Footstep 9

Good habits for sleep

If you are struggling with sleep, you are not alone. It is very common for people to have difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Research shows there are a number of good habits to get into to aid sleep...

Tips for developing good sleep habits

1. Get out into the daylight

You may be so busy, that getting out into the daylight is low on your priority list. However, daylight is vital for sleep. It aids cortisol production, which in turn increases the brain’s serotonin production. Cortisol gives us energy; serotonin helps us feel better about ourselves. Serotonin converts into melatonin after 12 hours or so and it is melatonin that makes us sleepy.

2. Have an evening routine

We need to let go of daytime activity and embrace pre-sleep routines that help calm body and mind. Think about whether your evenings are very varied or whether you have a routine. Do you think the way you spend your evenings influences your sleep?

3. Consider what time you eat

It takes 4-6 hours for your stomach to digest a meal. Heavy meals take longer to digest than light ones. Some people choose to have their main meal early in the evening and a small snack just before going to bed – make sure it is not a chocolate biscuit though as chocolate contains caffeine!

If you are awake in the night, avoid snacking as this could train your body to wake up because it expects food. You could have a soothing drink instead – try herbal teas such as chamomile or peppermint, or warm milk.

4. Consider what you drink in the evening

The more you drink in the evening the likelier you are to need to get up to the toilet during the night. If this bothers you consider gradually moving more fluids into the daytime and having less in the evening. Be aware that alcohol and drinks with caffeine disturb sleep.

5. Leave your worries in the daytime

You might think this is easier said than done, but if we are worrying at night we cannot sleep and most often times we cannot do not much about our worries during the night-time. You could try a "brain dump" - see the green section below...

Brain dumps and brain spills

One way of removing worries from the night-time is to use a brain dump or brain spill diary. The idea is that early evening you spend a minute or two writing down everything that comes into your mind. Then look at the thoughts you have recorded and decide what to do with them. For example, you might have thought:

“What a lovely colour that bird was.” This is a random thought and can just be set aside.

“I need five minutes to book a hair appointment.” This thought needs action. Perhaps you could go and put it on a “To Do” list for the following day.

“How are we going to pay the rent?” This sounds like a worry. You could decide to diary it to ask the person you care for or another relative or friend to spend time with you working out some solutions, such as who you could contact for help, how to manage your budget or other ideas you and they might have.

More good sleep habits

6. Reduce light and noise levels as the evening wears on

Low intensity lighting aids melatonin production and reducing noise helps reduce brain stimulation and promote calmness. The advice is that TVs, phones, laptops and kindles should be turned off an hour before bedtime as they emit blue light, which prompts alertness. You can get blue light filters to reduce the light component, but you will still be exposed to the noise.

7. Keep your bedroom tidy, dark and cool

Low intensity lighting aids melatonin production and reducing noise helps reduce brain stimulation and promote calmness. The advice is that TVs, phones, laptops and kindles should be turned off an hour before bedtime as they emit blue light, which prompts alertness. You can get blue light filters to reduce the light component, but you will still be exposed to the noise.

8. Consider relaxation strategies you can use if you are awake in the night

You may need to get up in the night to help the person you care for. Sometimes it can be difficult to fall back to sleep. Some people use relaxation techniques, other people find it helps to get out of bed after 15–20 minutes and do something calming in a different room. It can also help to simply lie in bed and accept that ‘sleep will come when it’s ready.’

9. Waking up at the same time each morning

As someone who cares for a family member or friend you may well be practising this good sleep habit. While we might all crave a lie in, actually they can be very disruptive for subsequent sleep. Day time napping will also disrupt sleep as each of us has a 24 hour sleep need, so if we doze off while watching the news the time we spend asleep at night will be reduced by this amount.

Resources

NHS – every mind matters – trouble sleeping?

If you're having sleep problems, there are simple steps you can take to ease those restless nights. Find out how to get to sleep and how to sleep better.

The NHS site also has expert advice and tips to help look after your mental health and wellbeing if you are worried or anxious about coronavirus (COVID-19).

Pzizz

The free Pzizz app helps you quickly calm your mind, fall asleep fast, stay asleep, and wake up refreshed.

It uses "dreamscapes" – a mix of music, voiceovers and sound effects designed using the latest clinical research – to help you sleep better at night or take power naps during the day.

Headspace - sleep

You sleep every night, so you should be pretty good at it by now, right? Unfortunately, many of us don't get the quality sleep we need. Learn how to create the conditions for a more restful night’s sleep.

The Sleep Charity

A national, award-winning charity empowering the nation to sleep better.

One of the leading, independent expert voices on sleep issues in the UK and helping everyone get a better night’s sleep. Whether it’s advice, education or support for children, teenagers, adults, workplaces or professionals, The Sleep Chairty are on hand with expert knowledge, resources and accredited training.

Good habits for sleep: key ideas

  • It is very common for people to have difficulties getting to sleep or staying asleep
  • Research shows there are a number of good habits to get into, that can aid sleep
  • Try techniques like 'brain dumps and brain spills' to remove worries from the night-time