The importance of getting a good night’s rest can often be underestimated or overlooked. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, impacts on sleep remain prevalent and worrying. The National Sleep Survey from 2020 showed that 77% of respondents reported a lack of sleep interfering with their ability to function daily (causing daytime fatigue, hindered concentration, low mood).
43% of respondents also have found difficulty falling asleep, and the pandemic’s uncertainty has affected sleep in 75% of respondents.
Many as 70% of children are sleeping and waking later, which may cause a greater struggle to adjust for students when schools reopen after holidays and periods of closure. On top of these stats, screen time has rocketed in both children and adults, with anonymous data of 60,000 UK families showing that app visits have increased over 100% in January 2021 compared to January 2020.
This article will include some top tips to improve your sleep hygiene and get the most out of your days and nights.
Set a time
All animals have built-in body clocks known as circadian rhythms. They rely on routine and structure, so one of the healthiest sleep habits you can develop is to set a consistent sleep and wake time for the week. Most adults need between 6 to 9 hours of sleep each night, so see what works for you and try to build your daily routine around this when possible. If you lose a bit of rest one night, try to start the next day afresh – as sometimes napping to compensate for this can impact your whole schedule. It can be challenging being strict with yourself to achieve this, but once it has formulated, it will be much easier to stick to, and your body will thank you for it.
The health benefits of exercise are endless, and when it comes to sleep, it can help promote tiredness at the end of the day and allow us to unwind from other activities. Engage in enjoyable and stimulating movement for you, whether that is a walk, a cycle or even a dance workout. You can get outside or stay in and use your TV or computer to find an online workout. Remember, vacuuming, car washing, gardening and many other household duties can all count as exercise. Getting bright outdoors light early in the morning is also highly beneficial for our body clock and can help wake the body up for the day.
Avoid technology and digital screens in the final minutes and hours before bed. They emit blue light, which can interfere with our body’s sleep cues. You can purchase glasses or screen protectors that may help with this or utilise the ‘night shift/mode’ features on your devices. It may also be a good idea to keep technology out of your bedroom and leave chargers and other accessories further away, so you are less inclined to reach for them first thing in the morning or last thing at night. Instead, you could try a different activity to wind down, such as:
• Reading a book
• Listening to an audiobook, podcast or the radio
• Practising mindfulness, meditation, or gentle yoga
• Tidying your rooms
• Running a warm bath or shower
• Doing a face mask/skincare routine
• Burning a candle or an oil with a relaxing scent such as lavender or ylang-ylang
• Journalling your day on paper
• Making a to-do list for the following day
• Pre-preparing your breakfast or lunch
• Laying out your clothes and items needed for tomorrow
It can be easy to think that we need to stay warm and cosy for good sleep, but did you know the optimum temperature for humans to sleep at is actually 18 degrees Celsius? You can opt for lighter and looser sleepwear, as well as keeping a window just slightly open for some ventilation. If you find early mornings cold, leave a dressing gown or warm jumper by your bedside so you can reach for it if you need.
The bedroom environment
Noise and sunlight can affect our sleep more than we think. If possible, use your bedroom only for sleep and rest – sometimes working from home, especially if in the bedroom makes it more difficult for us to distinguish work time from relaxation time. Using a screen or a curtain to hide your desk during free time can help you disengage from the work-related visual cues and mental chatter. Try to limit noise in and around the bedroom at bedtime hours and wear earplugs to minimise disturbance. If you do not have blackout curtains or blinds in your room, you could consider switching to these. Eye masks are also a great and cheaper alternative if you share your space with a partner or family that may prefer natural light, and you can even get creative and make one out of old fabric such as a t-shirt. A nightlight may also be a worthwhile investment if you or others prefer to have a little light rather than pitch-black darkness.
Food and drink
Caffeine is a stimulant found in tea, coffee, energy drinks and other foods. It does an excellent job of keeping us alert in the mornings; however, it can also disrupt our sleep at night. Avoid caffeine close to bedtimes, and opt for caffeine-free drinks such as water, milk, juice, or herbal infusions without tea. Decaffeinated drinks often contain small amounts of caffeine, so be aware of this and drink according to your individual needs.
Alcohol may seem conducive to sleep, and it can make you fall asleep quickly, but research shows that it reduces REM or dream sleep, leading to daytime drowsiness. Towards the second half of the night, alcohol also increases wakefulness and thus diminishes sleep quality further. Limiting your alcohol consumption at any time of day, particularly just before bed, can be very beneficial for overall sleep hygiene.
Avoid heavy meals immediately before bed, as they may keep your stomach feeling unsettled and active during the night. If you tend to go to the bathroom through the night, it may help to limit fluid intake immediately before bed.
Visit your local Kamsons Pharmacy for more advice on sleep hygiene and the next steps to take in terms of over-the-counter medicines.
If you have any concerns, please speak to your pharmacist or GP about your symptoms, as lack of sleep can also be induced by your medications, and they will be able to guide you in the right direction towards getting better sleep.