We all do it and don’t we all at times regret those moments we refused to nap as a child!?
Have you ever been frustrated about not being able to fall asleep? Do you regularly struggle with getting a full night of restful sleep? Have you ever stayed up all night trying to get a project done?
As I’m sure you have experiences at one point or another, having a restless sleep, not being able to fall asleep or not getting as much sleep as is recommended (8 hours) can be an incredibly frustrating experience. It can lead to you struggling with everyday tasks and can negatively impact your work, personal and social interactions. Sleep disturbances have also been linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and other mood disorders. By getting a full night’s sleep, we are able to better regulate and control our emotions along with allowing our bodies to function as a whole unit.
Just to give you a bit of an idea as to how restless and decreased sleep can impact your body and well-being, I have outlined a few facts below.
- Studies have shown that by getting 5 hours of sleep regularly instead of 8, it can decrease your life expectancy by 10 years.
- In order for us to make new memories (or remember new information), we need to get ample sleep. If we do not get sleep, the memory circuits get plugged and information from today, cannot be moved into “long-term storage” so we are left with no space to make new memories.
- Lack of sleep makes you more susceptible to developing illnesses and makes it much harder for your body to fight off said illness.
Now! The question is… how exactly do you improve a poor sleeping pattern?
Anxiety BC and the National Sleep Foundation suggests the following to help improve your sleeping habits. The key with developing new habits is to not get frustrated, this process takes time and patience. By starting out slow and picking a couple of things to change about your routine, it becomes less of a shock to the body and allows for adaptation to happen over time. If you overload your body and mind with changes all at once, there is a chance of becoming very overwhelmed which can lead to anxiety and further sleep problems.
Keep reading to find out about some of the things you can adjust to make restful sleep more likely!
- Create an environment that is welcoming and comforting to you. Ensure it condones rest and relaxation while limiting distractions.
- Try to keep your room cool and dark whenever possible
- Avoiding exposure to light such as from street lights, computers, cell phones and TV screens
- If you find you are still getting distracted by external stimuli, you can try using a facemask, ear plugs or “white noise” machines to block out distractions
- Take time to purposely relax before going to sleep. This can involve:
- Deep breathing exercises, meditation and/or mindfulness practices
- Use a Routine
- Stick to a specific time when you go to sleep and wake up
- Make sure it is the same on both weekdays and on the weekends
- Use bed for sleeping
- Don’t spend your relaxation time in the evenings or weekend days reading or hanging out on your bed
- When we use the bed for such things, our bodies get confused and are less likely to be able to easily fall asleep come bed-time
- Take advantage of sunny days
- Exposure to natural light can help to decrease stress and anxiety and improve overall well-being
- This in-turn improves our ability to fall and stay asleep
- Things to avoid before approximately 4 hours before trying to fall asleep. All of the products listed have been shown to heighten different functions of the body, making it less likely to be able to relax and fall asleep
- Caffeine, alcohol, smoking
- Heavy and rich foods
- Avoid sleep medication if possible
- This does not allow for normal sleep patterns to occur and can implicate memory storage and function
Outside of these suggestions, there are a variety of other options out there to help you get a better sleep!
Using a weighted blanket can help decrease anxiety and stress by calming our nervous system. The weight of the blanket triggers a calming relaxation throughout the body and decreases over-activity of the brain, improving our ability to fall asleep.
We all know that out smart phones play huge roles in our daily routine. Although they can be a distraction and keep up awake, they also have the ability to assist us in regulating our sleeping patterns.
A variety of apps can be found and downloaded for free! These apps can offer mindfulness and meditation training to use throughout the day, helping to ease an anxious mind. OR! They can offer a session encompassing muscle relaxation; deep breathing and white noise to ease stressful and anxious thoughts from the day, making falling asleep easier. You can also use apps to track your sleeping patterns, or even use alarms to notify you 30 minutes before bed time. This allows you to turn off any bright screens and start your night-time routine, without feeling rushed.
So! What happens when we share a bed with a partner or a cuddly, furry friend!?
Having a partner in bed with you has been shown to have pros and cons. It can provide us with a sense of comfort and calm, decreasing our stress. Or… they could toss and turn or even snore; keeping you awake and frustrated as ever. If this last point is the case, try earplugs or white noise machines to help block out the noise. Also, have a talk with them about how you want to change your routine and why. It can become something the two of you work towards together!
Although having your pet in the bed has likely become a habit or even a comfort, the reality of having a pet sleeping in your bed has been linked to restless sleeping patterns. Even though you may not be aware, your pet moving around throughout the night causes you to unconsciously (or consciously) have difficulty fulfilling our natural sleep cycles. To fix this, the best option is to have a bed for your pet, beside your bed for them to curl up in. Just like you having to change your habits, this transition will take time for your pet and yourself to adapt to the new arrangements.
Now that we have addressed some of the habits you can work towards changing, we can touch on the bed itself and your position!
Do you often wake up with aches or pains after what you think is a full night of rest?
This can be partially causes by your sleeping position or even the mattress itself! Our spine has natural curvature which needs to be fully supported when we are in the prolonged position involved with sleeping!
Your mattress should be comfortable for you but should also have a supportive element to it. This helps to support your spine when lying down.
In an ideal situation, your spine should stay in a neutral position throughout the night to help minimize pain upon waking (see picture below).
To achieve this, a great option is to sleep on your side!
The pillow under your head should be thick and firm enough that your head stays in line with the rest of your spine. In terms of your hips and back, they should stay in line with one another as well. Using a pillow between the knees and around the body to pad the position along with having one in front to “hug” works well!
If side-sleeping just isn’t for you, try to keep your spine in neutral and use pillows to provide support.
The most important thing is to use a position which is comfortable for you! If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t be able to fall asleep!
With that! I will leave you to ponder how you can help yourself and your sleep!
I hope that you were able to gain some useful tips and tricks to help get you back on track with your sleep!
Anxiety BC – Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
Matthew Walker – Why we sleep? The New Science of Sleep and Dreams – Talks at Google
National Sleep Foundation – Sleep Hygiene
Reader’s Digest – April 2018 Edition: How to get the sleep you need