Lifestyle,  Mental Health,  Tropic,  Wellness

How to get a great night’s sleep

There’s a lot of talk about sleep these days. Don’t you think? I watch all the documentaries trying to inhale the latest tips on how to get a good night’s sleep.

I’m not a bad sleeper. Mostly I sleep well, but from time to time have a really bad night and wake up feeling like a zombie. Anyone else? It’s those days that you realise how important sleep is for our overall wellbeing.

DID YOU KNOW I GREW UP IN A BOY’S BOARDING HOUSE?

When I was a young girl I grew up with my younger sister in a School Boarding House where my Mum & Dad were houseparents. We had an apartment within the house, but it wasn’t self contained so my everyday was living amongst 40 teenage boys and thinking it was normal. One of the many unusual aspects of our childhood was the regular fire alarm testing for the household. My Dad took great pleasure in waking the boys (and his daughters) from our deepest sleep in the dead of night. He felt we should all get the full “surprise” experience. Not only that, but he installed a “war siren” alarm loud enough to wake the dead. But not me, apparently. My Mum’s main job as the confused boys were dashing outside in their PJs was to rush into my bedroom and shake me into consciousness before the “flames” lashed around my duvet. Happy days.

Growing up, deep sleep has always been my friend. And I’m still quite capable of a 4 hour afternoon nap, should the need arise. But these days – bouts of anxiety and depression, changing hormones, wedding cake stress and migraines – all contribute to mixed sleep results.

THE TRUTH ABOUT SLEEP

I recently read an article in The Times who surveyed 1000 readers about their sleep. 41% reported that a good night’s sleep was “occasional or very rare” with 1/3 describing their sleep as “bad or very bad”. 28% noted their sleep had been “pretty bad” for at least 20 years.

Now I’m not an expert in this subject at all. So if you’re struggling with real insomnia issues you’ll definitely need to look elsewhere for help.

But I have read Matthew Walker’s “Why we sleep” and it properly stopped me in my tracks. If you want an expert’s opinion written in layman’s English, this is an excellent place to start.

I learned this. When you close your eyes you should begin to drift off within 20 minutes or so. Passing quickly through the early sleep stages you reach the 2 vital stages of sleep – Firstly, deep sleep or non-REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, then REM sleep when your eyes begin to flicker and you experience your most vivid dreams. After REM you begin to wake up a bit, before going back down into deep sleep. This cycle repeats every 90 minutes or so throughout the night. We need generous quantities of both non REM and REM to get the medical benefits of a good night’s sleep.

Here’s a shocker – adults over 45 who sleep less than 6 hours are 200% more likely to have a heart attack than comparative adults who have 6-8 hours.

Yes it’s true. Read that again.

Bad sleep is linked to increased cancer, poor fertility, obesity and diabetes. It’s also been recently linked to Alzheimers with non-REM sleep performing a vital function in flushing out proteins associated with the onset of Alzheimers.

SO HOW CAN WE HELP OURSELVES SLEEP BETTER?

Well it’s called Sleep Hygiene. We have dental hygiene, personal hygiene, food hygiene – so why not sleep hygiene? Most of us know it as “getting ready for bed”. Except it needs to start a lot earlier than you might think. You could argue, and some do, that we are preparing our bodies for sleep from the moment we wake up. And yes, it’s true that there are daily changes we can make that will improve our sleep – but it’s usually not until late evening that we really start to think about our sleep.

So how can we better frame our evenings to get ready for a restful night? It’s about trying to send regular consistent signals to your brain that sleep is coming and you are ready.

1 Turn the lights down low

As a delicate-headed migraine sufferer, I’ve never been a fan of bright lights. Photosensitivity, in our home, means that the blackout blinds are as far down as I can get away with, especially in the early morning, and bright centre lights have mostly been replaced with gentle lamps, low wattage bulbs and soft candlelight. It turns out all this low light is quite important for good sleep. Our brains need darkness to trigger the rise in melatonin – one of the vital preparations for sleep.

Turn the lamps down in your living room, invest in dimmer switches and light some soft candles.

2 Don’t be blue

Did you know that your TV, laptop, smart phone and tablets all churn out short wavelength blue spectrum light which tells your brain that it’s daytime?

If you insist on using your iphone during the evening (best avoided but sometimes necessary) then try this

  • settings
  • > display and brightness
  • > night shift
  • > schedule say 20:00 – 07:00, or whatever suits your waking time

It will automatically shift the colours of your display to the warmer end of the spectrum to help avoid the blue light that keeps you awake.

You can also interrogate the settings on your TV for a similar function. We have our new Samsung Frame brightness turned right down for this reason.

PS – and it’s a big PS. Best advice (if you have no willpower) is to dump the TV out of your bedroom, if you’re serious about improving your sleep. We haven’t managed to get rid of our bedroom TV yet but it rarely goes on (except for all night general elections) and I keep a vase of flowers in front of it. You’ll have to wait for No 6 to find out our favourite bedtime activity.

3 The truth about coffee

I realise it’s an awkward truth, but here it is.

Caffeine has a half life of 6 hours and a quarter life of 12 hours. So if you glug down an afternoon coffee to keep you awake at your desk, half the caffeine (the stuff you inhale in the morning to kick start your brain) will still be swimming around your head at bedtime. I know, it’s brutal.

I’m afraid it’s similar bad news with alcohol. You might think a little glass of “something” will help you relax into the evening. And it will for a while but we’re told it has a rebound effect and can disrupt sleep making you feel anxious and restless.

So that glass of wine that you’ve been dreaming of all day, the one that’s got you through that awful meeting with the boss, and the deadline that’s been hanging over you all week. That glass. Have it early evening, get it through your system, then leave a good few alcohol-free hours before bedtime.

4 Let’s talk about the bed

Tell the truth now. How many years since you changed your mattress? The consensus of the experts seems to be keep your mattress no more than 10 years with regular turning. My mattress has a memory foam topper so we can only rotate, not turn. But do all the turning you can to keep it in tip top condition.

I have a 13.5 tog duvet all year round which is about as heavy as they come. I find the weighted feeling helps me get off to sleep. Even in high summer. There’s a lot of talk about weighted blankets lately but I’ve not tried one yet. Have you? Might be worth a go if you suffer with a sleep disorder or an anxiety condition.

5 Hot bath, cool bedroom

Here’s the theory. And I got this from the expert – Dr Michael Mosely, no less. Pop yourself into a bath as warm as you can bear with all the scented candles and lavender bubble bath you can get your hands on. Relax for as long as you need. Then jump out, open the window and cool your body down before you reach for the towel. Perhaps with the blinds down to preserve your modesty. Our bodies like a cool environment at night (15-18 celsius) and when it does begin to warm up – it interrupts our sleep. It’s also a good idea to have a window open – just a crack in the winter – to help with carbon dioxide flow.

6 Story Time

I’m including this one because it really works for me. We all read stories to our children at bedtime to fill their minds with dreamy things and send them off to the land of nod. So why not us grown ups too? There’s something very therapeutic and sleep inducing about the spoken word and the easiest way to get it straight to your duvet, is to download Audible. It’s awesome. And not just for bedtime.

7 My best sleep products

There’s a couple of things I want to mention that are tried and tested residents of my bedside table.

So Sleepy Temple and Pillow Collection. Tropic Skincare have blended lavender and rosemary essential oils to create a gorgeous sleep inducing aroma in the form of a Pillow Mist and Temple Balm. If you’re struggling to sleep, you might want to give this a try. It also makes a great gift for that sleep-evader in your family.

Space Masks. If you’re flying Virgin Atlantic anytime soon, you might just be handed a Space Mask to help you sleep. They’re the talk of Instagram, along with their founder Harriet and her irresistible stories. They’re available in all the best London shops and online too. Perfect for insomniacs, frequent flyers and migraine sufferers alike. I always have a box of these self heating jasmine infused masks in my drawer for an impending headache or just a delicious bedtime treat.

BEDTIME THOUGHTS

For me the switch came when I started making “bedtime” something to look forward to, rather than to dread.

When I was in the midst of anxiety and depression, I used to fear the night, the darkness, the swirling anxiety, the long slow slide into the next day. The next awful day. I would watch TV long into the night as a distraction from the panic-ridden “what if” scenarios racing relentlessly around my head

I’ve had to work hard on changing my life, and my sleep. The work I do now – cake making and blogging – makes me happy and fulfilled. The community I am part of, is welcoming and non-judgemental. I have bad days like everyone. Dark days. Days when the fears rise up and take over. Some days I think I won’t bother with a bath and just head straight to bed, but then I remember how needful it is, and I’m glad I made time for the therapy of hot water and bubbles. My bed is now a happy oasis of comfort where I feel safe.

Night Night …

Aside from all the scientific evidence about the importance of sleep hygiene for our health, there’s something quite therapeutic about having a gentle bedtime routine that helps our bodies wind down and our eyelids droop.

So what will you change about your evenings, about your bedtime routines? If you had to pick just a couple of things from my list to try, which would they be? I’d love to hear in the comments? Maybe you have a magic “sleep” trick of your own. Will you share it?

Judith xx

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