Sleeping difficulties are a common problem, from struggling to fall asleep to waking in the middle of the night multiple times or for hours on end. This can be a frustrating experience and can create a never-ending cycle as the more frustrated we get, the harder it is to fall asleep! Poor sleep quality is linked to a long list of other problems, such as stress, interpersonal conflict, a reduced quality of life and increased physical health complaints. However, there is an evidence-base of ways to improve problems initiating and maintaining sleep.
Tip #1: Alter your environment
Your bedroom should be conducive to sleep. To achieve this, your bedroom should be a relaxing, clutter-free space. You should not use your bedroom for other activities, such as exercise or studying. If possible, do not have a TV in the room. Good sleep hygiene is maintained by ensuring there is minimal noise and light in the bedroom. Consider using black out blinds or earplugs and adjust the temperature to a comfortable range.
Tip #2: Maintain a bedtime routine
Create a consistent bedtime routine to let your body know when it is time for sleep. This should be initiated 1 hour to 30 minutes prior to going to sleep. Try to maintain this as much as possible at weekends. This routine should range from active to more passive activities. For example, this might order as: light stretches, watching TV, a hot shower or bath, reading, brushing teeth and putting on pajamas. Caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and heavy meals should not be incorporated into this routine. Stop using your phone/laptop/iPad as early as possible in your bedtime routine, to allow your mind to shut down and to avoid artificial lighting.
Tip #3: Stick to a consistent sleeping pattern
Where possible keep to the same bedtime every night. Try to maintain this as closely as possible at weekends. On average, adults need 7 hours sleep per night to function effectively. Monitor the amount of sleep you are getting each night. Sleeping for too long may result in waking frequently during the night, or long before your alarm rings. If this is the case, you may need to alter your sleep schedule to a later bedtime. This will create a “sleep debt” to help you to sleep through the night. If you are getting too little sleep you should consider moving your bedtime earlier. This will be easiest to achieve if you gradually shift your bedtime earlier in 30-minute increments.
Tip #4: Reduce or eliminate naps
As per the above tip, it is important to create a “sleep debt”. You should minimize or cutout naps if possible as these will make it harder to sleep at night and will alter your sleeping pattern. If you absolutely do need a nap, limit this to 20-30 minutes. Set an alarm and be strict with this, making sure you get up straight away afterwards.
Tip #5: Coping with night terrors or frequent night waking
Use grounding techniques. For example think of 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. If you are struggling to get back to sleep, try to distract yourself briefly by reading a page or two of a book. Use mindfulness techniques to focus on your breathing, instead of the frustration of waking up. Focus on the in-breath and the out-breath. If you notice your attention wandering just bring it back to focusing on your breath. Do not watch or read any thrillers close to your bedtime routine. Try to set an alarm if there is a particular time you find yourself waking during the night. This alarm should be set just before your usual wake during the night, to make it easier to fall back asleep quickly. If you are experiencing high levels of stress that is keeping you awake at night, keep a journal next to your bed. You can write in this before bedtime, including your worries and to-do lists for the next day. This is a symbolic way of completing the day and serves as a way to reassure yourself that you will not forget your priorities for the next day.
If you are suffering from continuing sleep difficulties, which are effecting your daily functioning, speak to a professional.