If only we could sleep like a babies – or even teenagers! As we get older our sleep pattern changes. We nap more in the day, wake up more at night and get less deep sleep.
Rest assured there are things that you can do to help assure your rest…
Do 20-30 minutes’ exercise every day or at least 3 times a week. It improves fitness, which helps the way you sleep. Try a brisk walk, near to your bedtime. Daytime walks are good too: if you get some natural daylight you tend to have better shut-eye at night. I always find when I get out more and breathe in the sea air, that I sleep wonderfully.
Is stress keeping you awake? Sleep is easier the more you unwind. So, if you’ve millions of your to-do list tasks spinning around your head, pop them on a notepad by the side of your bed. Your brain will relax as it empties everything it must remember. I’ve even written ideas down in the pitch black rather than switch the light on and disturb my other half.
Cognitive behavioral therapy can help unravel your thoughts, feelings and behaviours so that you don’t worry about sleep, but easily drift off.
Food: Eat the wrong sort and you can be wide awake for hours. Note down what you eat and how you sleep so you can see if there’s a pattern and if certain foods keep you awake. Don’t over or under-eat. If you’re feeling starved or stuffed, you’ll struggle to sleep.
Keep off the caffeine: Coffee, tea, chocolate and coke are stuffed with stimulants. Try a warm milky drink instead.
Limit your liquid: Drink less in the few hours before bed, so you’re not always nipping to the loo. Alcohol may help you relax and get to sleep to begin with, but it could well keep you awake later.
Check your medication: Some can make you sleepy, others can keep you awake so check with your doctor if you're unsure. After all, a good sleep is vital to your health and well-being.
The viscous hormone cycle: As we age, our hormone levels change. This can affect how we sleep – which in turn can affect our hormone levels! If in doubt, check with your GP and get some advice.
Cut out cat naps: having 40 winks in the afternoon can make it harder to sleep at night. So, if you need to cat nap, cap it at half an hour.
Train your biological clock: try to stick to the same bedtime and wake up time.
The world’s getting faster. From when we first wake, we’re on the go, non-stop: checking mobile messages or letting the dog out. We’re bombarded with information on the radio, TV, emails, online and in adverts. With so much full throttle stimulation it can be hard to drift off to the land of nod.
Create a haven of relaxation. A tranquil place where you can utterly relax and unwind. A place where you can shut the door and escape the strains and stresses of the day.
Lavender: The scent of lavender promotes sleep. Try lavender potpourri or sprinkle lavender oil on your pillow and start dreaming of flowers. Avoid lavender oils in children’s rooms or if you’re pregnant.
Keep your room dark. Switch off your mobile and any LED display – even your clock. Think about it, even when you sunbathe you can see some reddish light through your eyelids. Use eye pads or blackout curtains, especially in the summer as sunrise can start as early as 3:30am. Get in the mood for sleep: use dimmer switches or low wattage bulbs to lower lights in the evening.
A comfortable temperature: Keep your room cool, but not cold – and definitely not hot. 16-18°C is perfect.
Electric blanket: My wife loves being as snug-as-a-bug-in-rug with a duvet, bedspread and electric blanket. I, on the other hand, am the complete opposite and need almost no warmth, I often sleep outside the covers, except in winter. Thankfully our electric blanket has dual controls: my half’s not plugged in!
Reading to fall asleep: It’s a wonderful way to shut everything down apart from your eyelids. Sometimes I’ve read only half a page when my little peepers start closing.
Watching TV in bed. Some experts think TV keeps you awake. But it helps me get to sleep. Try using the sleep timer on your TV so it switches off after a set time. Wear wireless headphones so you don’t disturb your partner.
Eye pads and earplugs: If they help you sleep better, they’re a good thing. Squashy foam or waxy earplugs won’t cut out all noise, but can take the edge off enough to make a difference.
If your bed isn't giving you the right level of comfort and support, it could be a major reason that you're not sleeping well. Keep an eye out for part 2, where we’ll look at how to buy a better bed to improve your sleep.