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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Sleep better

[Reposted from our Tumblr:]

Do you sometimes find it hard to get as much sleep as you’d like? Most of us do from time to time; but for some of us, not sleeping enough is a major cause of stress and dissatisfaction with life. 
Not sleeping is really bad for you. When you don’t get enough sleep, neurotoxins can build up in your brain; you can be at risk for obesity, diabetes, depression, and heart disease; you may develop false memories; and your performance at skilled tasks can be impaired as much as if you were drunk.
For all the reasons above, it’s recommended that adults should sleep between 7 and 9 hours per night.

This time of year brings special sleep challenges: for exam stress and sleeplessness can go hand-in-hand for some people. These two things are the most common welfare-type problems that residents ask for help with. So we’ve put together some tips to help you sleep better. A future post will look at exam stress and some ways to help you cope with it.
It might not be practical for you to use all of these tips all the time, but if you can incorporate some of them into your routine some of the time, you should see your sleep improve!

Use ear plugs

Whilst ear plugs aren’t 100% effective at blocking out all noise, they can help reduce the likelihood that you’ll be woken up by occasional bumps, bangs, and traffic noise during the night. These ones are very good and quite comfortable:

Avoid caffeine in the evening

Don’t eat or drink anything containing caffeine for at least six hours before bed time. That includes things like coffee, tea, chocolate, and cola as well as energy drinks like Red Bull. If you must have an after-dinner coffee, make it a decaf.

Don’t drink alcohol close to bedtime

A nightcap might initially make you feel drowsy and help you nod off. But alcohol's sleep-inducing properties are only temporary and could actually end up having the opposite effect later on. Too much alcohol results in lighter, more fragmented sleep that'll leave you feeling less-than-refreshed in the morning.

Turn off computers and touchscreen devices at least an hour before bed...

... And it’s better if you can make that 2 or 3 hours.
Computer screens, tablets, and smartphones emit a lot of blue light. Blue light tells your brain it’s daytime and stimulates the production of hormones that prevent you from falling asleep. So if you like to read at night, read from a book or an e-reader that doesn’t have an illuminated screen.

Keep a regular sleep routine

Your internal body clock regulates your sleep-wake cycle. But it only works if you keep your bedtime and wake-up time consistent. If you keep changing the times you sleep, it’s like being permanently jet-lagged (but without the pleasure of actually travelling anywhere nice). 
Keeping a regular sleep routine also includes avoiding daytime naps if possible. It’s best if you can fit all your sleep into one period at night.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Whilst it’s not a new thing (mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years in the Buddhist and other eastern traditions), in the last 30 years science and medicine have proven the efficacy of mindfulness in helping people deal with many difficulties, including sleeplessness, depression, anxiety, and even chronic pain problems.
Here are some tips for using mindfulness to beat insomnia:

Do some exercise - outdoors if you can

If you don’t move around enough during the day, you can’t expect your body to feel tired at night. But there’s another advantage to getting yourself outside. Sunlight is important for regulating your body clock (indoor lighting isn’t bright enough to have the same effect). The best time to get some sunlight exposure is early in the day, and definitely before lunchtime.
It’s best to avoid exercise within about four hours of bedtime. That’s because exercise raises your body temperature, and it’s easier to drift off to sleep if you’re cool.

Don’t watch the clock

If you’re struggling to go to sleep, watching the minutes tick by can just make you get more stressed about not sleeping. So turn your alarm clock facing away your bed.  

If you still can’t sleep, get up

Lying in bed stressing about not sleeping definitely doesn’t help. So if you are not able to fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed. Read a book under a dim light. Then try going back to bed after 20 minutes of reading. But don’t be tempted to do any work or to use your phone / tablet / computer! 

Further reading

We put together some links to more guidance about improving your sleep.
Get better sleep: 5 powerful new tips from research - Barking up the Wrong Tree
How to sleep better (pdf) - Mental Health Foundation -
Seven tips for falling asleep using mindfulness - Mindful Magazine
How to Get Some Rest When Stress Is Keeping You Up at Night - LifeHacker
Why Insomnia Happens and What You Can Do to Get Better Sleep - LifeHacker -
Confessions of a recovering insomniac - Mindful Magazine