Sleep, in its essence, is the body’s most natural form of self-care. Our bodies and brains do amazing things when we sleep!
A good night’s sleep can help you to feel refreshed, alert and alive with energy. W. Chris Winter said, “If you want to function well you need to sleep well”. I believe that good sleep is essential for good mental health and wellbeing.
Practising selfcare and encouraging a healthy approach to getting a good night’s sleep is achievable for all. In fact, a few small changes can make a big difference.
Our brains do amazing things while we sleep
To better understand why sleep is essential for good health and mental wellbeing, let’s look at the science behind sleep. While we are asleep amazing things are happening in our brain.
Restore and reset
The glymphatic system is 60% more active when we sleep than when we are awake.
It removes the toxic waste that builds up in our brain during our waking hours. This, in turn, allows your brain to work well when you wake up.
Consolidated, process & store
Research has also shown that during sleep our brain consolidates learning and experiences from our day, processing them and storing them for future use.
Essentially, a good night’s sleep helps learning, memory, problem solving skills, creativity, focus and concentration to name but a few!
Repair and restore
When we sleep, our body repairs cells, restores energy, and releases hormones and proteins. In our brain, nerve cells communicate and reorganize, supporting healthy brain function.
And all this happens while we’re asleep. Isn’t it remarkable?
Moving towards a more restful sleep
There are plenty of small changes that we can all make to encourage a good night’s sleep.
A mindful approach requires us to look at the whole picture; our whole lifestyle, to establish what changes to make.
We are each very different, and we should adapt and tailor our approach to suit our needs.
By encouraging healthy habits, improving our environment and setting up routines, we can begin to pave the way to good quality sleep.
Introducing healthy habits into all areas of our life can have an impact on our quality of sleep.
Food and drink
Changes to food and drink in everyday life and not just the hour or two before you go to bed, can have a great effect on our ability to sleep.
Alcohol, caffeine and tobacco before bedtime all have the potential to disturb sleep.
Could you enjoy a cup of something warm that doesn’t contain caffeine?
Sleep experts recommend increasing your exposure to bright light during the day to help regulate your natural body clock, helping you to know when to stay awake and when it’s time for sleep.
Alongside this, regular exercise has also been linked to improved sleep patterns. Although daily exercise can aid sleep it’s important to remember not to exercise too close to your bedtime as this can stimulate hormones and adrenaline in some people.
Reducing screen time
How many of us have sent a late night email or checked what your friends are up to on social media just before bed? There is significant evidence to suggest screen time, particularly phone and computer screens, supresses the production or melatonin and therefore disturbs our ability to move into sleep.
Could you try switching off screens an hour or two before your bedtime?
Could you remove the temptation, and just leave your phone, computer or television out of your bedroom?
Or if you need to use your phone, why not try the ‘blue shade’ option?
Would a bath or shower help you unwind before turning in for the night instead?
Creating a space for sleeping
In our recent blog we spoke about Hygge and the effect that your surroundings can have on your mental wellbeing. Never is this truer than in relation to sleep. The environment in which you sleep can have a big impact on your quality of sleep.
In the true spirit of Hygge, before we sleep, low background lighting can help us to feel relaxed.
Research suggests we sleep much better if we are in complete darkness. Melatonin makes you sleepy but only if your eyes aren’t seeing light. Even little chinks of light can disturb our sleep
Is your bedroom dark enough? Do you need to invest in blackout blinds?
Would blocking light coming into your bedroom under the door help?
It’s recommended that, wherever possible, your bedroom should only be for sleep and sex. This may be particularly challenging at the moment especially if you are working from home as you may be using your bedroom as a temporary office.
Could simply using a room divider or screen could help you separate work from sleep?
As with all of our senses, our sense of touch impacts how relaxed we feel in an environment. So, it goes without saying that a comfortable mattress, supportive pillows, and soft, clean bedding can all impact your sleep.
If you take a look around your sleeping area, is it inviting?
Do the colours, textures and patterns around you, help you to feel relaxed?
Are there any changes or additions that you could make to make it feel more comfortable and relaxing?
Simple changes like changing the temperature in a room, tidying your space or buying a different tog of duvet can help some people. Some people need light weight covers others benefit from more weighty covers to feel secure enough to sleep.
Our sense of smell can also promote relaxation before we sleep. When you smell something that brings back a lovely memory, your body releases chemicals that make you feel good and can aid relaxation.
Do you have a favourite smell that can be introduced to your bedroom?
Could you add a few drops of your favourite perfume to a handkerchief and tuck it under your pillow?
Or maybe you could buy a pillow mist or spray. There’s a huge selection to try, each containing different essential oils that promote relaxation and ease stress.
What would appeal to you?
As with any change our body and brain need time to adapt to the change. Bedtime routines are not just for children. A bedtime routine helps prepare our body and brain for sleep.
One of the most important elements of a bedtime routine is to establish a bedtime and wake time and stick to it - it helps us get into a rhythm. The more we stick to that rhythm, the easier it is for our body and brain to learn to dance to that rhythm. Whilst this might not seem appealing, in terms of good health - a long lie does not balance out lots of late nights.
I understand that, especially at the moment, simply having a set bedtime, might not be enough. So, to encourage relaxation here are some suggestions to build into your bedtime routine.
- Read a chapter or two of a book that is not too stimulating.
- Write a journal reflecting on your day – or write a gratitude journal – or write down everything on your mind in order that your mind can rest.
- Take a bath or shower before bed - it can help you unwind – don’t get too hot though.
- Spend an hour before bed enjoying a quiet, relaxing hobby.
- Listen to some quiet music.
- Use a sleep app.
- Listen to white noise or pink noise.
Please remember, we are all so different, so try to be mindful and discover what works for you.
A final note…
Be kind to yourself.
Remember it will take time to change your sleep patterns – please try not to expect miracles overnight.
It takes time to settle into any new routine, so if something that you try doesn’t work the first time, give it time. With changes to your sleep routine, it can take about 21 days for changes to have an effect.
If, after a month or so of trying some of these suggestions, you still struggle to achieve quality sleep then please consider speaking to your GP for further advice.
Overall, please try to be patient with yourself and give yourself time.