Sleeping is important to our health and wellbeing, but many of us don’t sleep well. Insomnia, or the inability to sleep or stay asleep for long enough to feel refreshed the next morning, is very common affecting up to a fifth of the UK population at any one time.
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up during the night
- waking up early in the morning
- feeling irritable and tired and finding it difficult to function during the day
There are a range of reasons and they often overlap:
- factors such as light, noise and temperature
- pain, breathlessness or needing to go to the toilet
- doing shift work or having jet lag
- stress (think exams, relationships, finances), bereavement or depression
- using caffeine, alcohol, recreational drugs or prescribed medications
- medical disorders, such as sleep apnea.
How can I help myself?
Remember sleep is a habit. if you are in a bad sleeping pattern it can take between four to six weeks of continuing with your changes before you have a better sleeping pattern. Often students sleep well at home, but not at university. If this is the case, think about what you do differently here.
Developing good sleep hygiene can improve the quality and length of time you sleep. Slowing down your mind and body before you go to bed with relaxation, breathing techniques and imagery are ways to better prepare to sleep and stay asleep. Doing enough physical activity through the day and making sure you get out of the house to expose yourself to sunlight can improve your sleep.
If your someone who can't put your screens away at night, you may benefit from getting f.lux. this software warms up your computer display at night to match your indoor lighting, aiding sleep.
We have a 'Sleep Hygiene' information session available, which will cover this information in more detail. If you are interested in attending this please see our workshops page for details.
Take a look at these five areas (known as READS) you can explore to improve your sleep patterns.
If you get your READS right you should be sleeping well. If you have other symptoms or are concerned that your sleep problem may be due to a medical cause, you should see your doctor.
Most of us need the right conditions to fall asleep such as quietness, darkness, and an ambient temperature.
Try these tips:
- Make sure your room is dark enough. It can help to switch off your bright light when you’re getting ready for bed and only have a softer light on. Bright lights trick the brain into thinking it is still day time and that you need to remain alert.
- Invest in blackout blinds or try an eye mask to ensure your brain thinks it is night.
- Make sure your room is quiet enough (you may need to talk to your flatmates about keeping the noise down). Cut out noise as much as possible. Use earplugs if necessary.
- Only use your bed for sleep and sex. Refrain from using your bed to watch TV, work or use a computer. You make psychological connections with objects so you need to re-educate yourself that when you go to bed it is for relaxing and sleeping.
- If you need to be up in the morning then set you alarm. Put it somewhere away from your bed so you cannot keep checking the time. This will also help you in the morning if you have to physically get out of bed to switch it off.
Just 20 minutes a day of aerobic exercise (a brisk walk, jogging, cycling, swimming etc) can help us feel happier and sleep better.
- Exercise regularly, but do not exercise strenuously late at night – it is best not to exercise in the three hours before bedtime as this stimulates the body.
- If you find it hard to motivate yourself to exercise choose something you enjoy and do it with a friend.
- Go for a short walk in the morning. Early exposure to sunlight is a helpful way to re-adjust your body.
- Regular daily exercise increases the amount of endorphins that are released into your blood and has a positive effect on our mood which can increase confidence and aid sleep.
- Take a look at these sites for more information on exercise:
Establish a routine and stick to it as much as you can. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. We can’t simply switch off. It is important to take some time to relax properly before going to bed.
- Create your own ritual: have a hot bath, make a herbal tea, read a light book, chill out with your music or try listening to a relaxation podcast.
- Don’t go without sleep for a long time. Not only will it mess up your body clock, it will make you feel irritable and grumpy.
- Don’t sleep in until late morning. It is very tempting to have a lie in after a bad night’s sleep but this will disrupt your routine. Try to get up at the same time each day, even when you have had a restless night and feel exhausted. This is a crucial part of getting a better sleep routine that helps you feel rested. A good idea is to arrange an early meeting with someone as it is much more likely you will be motivated to wake up for someone else.
- Daytime naps can be good for you (think siestas) but only if you are sleeping well at night. If you do have a nap you must make sure it is for no longer than one hour.
- If you haven’t fallen asleep within 20 minutes and feel restless, get up and do something relaxing until you do feel sleepy. Remember that you are trying to ensure that your brain associates your bed with sleeping. As soon as you feel tired, go back to bed.
- Set yourself the alarm clock challenge. Synchronize two alarm clocks - one ‘nice’ alarm by your bed and one ‘nasty’ alarm (think loud buzzer/One Direction song) on the other side of the room. Set the ‘nasty’ alarm to go off one minute after the ‘nice’ one. You win the game if you are up and out of bed to switch off the ‘nasty’ alarm before it shatters your peace.
Your diet has a big effect on your sleeping pattern. Here are some things to aid sleep and things to avoid:
- Try having a bedtime snack, about half an hour before bed, something healthy and plain, like a banana or a piece of toast.
- Try a warm milky drink, like Ovaltine or Horlicks as milk contains sleep-inducing tryptophan.
- Replace your evening tea or coffee with herbal tea or water instead. Herbal teas are really good if you feel thirsty.
- Other foods that can aid sleep include bananas, turkey, oats, corn, chicken, tuna, peanut butter, ginger and lettuce.
- Don't over-indulge. Too much food or alcohol, especially late at night, can interrupt your sleep. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially, but it will disrupt you later and make it more likely that you will have shallow, disturbed sleep.
- Don't drink more caffeine. Cut down on stimulants such as caffeine (in tea, coffee, coke) and sugar, especially in the evening. They interfere with the process of falling asleep, and they prevent deep sleep. Try not to have any of these after 4pm.
- Don’t smoke - smokers take longer to fall asleep. They wake up more often and have a more disrupted sleep. If you do smoke, have your last cigarette at least 4 hours before bedtime. Smoking last thing at night can keep you awake as nicotine is a stimulant.
- Don’t have a heavy meal just before bedtime as it can affect your sleeping. Try to finish your main meal at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime.
- Avoid foods such as cured meats, mature cheeses, chocolate, pickles, and tomatoes.
Life is busy so it is often only when your head hits your pillow that you are able to process your thoughts of the day. This is normal but if you worry too much it can stop you sleeping.
- A couple of hours before bed have some ‘worry time’ when you deliberately think about what you are worried about. Keep this to 20 minutes and write down your concerns and anything you could do tomorrow to make a difference. There will be some worries you cannot affect tonight or tomorrow so acknowledge that. When you sleep better you will worry less, or feel more able to cope with the stress.
- Write down three positive things that happen to you each day. The evidence shows that this simple act makes such a positive difference Think about the things you feel gratitude for in your life or something fun that you are looking forward to.
- It usually helps to talk to others about things that are worrying you. Maybe they need working through. Talk to a friend, the person concerned, a Counsellor, Chaplain, your lecturer or parents. Even in the middle of the night there are people to talk to:
- Practice some Mindfulness - this is a great skill to learn and can help you to manage stress. Also see our workshop programme for information about free Mindfulness sessions on campus.