Most of us know what it feels like to have an occasional sleepless night – you go to bed after a long day, keen for a restful sleep – only to find yourself tossing and turning late into the night, and feeling increasingly frustrated as each hour goes by.
Unfortunately many of us have struggled to sleep during the pandemic and recent research by NHS Digital shows that young people in particular are experiencing an epidemic of sleeping problems.
Sleep is an integral component of mental and physical wellbeing – having a restful night allows your body to recover, ensuring that you wake up refreshed and ready to take on a new day. By contrast, poor quality sleep can leave you feeling drained and less able to concentrate, as well as make you more vulnerable to low mood. In a recent report commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, nearly half (48%) of adults and two-thirds of teenagers (66%) agreed that sleeping badly has a negative effect on their mental health.
Whether it’s a noisy environment preventing you from a falling asleep, or a stressful day keeping your mind whirring – take a look at our top tips to help you catch those all important Zzzzs…
Plan and create a consistent sleep routine
Going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day can aid long-term sleep quality, as it helps to programme your brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine. According to the NHS, most adults require 6-9 hours of sleep every night, so start by working out what time you need to get up in the mornings and go from there.
Additionally, it’s important to apply consistency to your waking up time too. Although it may be tempting to stay in bed for longer to make up for a poor night’s sleep, this may influence your sleep routine negatively in the long run.
Watch what you eat and drink before bed
Try to avoid going to bed if you’re feeling hungry, as a grumbling stomach be enough to keep you awake. At the same time, it’s important to avoid heavy or large meals within a couple of hours of heading to bed, as any digestive discomfort could make it difficult to fall asleep. More than this, it’s worth dodging stimulants such as nicotine, caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime, as the stimulating effects can take hours to wear off and disrupt your sleeping routine.
Create a room that is set up for a comfortable night
Our environment can have a huge influence on our ability to sleep. Your room should be a peaceful place that allows you to relax and wind down. Temperature, lighting and noise should be controlled as much as you reasonably can, so that your bedroom environment promotes good quality sleep. You could do this by:
- Tidying your room so the space is clear and non-stimulating
- Trying out different scents that may be relaxing to you in your room, for example spraying lavender on your pillow
- Asking family members or housemates to be quieter after a certain time
- Having noise cancelling earplugs and an eye mask to hand if outside noise/light is difficult to control
- It you have a pet that sleeps in the room with you and often disturbs you in the night, consider moving them elsewhere
Find your own ways to relax and wind down before bed
Wind-down routines can be an effective way to reduce physical and mental stimulation so that you feel more relaxed when the time comes to go to bed. However, we are all different. What some people find calming, others find disruptive. So, have a think about what helps you feel relaxed, and come up with a short routine you can adopt to help promote relaxation and calm before bed. For example, you could read a book or listen to some relaxing music. Remember, a wind down routine is very personal, so don’t hesitate to mix it up or try something new if it isn’t working for you.
Organise your thoughts by writing down worries and stresses
If you tend to bring your worries and stresses to bed with you, try to give yourself the opportunity to resolve your concerns before bedtime. This way, you won’t keep yourself up late worrying about problems that are best left for the morning. You could do this by taking some time to jot down what’s on your mind and any actions or problems you need to consider for the days ahead. Once you’ve done that – you can put the notes away and go to bed knowing you won’t forget anything and can return to your thoughts in the morning with a fresh perspective.
Limit your use of technology
To avoid any unnecessary distractions, it can be helpful to step away from social media and stop using your phone/TV before bed. This will give your mind an opportunity to wind down.
Regular moderate exercising, such as swimming or walking, can promote better quality sleep by helping to relieve some of the tension built up over the day. According to a long-term study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, regular exercise can also offset some of the harm poor quality sleep has on your health. However, it is important to ensure there is a cut-off point so that you are not doing vigorous exercise, such as running, too close to bedtime, as it may keep you awake.
Don’t fret about the time – if you cannot sleep, get up
When you can’t sleep, it can be tempting to constantly check the time, however, doing so will likely make you more stressed, as you calculate how much time you have left before you need to wake up and start another day. There’s no use staying in bed and becoming more frustrated and stressed about not being able to sleep. Instead, try getting up and doing something you find relaxing for a little while. When you start to feel sleepy again, you can go back to bed and see if it makes a difference.
Reserve your bed for sleeping
Your bed should be a place you associate with sleeping. Try not to use it as a home office, or as a place for eating dinner or watching late-night TV. If you can, do other daily tasks such as cooking/working/exercising in other rooms.
Visit your GP
We all know what it feels like to have the occasional sleepless night – however, if you often struggle to sleep and it is starting to impact your daily life and relationships, it is worth a trip to the doctor’s to discuss any potential underlying causes and what treatments may be available to help.
Further mental health support at The College of Animal Welfare
If you’re a student or staff member with us, and you’re struggling with sleep, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your teacher, head of course or line manager – they are there to help and support you. We also offer lots of additional mental health support that you can access free of charge. To find out more visit www.caw.ac.uk/wellbeing
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