A good night’s sleep is as important as eating well and exercising when it comes to our health – it allows our bodies and brains to recover from the effects of the day. ‘Sleep is your life-support system – Mother Nature’s best effort yet at immortality,’ says neuroscientist and author of Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker.
‘Is there any process in your body that isn’t wonderfully enhanced when you get sleep, or demonstrably impaired when you don’t get enough? The answer seems to be no.’ Sleeping pills act as a sedative – they may help you fall asleep, but it is not a natural, restorative sleep, and they don’t address the underlying causes of insomnia. Instead, ask your doctor about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I).
This helps you identify thoughts and behaviours that could be causing your sleep problems, and replaces them with healthy habits to promote good sleep.
Are you waking up to go to the loo?
As we get older, we’re often not able to hold as much in our bladders, so we have to make frequent trips to the toilet.Try limiting your fluid intake two hours before bed, and cut back on alcohol and caffeine, which are bladder stimulants.
If you’re getting up more than three times a night, contact your GP to rule out any health issues.
Nod off in no time with these 5 tips
1. Stick to a routine
‘Our bodies are designed to revolve around regularity,’ says Matthew. Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Even if you have one bad night’s sleep, power through until bedtime, rather than napping in the day.
2. Say no to alcohol
While a few glasses of wine might make you fall asleep, it restricts REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, and can cause you to wake up frequently throughout the night.
3. Reduce screen time
The blue light from your phone or tablet can reduce the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for the sleep-wake cycle. Turn your devices to ‘night mode’, which switches off the blue light. Or put them away at least one hour before bed.
4. Write things down
If you are kept awake because tomorrow’s to-do list is running through your mind, try keeping a pen and notepad by your bed to jot down any thoughts and anxieties before you go to sleep. Writing worries down helps you to get an objective view on them, so you don’t have to ruminate on them all night.
5. If you can’t sleep, get up…
Our brains quickly learn that bed is a place you are awake rather than asleep,’ says Matthew. ‘Go to a different room, read or meditate in dim light until you feel sleepy.’
Try these three breathing exercises
The leading cause of insomnia is stress. When we are stressed, our body produces hormones that make us alert for danger. When we are ‘alert’, we find it difficult to switch off. The good news is, you can use your breath to help you feel relaxed and ready for sleep.
1. Left nostril breathing’
This activates the more calming side of the nervous system. Sit comfortably, and use your right thumb to close off your right nostril. Breathe in through your left nostril and out through your left nostril. Aim for a few minutes each night before you go to bed, or if you wake up in the night.
2. 4-7-8 breathing
A technique that reduces anxiety and helps you drift off in as little as 60 seconds. While lying in bed, inhale through the nose for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7, then slowly exhale through the mouth for a count of 8. Repeat until you fall asleep.
3. Humming bee breath
This calms the mind through sound vibration. In a seated position, close your eyes and cover your ears with your index fingers. Inhale through your nose, then as you exhale, make the sound of the letter ‘m’. The ‘hum’ lasts as long as your exhale. Repeat 10 times.