Master the Perfect Night's Sleep
How to get the perfect night’s sleep? A question we get asked too many times, and one we’re still trying to find the answer too ourselves. Luckily for us, Dr Katie Armstrong, a GP from Cinic51 in West Sussex, let us in on her top tips for a good night sleep. Over to Dr Katie to let us in on her top-sleep-secrets….
We all know that sleep is important and there is nothing more frustrating than feeling super tired but not being able to get to sleep, waking up throughout the night or waking too early in the morning.
The first thing I suggest is to make sure that there isn’t an underlying health reason that you’re not sleeping. Are you in pain? Are you needing to get up frequently to go to the loo? Are you suffering from anxiety or depression? If this sounds like you, treating the cause of your sleep problem is important and the best place to start is going to see your GP.
All of us will experience difficulties in sleeping from time to time but if it’s becoming a regular event these simple tips may help:
Keep bedtime consistent
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. It’s a super simple step to start off with. This may feel very hard to do, particularly when you’re tired and want a lie in at the weekend (who doesn’t?) but setting your bodies internal clock is crucial for a consistent good night’s sleep. Avoid napping during the day but if you can’t, limit it to a maximum of 30 minutes and no later than 3 pm.
Your bedroom environment
I love my bedroom, and it’s vital to think about the physical environment of your room. Make sure your bed is comfortable and use natural bed linens (oh, hello Secret Linen Store). Avoid synthetic night clothes, make sure your room is not too hot or too cold, too light or too noisy and keep your phone out of the bedroom. No scrolling through Instagram, please.
Keep your bed for what it’s made for
Your bed is made for two things; sleep and sex. Your mind creates associations, so if possible don’t use your bed for working, watching tv, or surfing the internet. Blue light from screens affects sleep so avoid this for at least an hour before bedtime as hard as it might be.
Enjoy the sunshine! Get as much natural light as you can during the day and keep your bedroom dark at night as sleep cycles are affected by exposure to light. It’s so simple, but so true.
We all know it’s important to exercise, no matter how comfy the sofa is, but try not to exercise too late. There is good evidence that regular exercise, particularly done outside, can help with insomnia but avoid the endorphin rush of a workout before bed.
Say no to a cuppa
Avoid caffeine from mid-afternoon, but if you don’t sleep well you don’t have to deprive yourself of a morning coffee! Alcohol is also the enemy of a restful night’s sleep. You don’t need to give up but aim to have at least 4 alcohol free nights a week.
Bring paper to pen
Write a list. If you find your mind is racing, writing down your worries really helps. The ideal time to do this is during the day, but it is also effective during the night, noting which worries are actual and which are perceived (i.e. things that are happening vs things that might happen) is particularly helpful. Relaxation techniques such as mindfulness are also very beneficial.
If you can, avoid prescribed sleeping tablets. They are only effective in the short term, then the body develops a tolerance but also a dependence on them, increasing the body’s threshold to sleep naturally. You can buy over-the-counter sleeping tablets which are normally herbal remedies or sedating antihistamines. These can be helpful to break a sleepless cycle, however my suggested, evidence-based treatment, for persistent insomnia is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). There are some very useful online courses try The Insomnia Clinic or Sleepio.
Is age a factor?
If you are a woman over 35 poor sleep maybe connected to your hormones. Progesterone is the sleep hormone and as you grow older the lack of progesterone can affect your ability to sleep well, particularly in the second half of your cycle, as can the temperature control problems and night sweats that occur with fluctuating oestrogen levels. Getting good advice is vital, and something that we can help with at Clinic 51.
Improve your wellbeing
Lastly and most importantly, remember that sleep is not a cure-all. If you are a bad sleeper the most important thing you can do is stop worrying about your sleep and concentrate instead on what you can do in your waking hours to reduce stress and improve your happiness and wellbeing. Treat yourself as you would treat your best friend and it’s likely that a good night’s sleep will follow.
MBBS MRCGP DCH DFFP