ALSO READ: Ask the doctor: How can I beat insomnia?
If you’re struggling to nod off, bear in mind that as well as your work stress and money worries keeping you awake at night, your bedroom antics could also be to blame.
Here’s how you can make sure you’re getting enough quality sleep every night… it’s as easy as counting sheep!
No one can enjoy a restful night’s sleep if they are tense and stressed out. ‘Night yoga is a great way to relax your body and prepare for sleeping,’ says Sophie Keil, principal yoga teacher at YogaBellies. ‘After a long day, some simple yoga stretches and deep breathing is relaxing and soothing.’ Sophie recommends the Viparita Karani – otherwise known as ‘legs up the wall pose’.
‘It has a profoundly relaxing effect that can help you drift off into a peaceful sleep,’ she says. Take one or two folded blankets or a bolster and place them on the floor by the wall. Sit with your left shoulder touching the wall – your lower back should be leaning against the end of the bolster. Gently turn your body to the left and bring your legs up on to the wall, as you lie back on the bolster. Hold the pose for 10-15 minutes.
Baths are also a brilliant way to help induce sleep. ‘Before trying to sleep, immerse yourself in the sensations of a bath like you’ve never had one before,’ suggests therapist Leigh Eastman, author of Mindful Living. ‘Focus on your breathing and feel your face releasing the tension in your eyebrows, eyes and jaw.’
2. Deep clean your bedroom
How often do you change your bed sheets? For a fifth of us, our guilty secret is we don’t even change them once a month. But take heed, a dirty bed, and bedroom, can affect your sleep and your health. ‘Your bedding should be washed at 60 degrees or higher at least once a fortnight to kill the microscopic house dust mites that live on dirty sheets,’ says Amena Warner, nurse advisor from Allergy UK.
Dust mites feed on our dead skin cells, but it’s their excretions that many people can be allergic to, causing a blocked nose, sneezing and coughing, all of which can affect your quality of sleep. ‘The longer you go without washing your bedding, the more excretions will be on the sheets,’ warns Amena.
To reduce the risk of allergies from dust and dust mites, keep your bedroom well ventilated with an open window and clean it regularly – tidy away those dusty books and hoover under the bed. ‘If you have an ensuite bathroom, make sure it’s free from mould because the spores can also cause allergic tendencies,’ says Amena.
3. Upgrade your bedding
Admit it, when was the last time you bought a new pillow? Many of us are keeping our pillows years past their ‘use-by’ date. Not only is this unhygienic – an old, unwashed pillow contains up to 10% of its weight in skin scale, mould, dead and living dust mites and their allergen-laden droppings. A lumpy old pillow can stop you sleeping properly too. ‘If you suffer with neck and shoulder pain, you may find your pillow’s the culprit,’ explains Lisa Artis from The Sleep Council.
‘A good pillow should be tucked well into the neck and shoulder to support your head fully, holding your head in the correct alignment as if you were standing upright with good posture.’ If you sleep on your side rather than on your back, you will need a thicker pillow, or two thinner ones. We should invest in new pillows at least once every two or three years. ‘When they have lost their height and become lumpy, discolored or misshapen, they should be replaced,’ adds Lisa.
4. Adjust your eating habits
Having trouble sleeping? Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening and avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of going to bed. ‘Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and could keep you up,’ says Dr Ebrahim, from the London Sleep Clinic. ‘And be careful when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, because they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.’
Also, steer clear of booze. You might think it makes you sleepy, but it can actually reduce the quality of your sleep. Instead, have a milky drink as a night cap. ‘Dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps increase the production of the sleep-inducing brain chemicals serotonin and melatonin,’ explains Dr Ebrahim.
5. Ditch the alarm clock
A poll has found one in three of us find getting up in the morning so hard that we put our alarm clocks on the other side of the room to force ourselves out of bed. But a loud ringing isn’t necessarily a good way to wake up. ‘An alarm clock waking you from a deep sleep can be stressful for the body,’ says Dr Guy Leschziner, consultant neurologist at London Bridge Hospital and The Lister Hospital, London. ‘If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm,’ he explains.
But if you’re worried about sleeping in, try a more gentle waking process with the Philips Wake-Up Light, £90, Debenhams, which uses sounds and lights to wake you naturally. Studies show a burst of bright light in the morning is the best way to get your brain going, as well as resetting your circadian rhythms (the natural highs and lows your body goes through in 24 hours).
6. Turn off your technology
8 out of 10 of us keep our phones by our bed, leaving them on all night as well as using them as an alarm clock. Sound familiar? Add to that, working late on your laptop or reading a tablet device in bed and you could be seriously compromising your quality of sleep.
‘Light exposure in the evening, particularly blue light found in LCD screens such as laptops, flat screen TVs and iPads, can influence hormonal fluctuations in the brain,’ explains Dr Leschziner. ‘A hormone called melatonin is released in the evening and helps to promote sleep, but blue light can delay or lessen the release of this, and may induce insomnia.’
If you’re having trouble sleeping, keep your bedroom clear of all light-omitting technology – that means no TV, no late night Facebook sessions and no texting on your phone. ‘The bedroom should be associated with sleep and nothing else,’ says Dr Leschziner.