How many hours of sleep do we need as we grow from babies to children to adults and old age? We explore the answers to this not so simple question.
We’ve all had those nights spent wide awake, tossing and turning, and the more you focus on not being able to fall asleep, the more you can’t sleep - it’s a vicious circle for sure. Whilst the odd sleepless night might not present too much of a problem, struggling to fall asleep on a regular basis can take a toll on both mental and physical health. When problems with sleep occur often and begin to affect daily life, it may be a sign you are suffering from insomnia. So, if this sounds like you, make sure to read on and find out how you can beat insomnia and fall in love with sleep again.
What is insomnia?
The most common sleep problem, insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, which results in sleep that’s unrefreshing or non-restorative. Insomnia has a negative impact on your energy, mood and the ability to function as normal during the day. Short-term insomnia lasts just a few nights, which may be helped by following the advice in this article. Chronic insomnia is when it happens for at least three nights a week for a period of three months or more, and can lead to serious health problems, so make sure to seek professional medical advice for any persistent sleep issues.
Regardless of how tired they are, some people struggle to fall asleep and others wake up during the night and lay awake for hours looking at the clock. Insomnia is actually defined by the quality of sleep and how you feel after sleeping, rather than the amount of hours spent asleep, and although it is a sleep disorder, it can also be a symptom of other sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and disturbances to your circadian rhythm.
The good thing is, insomnia, in most cases, can be resolved with changes you can make yourself, such as applying simple changes to your daily habits and sleep environment. To help you beat insomnia, you will need to figure out what the root cause of the problem is. Stress, anxiety and depression are big contributors to insomnia, but your physical health, sleep routine and day-to-day habits may be a factor too.
Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep
Two of the best things that you can do to prioritise great quality sleep is to create the right environment and to have a relaxing bedtime routine - both of which go a long way to improving your sleep quality. Hopefully, the following super-handy tips and advice will set you up for a good night’s sleep.
Regular sleep schedule - going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, and that includes weekends too, helps you to get into a regular sleep pattern. And, sticking to a consistent and relaxing bedtime routine aids with setting your internal body clock, so you know when it’s time to wind down for the night.
Melatonin, a hormone produced in response to darkness and broken down with exposure to daylight, also helps with the timing of your circadian rhythm and promotes sleep. Furthermore, Adenosine - a byproduct of being awake and which helps to promote sleep - builds up during waking hours and breaks down during sleep. A lack of sleep can leave Adenosine in the brain at the start of the waking day, giving tiredness a head-start.
Meditation, a warm bath or journaling, are all great ways to help you relax before bed and will put you in a calm and restful state of mind ready for sleep.
The best sleep environment - to help promote quality sleep, your bedroom should be cool, quiet and dark as possible, and of course your mattress needs to offer the ultimate in comfort too. The ideal room temperature is 19°C, and even though this might feel too cool for comfort during the day, your body temperature drops at night, signalling that it’s time to sleep, and so a cool bedroom is best for quality sleep.
Take a warm bath - taking a warm bath, around 90 minutes before going to bed, can help you to relax and sleep better, especially if the water is the right temperature (40-43°C). Just don’t bathe too close to bedtime, as this can have a reverse effect, in that your body doesn’t have enough time to cool, which is what’s needed for restful sleep.
Limit screen time - although it’s difficult to not look at your phone, spending time looking at the screen before going to bed has a negative impact on sleep. Phones and other devices emit a blue light, which simulates daylight and blocks Melatonin production, and even though that’s great in the morning, it doesn’t do anything to aid a blissful night’s sleep. So, try to resist the urge to scroll through social media and instead do something relaxing like reading or listen to some soothing music.
Try meditation - taking time to meditate before going to bed is actually an effective way to ensure a great night’s sleep. Meditation clears your mind of the stresses of the day and helps you to focus on the present moment. Start by sitting or lying in a comfortable position and then close your eyes and slow down your breathing. Focus on deeply inhaling and exhaling and clear your mind of thoughts. Begin with five minutes of meditation each day and work up to longer periods as you start to feel more comfortable.
Don’t panic if you don’t fall asleep instantly - many of us make the mistake of trying to fall asleep as soon as our head hits the pillow, but going from being wide awake to sleeping soundly is not something that happens in a split second. Ideally, you should start to wind down an hour before going to bed and set the scene for a restful night’s sleep by dimming the lights and relaxing your body.
Regular exercise - exercise is not only good for your physical and mental health, it improves sleep quality too. Just make sure you don’t exercise too close to bedtime, as it increases your core body temperature. Studies have proven that long-term, moderate exercise enables insomnia sufferers to fall asleep faster and enjoy quality sleep, compared to what they experienced before exercising. In fact, just a single 30 minute exercise session can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and prolongs sleep too*.
Eliminate alcohol and caffeine - alcohol and caffeine negatively impact sleep quality, so avoid at all costs before bed. With alcohol, sleep is fragmented and lighter, while caffeine is an Adenosine antagonist, so blocking the production of this promotes wakefulness and delays the onset of sleep.
Avoid looking at the clock - and finally, one last tip - even though it’s easier said than done, resist the temptation to keep looking at the clock. Clock watching will only make your sleep anxiety worse, so turn your clock the other way, and if you keep your phone next to your bed, place it face down, so you’re not as tempted to check the time.
* Source: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/exercise-and-insomnia