDROOM
Using electronics just before bed and in the bedroom can keep us awake for longer as the blue light from these devices has the capacity to prevent the hormones that make us sleepy from being produced. Importantly, it is not just the light that can affect our sleep but most activities that we use our devices for can keep us awake and alert which we don’t want to do at bedtime.
DON’T USE ALCOHOL TO SLEEP
Although alcohol is a sedative, it can have a significant impact on the quality and quantity of your sleep. Our sleep tends to become fragile and light when we have a lot of alcohol in the evening and can lead to lots of awakenings in the latter part of the night and feelings of being unrefreshed during the day.
AVOID NICOTINE BEFORE BED
Nicotine is a short-acting stimulant that can keep you awake and so should be avoided in the later part of the evening and during the night if you happen to wake up.
ENSURE THE BEDROOM IS COOL, DARK AND QUIET BEFORE BED
Heat, light and noise can impact on our ability to get off to sleep and increase the chances that we wake in the night. Even if we don’t realise that is the reason for us being awake. Making sure the bedroom is cool, dark and quiet can improve the quality of our sleep as can sleeping on a comfortable, supportive bed.
ENSURE THAT BEDROOM CLOCKS ARE NOT VISIBLE
It is common to watch the clock when we are awake at night. For some of us, this can increase our anxiety levels and further prevent us from being able to fall asleep. It is not necessary to remove the clock, as, for example, some people rely upon their alarm clocks to get them up in the morning, but having the clock face out of sight will help reduce any sleep anxiety.
Be mindful of any abrupt, unexplained changes in your usual sleep pattern. By pattern, this could be the quality, quantity and/or timing of your sleep. An unexplained abrupt shift could indicate that your sleep health is worsening and may need attention.
Completing a Sleep Diary may help identify any changes. By managing your sleep hygiene, using the above guidelines, may be beneficial in getting your sleep back on track and/or lessening the impact of a brief period of poor sleep. If your sleep does not improve you must consult your GP.
These new sleep hygiene guidelines do not include elements such as leaving the bedroom if not tired, only using the bedroom for sleep, napping, and restricting the amount of time in bed, keeping a worry diary and defining a relaxation period before bedtime.
While these are sometimes seen in sleep hygiene guidelines, these are active elements used in other treatment protocols – most notably; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I). In each case, the directions for that particular technique need to be tailored to the individuals’ particular circumstances. For example, prescribed napping is useful and required in some circumstances such as chronic illness but should be assessed and managed with the support of a healthcare professional, preferably one with a working knowledge of sleep medicine.
As our suppliers come back to some form of the new normality they are dealing with things such as staff and stock shortages. As you are probably aware this has increased to shortages across the country and has a knock-on affect to our delivery times.
Deliveries that were usually deliver within days from our suppliers is now about 4 weeks. These are changes are out with our control and is affecting all retailers in the area. Also factories are taking their planned summer holidays is also having an effect on ordering times.
Whilst we have a large number of items in stock which is available for immediate delivery it is always best to visit us in store but for our extended choice we may need to send for a special order.
Xmas may seem far away however given the delays we are urging customers to shop early so that we can get deliveries in time for the big day.