Catch more ZZZ’s; 8 tips to improve your sleep

Sleep. It feels good, it has amazing health benefits, it makes us more productive during the day, but many of us aren’t getting enough! To put this into context, 33 – 45% of Australian adults experience inadequate sleep, either duration or frequency, and thus experience the unfortunate daytime consequences that come with it (i.e., fatigue, lack of concentration, depressed mood, irritability etc.) This means that almost half of the population are experiencing poor sleep and are suffering throughout the next day, so if this is you, you are not alone… Would you like to improve your sleep?

I chose to write this blog because currently, sleep (or lack of) is a hot (or not so hot) topic in my life. You know that delightful thing we call “jetlag”? Well, what I thought was jetlag is now veering on three weeks. So, now that I can admit that it may not be “just jetlag” but rather changes to my routine and choices in my sleep schedule that I needed to alter, I thought I would share with you some tips that work for me when I am struggling with this thing called sleep that we often love, and sometimes love to hate.

8 Tips to improve your sleep:

1. Get regular

I know your life schedule might change day to day so this one can be difficult for some of us, but getting regular is very important for improved sleep. Try to ensure that your bedtime and wake up time is the same every day and night. Put simply, a regular bedtime and wake up routine helps your body to regulate its body clock. If your body clock is accustomed to going to bed and waking up at different times, it will become very confused; hence why you will experience delayed onset sleep or frequent waking, or why you might feel exhausted when waking up in the a.m.

2. Start a relaxing bedtime ritual

For a good night’s rest, it is important for your mind and body to be relaxed and ready to sleep. Try to practise a relaxing ritual just before bedtime. If you have the time, it might be going for a long, hot bath, or it could be as simple as jumping into your PJs, reading a book or listening to your favourite wind down music.

3. Avoid naps

This is probably one of the biggest culprits of poor sleep. I’m talking to all of you nappers out there! Don’t get me wrong – I love naps, but unfortunately for us, naps do not provide the best night’s rest. If you can, please avoid naps, particularly in the afternoon.

4. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants

I know that 3pm coffee can be tempting to get you through the day, but this can significantly interfere with your sleep cycle. Studies recommend avoiding caffeine for approximately six hours before bedtime, and for even longer in those who have ongoing problems with sleep or are highly sensitive to the effects of caffeine. Try to substitute that 3pm caffeine hit with something different like herbal tea – my fave is peppermint tea (it has a range of health benefits too!)

5. Ensure your bedroom is a “laxed and snoozy space”

To get a goodnight’s rest, we must ensure that we have limited distractions that will interfere with our sleep. Design your bedroom to establish the conditions you need for a good sleep. Consider, the temperature of your room – is it too hot, too cold or just right? Next, ensure your room is free from noise and light. Is your mattress and pillow/s comfy or might something need to change here? Finally, try your best to ensure that your bedroom is only used for sleeping/ sleep ritual and try to avoid doing tasks such as completing work in your bedroom – your bedroom is a place for snoozing not working! To help you out, consider using blackout curtains, eye masks, ear plugs and any other necessary devices.

6. Exercise

Our bodies are made to move, so if you are working in an office job like me, chances are you don’t move around too much. Exercise can help your body use up greater amounts of energy during the day, rather than making you toss and turn at night time because it hasn’t used up enough energy! This doesn’t mean you need to go to the gym twice a day or even do a massive high intensity workout. Start small if you’re not a passionate exerciser, even if this means going for a quick walk around the block.

When you exercise, your body releases a chemical called endorphins. Endorphins block the transmission of pain signals and elicit a positive feeling in the body. This is one of the reasons why exercise is recommended for individuals experiencing depression. This positive feeling in the body can often be accompanied by a more positive and energizing outlook on life that might also be helpful to take to bed with you.

7. Get out of your head and into your bed

Your unhelpful mind who is clearly sleep deprived will tell you the absolute worst stories when you’re trying to get to sleep. Your mind might sound a lot like my mind… “OMG, it’s 2am – this means you only have four hours to sleep!”, “If you are tired tomorrow, you won’t be able to do your job properly!”, “I had the worst sleep last night, so tonight will just be the same (OR WORSE!)”, “Just stop thinking and go to sleep – I CAN’T STOP THINKING!”. I think you get my point…

Clearly, we know that holding onto these thoughts tightly and following them in circles is not going to help us sleep. When our mind is active and worrying about events of today, potential events of tomorrow, or is stressing because it only has a few hours to sleep, you will likely feel anxious and stressed. When we feel stressed, our cortisol levels increase, and our body receives an energising signal that makes it difficult to relax and start catching zzzs in Snoozeland.

I get it, it’s difficult to wind down and relax when you’ve got a billion things running through your mind. When this occurs, lightly notice what your mind is doing, try not to get too hooked on the end goal of sleep. Instead, try to aim for deep relaxation. Focus on your breathing, listen to music, use a mindfulness app such as Smiling Mind, Headspace or Calm.

When these panicked thoughts arise, remind your mind that it’s okay – you aren’t going to die if you don’t get sleep tonight. It might just mean that you will be a little less productive tomorrow but that is okay.

8. Visit your GP

Sometimes, we can try all the tips and tricks, and no matter what we do, our sleep may not improve. If this is you, please don’t hesitate to make an appointment to see your Doctor to determine if something more specific is interfering with your sleep and to explore alternative treatment options.

If you or someone you know is experiencing sleep difficulties or would like some further ideas to assist with better sleep, please call one of our friendly and experienced psychologists at Attuned Psychology today.

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