1 in 3 people suffers from poor sleep often related to work stress or unable to wind down in today’s hasty society [R]. Studies have shown that lack of regular sleep can have detrimental effects on both physical and mental health [R]. Sleep disorders are increasingly common, so it’s important you try to improve your sleep without resorting to sleeping medication.
Although sleeping tablets can be effective to treat insomnia, they should not be relied on as a long term solution to your sleep problems.
Here are eight tips you can implement in order to help in falling asleep at night.
Start winding down
When you’re winding down for the evening, allow your body to shift into rest mode. Avoid any activities that require a lot of concentration or brain stimulation. Enjoy activities that don’t require too much thinking like light reading. Have a hot bath to optimise your body temperature needed for sleep and this will also relax those aching muscles.
Create a nighttime environment
Your body responds to external cues. Reduce the noise level, set a cosy temperature and dim the lights. Low light is a direct trigger of melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. During the day, large amounts of light suppress melatonin and keep you awake. At night, darkness boosts melatonin levels and helps you sleep.
This is also why you should avoid checking your phone close to bedtime. The light from your phone interferes with your sleep hormones. You should also avoid bright light. Use the night setting on your phone to dim the screen in the hours before bedtime.
Optimise your bedroom to be sleep friendly
Make sure your bed is comfortable for good quality sleep. A good mattress has been shown to alleviate pain and stiffness and it is recommended you should change your mattress every 5-8 years [R].
Keep your bed strictly for sleeping (and sex). Your brain creates an association of relaxing, so when you intend to go up to the bed, your body automatically prepares itself for sleep.
Do not consume alcohol or caffeine before bed. Anything that increases the heart rate should be avoided. This therefore also applies to high-intensity exercise.
Have regular sleep patterns
Aim to sleep and wake at the same time each night. This allows your body to get used to your particular cycle and will adjust your sleep hormones accordingly. It is recommended that an adult should have around 7 hours of sleep each night.
If you struggle to track your sleep- utilise a sleep diary.
Eat sleep-inducing foods
Have you ever felt drowsy after eating a heavy meal? There are a couple of reasons why. Firstly, a heavy meal requires a lot of physical energy for digestion, so naturally, you feel tired after.
Secondly, heavy meals indirectly trigger Melatonin (the sleep hormone). How? In the body, Melatonin is synthesised by serotonin. Serotonin is another hormone (also known as the ‘happy hormone’) responsible for mood. It isn’t naturally occurring in foods, but its precursor, tryptophan is.
Tryptophan is often found in dairy and poultry. When we think of cheese, quite often we think of enjoyment and satisfaction due to its link with our mood hormone. On its own, however, it doesn’t make you drowsy, but a combination of tryptophan with a high carb meal will hit the spot. So if you nap after a Sunday roast with spuds, this is why! [R].
You can apply this concept at night time too. How about a grilled cheese sandwich when you’re winding down? You can trial different food combinations to see which works best to trigger your sleep hormones.
Unload your tensions
Worrying and overthinking increases your brain waves and keeps you up. Use relaxation and breathing techniques to calm you down. Adopt journaling as a method to expel thoughts and emotions from your mind. You will feel unloaded and more prepared for sleep.
Use sleep aids or supplements
Sleep enhancing supplements should be discussed with your pharmacist or prescriber before use because they can sometimes interfere with ongoing treatments. Over the counter remedies usually contain a sedating antihistamine- diphenhydramine. It is packaged as Nytol in a 25mg strength and a 50mg strength. These are for short term use only.
There are also non-medicinal options such as Sominex herbal. There is limited evidence to suggest herbs actually work. However, there are some ‘sworn-by’ home remedies that have been passed down through generations such as chamomile tea.
Hopefully, the above suggestions will help you get a good night of sleep! If you continue to struggle, see your doctor for further advice.
NHS. (2019). Sleep and Tiredness – How to get sleep. Available: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/how-to-get-to-sleep/
Healthline. (2019).17 tips to sleep better. Available: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-tips-to-sleep-better
Sleep Council. (2019). 7 steps to a better nights sleep. Available: https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/seven-steps-to-a-better-nights-sleep/