Many of us have experienced the frustrations that come with insomnia. Lying awake in bed at 3am, unable to sleep, knowing that your energy levels and mood will suffer in the morning ahead as a result. While some may take pride in their lack of sleep, the recommended nightly average of sleep that we should be aiming to get is between 7 and 9 hours.
With 6 or less hours of sleep on a regular basis, we can expect to experience accelerated aging, a loss in muscle strength, a decline in sexual performance, as well as an increased likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. Although there can be many causes of insomnia, in the aftermath of a digital revolution where many find it impossible to ‘switch off’, we are dealing with levels of distractions which would have been unimaginable just decades ago. The good news is that insomnia is treatable, and we have prepared some habits and tips that you can work into your evening for better sleep.
- Having a consistent wind-down routine
A night time routine is essential for maintaining a healthy biorhythmic clock. Apart from going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, it can be helpful to develop comforting nightly rituals to ease yourself into an effortless slumber. Make this enjoyable by incorporating some everyday self-care practices into your routine, such as taking a warm bath or listening to relaxing music. Such activities have been shown to lower blood pressure and relieve anxiety through the release of endorphins which trigger positive sensations in the body.
When the body is more relaxed, we are less likely to experience restlessness and can enjoy a calmer night’s sleep. Our Hush weighted blanket is beneficial for anxiety and stress, and has also been shown to decrease body movement while sleeping, leaving users more refreshed in the morning.
When it comes to the act of sleeping itself, it’s important to know the best time for your body to fall asleep. The science behind this is interesting. It takes the average person approximately 14 minutes to fall asleep, and once this happens, our bodies go through five stages of sleep. These stages range from light sleep (stage 1) to deep sleep (stage 4), and onto Rapid Eye Movement (REM) or ‘dream sleep’, with each cycle taking approximately 90 minutes.
The goal is to wake up at the end of a sleep cycle, as being abruptly woken by an alarm midway through a cycle can leave you feeling tired, groggy, and disoriented. To avoid this, it’s possible to work backwards from the wake-up time of your alarm to calculate exactly when you should be falling asleep. For example, if you need to wake up at 7am, you should be going to bed at 9:46pm, 11:16pm, 12:46am, or 2:16am. There are a number of useful websites and apps, such as Hillarys, which can make the calculation process easier. Incorporating a wind-down routine into your day and maximising the positive effects of sleep through an understanding of sleep cycles can work wonders for combating insomnia and fatigue.
- Having a healthy diet and exercise regime
Diet, exercise, and sleep are widely considered to be the three pillars to good overall health. However, the pillars themselves are interconnected, causing the likelihood of insomnia onset to be highly influenced by diet and exercise, and vice versa. Caffeine has been found to be one of the main culprits behind acute insomnia. As a stimulant, it can make us feel temporarily more alert by increasing the production of adrenaline while blocking out sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. The stimulant suppresses melatonin, disrupting normal sleep cycles. To fight off insomnia, it is best to avoid coffee from mid-afternoon onwards, perhaps substituting it instead for green tea, a helpful source of sleep-inducing melatonin.
When it comes to solid food, going to bed either too full or too hungry can both prevent and disrupt sleep. After the tossing and turning that often arises from attempting to sleep on an empty stomach, quality of sleep can be further impaired by hunger. Low-level starvation results in the brain being overactive, meaning that the recuperation normally provided by sleep is reduced, as well as a lack of necessary nutrients causing the breakdown of muscle overnight.
As a society, we are increasingly aware of the implications of a poor diet in terms of obesity and type II diabetes, but a poor diet can also be a contributing factor to insomnia and other sleeping disorders. Diets that are high in sugar and heavier, starchier carbohydrates prevent the body entering the deep sleep stage. This can have a drastic impact on health as this is the stage where energy levels are recharged, body tissues are repaired, and extra blood supply reaches the muscles. Instead, we can look towards more complex carbohydrate foods such as grains, cereals and vegetables. These “good” carbs contain the amino acid tryptophan which has been known to boost sleep quality and overall moods. If you’ve ever wondered why your body craves a nap after a large meal, tryptophan is likely the reason. Snacks such as whole grain crackers with peanut butter can provide the right mix of complex carbs, protein and tryptophan to induce a good night’s rest.
While we know that exercise can boost strength and endurance levels, it can also be the key to eliminating chronic insomnia. Research has shown that moderate-intensity activities such as walking can reduce the time taken to fall asleep while also extending the duration of sleep. For those who suffer from insomnia as a result of an out-of-sync body clock, exercise can help in correcting the daily sleep cycle, promoting healthier sleeping habits. If you have trouble sleeping despite getting regular exercise, try changing your workout time to the afternoon or early evening. This may help as the initial increase in body temperature that occurs during exercise is followed by a post-exercise fall in body temperature which will encourage the body to rest.
- Keeping cool
We mentioned that a fall in body temperature following a workout can help promote sleep. Scientists have found that the brain needs to experience a drop in temperature of approximately 2-3°F in order to initiate sleep, which explains why we generally find it easier to fall asleep in a cold room rather than one that is too hot. Cooling the body helps us prepare for non-REM or “deep” sleep. It also prevents overheating, which can cause hyperventilation and a decrease in our body’s oxygen content. Interestingly, rather than recommending that you stick your bed sheets in the freezer, researchers have uncovered some more simple but contradictory ways of reducing our core body temperature. It might sound crazy, but wearing socks and gloves to sleep can charm the blood away from your core and redirect it to the surface,
providing cooling in important areas.
If you’re not a fan of the idea of wearing gloves in bed, try having a hot bath or shower instead. The warm water causes blood vessels to dilate, reducing blood pressure. The blood in our body rushes to the surface and heat evacuates the body, causing our body temperature to plummet. When suffering from insomnia, there are a number of simple and pleasurable body hacks which can effectively cool the body, sending it into slumber. Our Hush weighted anxiety blanket is designed to accommodate the body’s need for cooler temperatures, so during summer months the outer shell can be removed, allowing you to sleep with the cool inner blanket.
Apart from taking steps to reduce body temperature, some people may also find it beneficial to adjust the room temperature for an optimal sleep. In general, the ideal room temperature to fall asleep in is between 60 and 68°F. This allows the body temperature to remain below 98.6°F, perfect for a sleep-friendly environment.
- Embracing the darkness
Our bodies are naturally programmed to fall asleep when daylight turns to darkness. While exposure to light during the day stimulates those feelings of alertness and energy that our body requires, artificial light at night time triggers the same physiological responses, blocking the cues which tell our bodies that it’s time to rest. When we produce less of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, we are more likely to suffer from both insomnia and depression. There are a number of tricks that can be used to make a bedroom darker, including using incandescent and low-wattage bulbs. Blocking out other artificial light sources such as street lamps and the glow from electronics can further reduce disruption to our body clock.
Science has taught us that technology and electronics send alerting signals to the brain which can keep us awake at night. To prevent this, it is best to avoid screens and electronic devices in the final hour before planning to sleep. Many of our devices also now have a ‘Night Mode’ option which changes the color temperature of device screens to a red tint rather than the standard blue light which causes brain stimulation. Turning off the blue light on your phone during hours of darkness will be less jarring on your eyes, while also helping you to fall asleep.
There are some other simple tricks we can do such as turning off half of the lights in our homes at night. Being more aware of the various artificial light sources which may be impeding proper sleep, and taking steps to eliminate these, will result in a rise of melatonin,
inducing the body to sleep.
- Using the bedroom just for sleeping
Many people see their bedroom as a place of comfort or a safehaven to which they can retire after a long day. Because of this, it’s easy to get into a habit of watching endless hours of Netflix, reading, or even worse, eating in your bed. As enjoyable as these all may seem, our bedrooms should only ever be used for two things, and one of them is sleeping.
Scientists have found that by using the bedroom for leisure activities such as browsing social media rather than solely sleeping, we can quickly develop a habit of falling asleep later at night and waking up later in the morning. This creates a significant gap between the earlier time at which we may attempt to sleep on weekdays compared to the later time at weekends, making it more difficult to sleep on weekdays. The solution is simple. By removing anything from your bedroom that is not related to sleep, our brains will create an association between our bedrooms and the act of sleeping. This means leaving all work papers, school books, laptops and devices in another room to eliminate any distractions which may keep you awake at night. Besides, eating in bed is simply bad hygiene.
We know what you’re probably thinking, that this is a lot of information and science to process. However, in reality it’s simple. Incorporating a routine of self-care into your evenings, and securing time away from screens in the presence of a cool, dark bedroom can be the difference between a restless and a restful night’s sleep. When in doubt, give us a shout! We are always happy to chat about all things sleep and health.