Best Night's Sleep Ever - How to improve your sleep and mental health

Best Night's Sleep Ever - How to improve your sleep and mental health

Sleeping woman

It’s now understood that sleep is key to good mental health and, at present, the recommended sleep for an adult between 7 and 8 hours per night. Read the Great British Bedtime Report for more information on this.

So, what enables us to sleep well and what stops us getting a good night’s sleep?

The recommend 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night for an adult can vary depending on many different factors and it’s important to ensure you listen to your body and watch for signs of tiredness.  We are all individual and our lives are not always consistent so it’s prudent to adapt the amount of sleep depending on internal and external changes and developments.

Not getting the right amount of sleep or good quality sleep can have serious effects on our health.  It has been linked with anxiety, depression and poor mental health.  A reduction in sleep can lead to poor concentration, a higher risk of accidents as well as a weakened immune system, weight gain and a risk of medical conditions, such as heart disease.

The general consensus is that having a regular night-time routine is good at establishing good sleep patterns. We have all experienced periods in our life where you fall straight off to sleep and wake up naturally feeling fresh, but when the body is out of balance and needs to be reset this is when chronic tiredness can set in. The goal is to establish a natural body clock so that you feel tired at around the same time each night and wake up feeling fully refreshed and ready to enjoy the day ahead.

Try our advice for a great night’s sleep, to get you ready for an enjoyable day when you wake from your slumber: Before bed have a warm bath with scented candles and add a few drops of aromatherapy oils such as lavender or rose oil to the water, depending on your preference. It’s important that you like and enjoy the smells you use to fragrance your bath water. 

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12 Top Tips to Help You Build Your Bedtime Routine:

  1. Avoid alcohol.
  2. Avoid caffeine a few hours before bed.
  3. Avoid a heavy meal before bed.
  4. Don’t be hungry when you go to bed – good bedtime snacks for sleep are ones that contain tryptophan, such as turkey, peanut butter or a milky drink.Milk and cookies
  5. A little light reading before bed can be relaxing.
  6. Don’t take screens into the bedroom. No televisions, phones or iPads in bed.
  7. Avoid social networking in the hours before bed.
  8. If something is on your mind and you are worrying about it write down the problem. Check to see if there is anything you can do about it, for example you are behind on a work project, write down when you will be able to apply the time to complete it. 
  9. Aim to have a set time for bed each night.
  10. Ensure your bedroom is comfortable, tidy and at a temperature that is comfortable for you. Fresh clean sheets can work wonders for that lovely snuggle-down feeling.
  11. Enjoy the texture and feel of your bedding, whether it's smooth silk or soft cotton, our emotional tactile response is very important.  
  12. Set the alarm for the same time each morning, when possible.

As we previously mentioned, each one of us is different and our lives ebb and flow like the sea tide, ever in motion and we need to be ready to adapt to necessary changes, watching for signs and listening to our bodies.  The body is a remarkable machine and will, in many instances, provide us with the answers we need but we must be ready to listen and pay attention when necessary.  If you have any of the signs below that are not linked to a medical condition, you may need to think about how much sleep you need. Take time to consider if you need to make changes.

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Looking for Signs of Tiredness

  • Irritability.
  • Groggy after a nights sleep.
  • Aching/ joint pain or flu-like symptoms.
  • Headaches.
  • Poor nights sleep with frequent waking.
  • Poor memory or difficulty with concentrating.
  • Physical or mental exhaustion.
  • Slow responses and reflexes.
  • Dizziness and/or nausea.
  • Palpitations.

  You shouldn't need a lie in at the weekends if you have established a healthy sleeping pattern

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Most studies show that exercise is good at ensuring we get a peaceful night’s sleep. If the body is physically tired it will make sure that it receives the adequate amount of sleep it needs.  However, it’s worth noting that an increase in strenuous exercise may mean you need more sleep than normal, this is the time when the body repairs microscopic tears in tissue and repairs any injuries you may have.  So, if you have increased your exercise try to allow a little extra time for sleeping.  You may need to set a slightly earlier time to head to bed.Three people running in silhouette This extra time could be particularly prudent during the colder months, when people are often trying to stick to their new year’s resolutions and increasing exercise levels.

Physical activity has been shown to increase time spent in a deep sleep state (stage 3 or NREM) which is the most restorative sleep state.

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This is a complex area and it's understood that having a balanced diet will affect all areas of your life.  There is no quick fix, fast solution to imbalances in nutrition and problems can have a negative effect on health and well-being so it’s important to look at this with your health care provider if you feel you have difficulties in this area.   

However, for this article, we want to bring you an arsenal of nutrition tips that can be helpful to getting your quality sleep. In each case we will explain why each tip works.

Avoid alcohol: Initially alcohol may help in inducing sleep however, according to the Sleep Foundation it usually results in poor quality of sleep. 

Certain sleep states are restorative, such as REM sleep and alcohol disrupts this type of sleep which can lead to you feeling tired and exhausted when you wake up, as if you haven’t been to bed at all!  So, keeping away from alcohol can be helpful if you are trying to re-balance your sleep patterns.  It’s worth noting that if you have overindulged with one too many you may need to allow the body more time to rest and sleep to metabolise the alcohol. Drinking plenty of water to help flush out the alcohol will also be beneficial.Table with various alcoholic drinks 

Caffeine is a stimulant: It causes alertness and until 2004 was banned by the International Olympic Committee as it was thought to improve athletic performance.  So, suffice to say, it's not a good beverage to have just before bedtime. Instead, try a warm milk drink with honey or a Horlicks, or if you prefer, a hot camomile tea.

Heavy meals before bed:  A very heavy rich meal is also considered to be unhelpful when you want to induce sleep.  As we mentioned before, it’s during sleep that our bodies repair, rebuild and grow tissues - this is a natural process.  When the body is digesting a large meal during sleep, the digestive system is not resting when it should. This could result in heartburn or acid reflux, as our bodies are ideally designed to digest food in the upright position. 

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Other Factors That Affect Sleep

Your age: Age is a factor to consider when determining how much sleep you require.  As we age, the body changes and sleep patterns may alter.  Many seniors report suffering with sleep disorders, including difficulty falling to sleep and tiredness through the day.  According to the Sleep Foundation it’s thought that the elderly spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep.  Things to consider and address are, level of physical activity, medications and daytime naps.

Restless Mind: If you suffer with a restless mind, anxiety or stress, this can be disruptive to your quality of sleep and duration of sleep you are getting.  A reduction in either can have serious effects on your overall health and well-being.  Exercises, such as relaxation yoga, can be helpful tool as can meditation to calm the mind before sleep. Earlier in the evening, write down what you are worrying about along with your action plans - try not to do this too close to bedtime.  The two hours before bed should be your wind-down time where you are hopefully following your night-time relaxation routine.

If you do wake up worrying, try to get up for a short period of time and slowly wind down with something gentle and calming such as a little light reading or have a warm drink.  If you lay worrying for a long time, this can exacerbate the situation.

Amount of sleep: The amount of sleep you need might be different for many individuals and if you have entered into a vicious circle of sleep deprivation this can have a compound effect. The more disrupted your sleep pattern becomes the less sleep you get, developing more problems and potential mood swings with fatigue.  You may have disturbed your circadian rhythms, which is your 24-hour internal clock, so it’s very important to get back to a regular sleeping pattern.  Many things can affect circadian rhythms such as light and dark, jet lag or something that has keep you up very late at night.

Conversely getting too much sleep can also have detrimental effects on health and well-being. In some cases, oversleeping can be a potential symptom of depression and mental health problem.  If you are consistently sleeping for more than 10 hours per night and you do not have a medical condition please see your local health care provider. 

A bottle of pills on a white backgroundMedication: All medications have side effects, so it is important to check the information leaflet that comes with your medication to make sure you are fully aware of all side effects.  You must also check with your GP if you intend to take herbal remedies with your medications, as certain herbal remedies can interact with traditional medicinesSome medicines can make you drowsy and induce sleep, this could also interfere with your normal sleeping pattern. 

Pain or medical conditions: Pain can cause you to wake or interfere with your deep sleep states, and certain medical conditions that range from asthma to thyroid disease can too.  It’s important to make sleep a priority, according to the Sleep Foundation individuals who were very motivated to get enough sleep were associated with longer and better-quality sleep. Pain medication can be helpful but should be used only under the management of your doctor or health care provider.  Meditation techniques such as deep breathing, relaxing white noise, progressive muscle relaxation and following a bed time routine can all be beneficial.

Time of year: Light exposure can advance or delay our internal clock, light exposure effects the brain and can cause our internal clock to be reset. Some geographic locations or certain times of the year can expose us to excessive light or dark, and may result in problems with our sleep pattern.  It maybe necessary to mimic and create an environment that is close to what you consider best for your light and dark requirements with the use of a light box, black out curtains or an eye mask. Daylight saving time (DST) has also been know to cause disruptions to our internal body clock, for most it's just a minor annoyance, however, some studies have shown that it can cause an increase in accidents, heart attacks and workplace injuries. Try to account for DST by heading to bed slightly earlier to help your body get the required number of hours it needs. Sleep is so important that when animals hibernate (to conserve energy through winter) they will use energy stores to re-warm up their body to ensure they can obtain the correct sleep states.

Noise: Excessive noise can be very disruptive to sleep, so try our 5 tips to help reduce noise: 

  1. Dampen down noise using carpets, curtains and soundproofing wallpaper.Thick red curtains, closed to block out any light
  2. Keep windows closed.
  3. Use ear plugs.
  4. Try using white noise such as radio static, an air conditioner or a running fan.
  5. Some people enjoy relaxing nature sounds played on a CD or app.

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More Information

For more fascinating information on sleep and dreaming, listen to the The Infinite Monkey Cage podcast called "Science of Dreaming", where Brian Cox and Robin Ince are joined by comedian Bridget Christie, neuroscientist Professor Penny Lewis and psychologist Richard Wiseman to explore why we dream.

We hope you enjoyed our tips on sleep and please do let us know if you have any other helpful advice for our readers to share, so that we can all enjoy a good night's sleep.

Good night.

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