We often publish features about how to help your baby get to sleep but your own sleep is just as important. Whether you’re struggling to sleep due to being uncomfortable during pregnancy, or if you’re a new Mummy who finds it hard to drop off while worrying about your baby, it’s all a bit of a mine field.
Well fret no more. Here’s a handy guide to how to sleep better and longer, with lots of great advice from Naturalmat‘s sleep expert, Christabel Majendie.
Exercise during the day
Excess energy can cause restlessness at night. So daily exercise will help you use up excess energy. Also, exercise promotes the release of biochemicals such as endorphins, endocannabinoids and neurotransmitters, all of which can help reduce stress and anxiety.
Other benefits of regular exercise include more confidence, a distraction from worries and an improvement in overall health.
Expose yourself to sunlight
Make sure you get enough sunlight during the day. This promotes higher levels of melatonin, which is essential for maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm. Sunlight can also help you get more Vitamin D and some studies suggest that Vitamin D has a positive influence on sleep. Make sure that you protect your skin from UVA and UVB damage with a good sunscreen.
Don’t take long naps during the day.
There are differing opinions about daytime napping. However, the general advice is to avoid it altogether because it can disrupt your circadian rhythm. However, if you do nap during the day, make it no longer than 20 minutes. This may all go out of the window if you have a new baby however, and you are encouraged to try to nap when your baby sleeps. Once your baby is into a good sleep routine, try to stick to this advice again.
Stay out of the bedroom
Get out of bed and then stay out of the bedroom. The idea is to associate your bedroom with sleep (and sex of course!) only. So if you work from home, don’t have your office or work space in the bedroom. Keep wifi and Bluetooth devices out of the bedrom too.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
The right foods contain compounds that promote sleep. So good nutrition is an essential part of sleep hygiene.
Tip: Eat protein foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes melatonin. Pumpkin seeds, chicken, cheese, nuts, lentils, oats and beans are considered high tryptophan foods.
Have an afternoon cut-off point for caffeine
As you probably know, caffeine is a stimulant. If you’re a regular coffee-head, be disciplined and stop drinking tea and coffee early on in the day. Better still, give it up. But do so gradually, as caffeine can be addictive and can produce withdrawal symptoms. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, caffeine will make your baby restless, so you know it makes sense to cut it out.Also, you should avoid nicotine and alcohol altogether.
Avoid deep or emotionally upsetting discussions
This can fill your mind with all kinds of thoughts that will keep you awake. Be disciplined. If a loved one is being insistent, politely remind them that this isn’t the best time.
Don’t eat big meals
Avoid eating large meals at least three hours before going to bed. The body needs to expend energy restoring and repairing, not digesting food. But by the same token, do not go to bed really hungry, as this can keep you awake. If you are hungry, have a light snack. Often one with some protein can help you sleep.
Don’t watch TV or play computer games while in bed.
Avoid anything else that’s stimulating too, such as mobile phones. The blue light from these devices inhibits the development of melatonin and makes it harder for you to fall asleep.
Establish healthy bedtime rituals
This should become a regular habit and ideally, the rituals should promote relaxation. Avoid doing anything to stimulating, as this can have the opposite effect. Examples of bedtime rituals include:
- A warm bath at set times
- Practice mindfulness techniques, such as meditation
- Light reading
- Gentle Yoga and Pilates
Many modern-day bedrooms are actually unsuitable for good-quality sleep. Research shows that improving your sleep environment can vastly improve our chances of getting a good night’s rest.
Quite, dark and cool
Darkness helps your body get the most out of sleep. Getting rid of noises and keeping the temperature cool will make you more comfortable. If you live in a noisy, light-polluted area try:
- Thicker curtains
- An eye mask
- Keep a window open in a summer
Go to bed naked
Evidence suggests that going to bed naked improves your quality of sleep. It helps your body regulate its temperature, meaning your sleep will not be disturbed by being too hot.
Do not take your problems to bed
This is about creating a good “inner environment”. When you go to bed, leave your problems at the door. Whatever inner conflicts you have, make a truce and establish peacetime. This will help you sleep better. You can always pick up the ‘mental fight’ the next day.
Spend 10-15 mins each day writing down your worries and how you are going to deal with them. If worrisome thoughts enter your mind just as you are going to bed, you can remind yourself that you are dealing with the issues.
Good quality bedding is essential for a good night’s sleep. Being comfortable helps you relax. This in turn helps you nod off. There are different factors to look out for when choosing the right bedding. Here are the most important:
- Breathable: A well – ventilated mattress keeps you more comfortable by allowing body heat to escape.
- Hypo – Allergenic: Allergies can keep you awake at night. If you are allergic to common fibres, it’s important you choose bedding with anti-allergy protection.
- Anti-dust mites: Products that prevent dust mites from colonising your bed are available on the market. They are worth considering, since the little critters can irritate your skin and disrupt your sleep.
Trying to sleep
Most of us have been there at some point: We’re in bed and yet we cannot switch off. This can be especially frustrating when we have important events the next day.
Do not clock watch
Naturally, as you lie there trying to sleep, you will worry about time. However, don’t do it. Watching the clock will just cause more anxiety and make it harder for you to drift off.
Do not try and force yourself to sleep
It will have the reverse effect. Instead, conjure up pleasant scenes in your mind’s eye and forget about falling asleep.
Worrying only makes it worse
Just resign yourself to the idea that it’s already late and there is nothing you can do about it. You will be surprised how this will lift the load and help you relax.
With thanks to Christabel Majendie of natural sleeping company, Naturalmat. If you would like to find out more about products that can help with your quality of sleep, visit their website.