Establishing good sleep habits and tips and tricks to help you get a better sleep.
There are many reasons why so many people do not sleep well and do not get enough sleep for a productive, healthy and happy life. There is also a clear and growing trend that our sleep is getting worse and our average time asleep is reducing. In this section we look at a variety of factors that may contribute to this trend; it is recommended that you consider each of these regarding your personal situation and identify those areas that do or may apply to you.
Temporary or chronic sleep problems
There are effectively two different types of sleep problems, which can be described as either temporary or chronic. Temporary sleep problems, as the term suggests, are those that affect people on a temporary basis and for temporary reasons. For example, you may be going through a very difficult period at work with a lot of stress and issues to deal with, which then impacts on your sleep.
Other factors such as not eating properly, not exercising, drinking too much coffee, etc., may all add to the main problem of overthinking and anxiety related to the work issues. This type of sleep disturbance is essentially a temporary problem with fairly clear reasons; if addressed correctly it can be resolved relatively quickly and should only ever be a temporary problem.
A chronic sleep problem has defined as one which persists for a much longer period and could be due to some different factors or indeed one ‘permanent’ issue. There can be a broad range of ‘permanent’ problems and types of chronic sleep issues, but for the individual, it is usually considered an ongoing battle rather than a temporary problem.
Why not sleep enough! Especially as technology continues to evolve, we have at our disposal more and more gadgets that we use in our everyday lives. Many of these are beneficial and helpful and can add to our quality of life regarding communication, information, and entertainment. However, there are also downsides, which include the effect this modern twenty-first-century lifestyle has on our sleep.
For example, having access to and using our smartphones or tablets at night-time can be detrimental to our sleep both concerning the light and its effect on our eyes and melatonin levels and also the fact that our minds don’t switch off quickly when using these devices. Also, we can be woken up by texts and calls, etc. during the night if they left on.
Also, throughout the day we are exposed to so much communication stimulation in the way of texts, emails, social media, etc. and are constantly having to make decisions, meet deadlines, think about events, respond to questions, etc., that it can be difficult to switch off and properly relax. So much stimulation and our resulting fast-paced lives undoubtedly impact on our sleep, and unless these factors are addressed it is likely to get even worse.
Bed, mattress, pillows and sheets
Wool mattress topperMake sure you don’t underestimate the importance of your bed, mattress, sheets and mattress topper as this can be one of the main causes of poor sleep. People will have different preferences when it comes to mattress types; whether they prefer a harder or softer mattress, for example. The size of the bed can also make a difference, particularly if it is too small.
The duvet size, the sheets, the blankets, the pillows, etc., can all be factors too, whether that is because they are too big or too small, poorly fitting or not clean. Often people will go weeks or months without changing the sheets or duvet covers, and apart from the obvious problems with cleanliness, wealthy can also have an effect on your sleep and quality of sleep. Good sleep hygiene is necessary; it is all about keeping up healthy habits related to your bed and bedroom in any way that can affect your sleep.
‘Goodnight, sleep tight… don’t let the bed bugs bite!’
Many people struggle with general anxiety issues that are often a result of their insecurities, and this can lead to several problems, including sleep-related issues. If you are anxious, you tend to worry about many things and overthink a lot of situations, circumstances, and events, which can be passed, present or future. This general anxiety and overthinking are usually negative and non-productive, leading to further concerns and increased overthinking. It can become a vicious cycle and one that is hard to break out.
The more insecure you are, the more likely you are to worry, overthink and suffer with general anxiety, and these insecurities can continue to build, which will only make the situation worse. Such insecurities could be a result of many factors over an extended period and can often be traced back to childhood or particular events from the past. If they are not understood, worked on and addressed then the problems are likely to remain or get worse, and if this then affects sleep, it will in turn potentially lead to further worries and issues.
If you then become worried about not sleeping, anxious that you are not sleeping enough, or go to bed concerned that you will not sleep, then it is likely you will indeed have a poor night’s sleep. Then if you are tired as a result, you will tend to be in a more negative state of mind, which will only add to the general anxiety.
‘Dear Mind, please stop thinking so much at night. I need sleep!’
Specific worry issue
Although millions of people will suffer from general anxiety, the majority of people will not, and therefore this factor isn’t of too much concern for them. However, nearly everybody from time to time will have a specific worry issue. It could be anything, for any reason and at any time. Perhaps it is a work-related matter, a relationship problem, a financial concern or a health worry.
Concern issue. If you go to bed, and you have a specific problem issue then it can often be tough to remove this, ignore it or think of something more positive. You can find yourself restless, unable to think about anything else and, of course, getting a bad night’s sleep. Nearly everyone can relate to this, and it can be incredibly frustrating because you know you shouldn’t be thinking about it and you know that it will impact on your sleep, yet no matter how hard you try you cannot help but worry about the issue.
It may be for only one night, which hopefully won’t be too damaging or cause too many knock-on problems, but sometimes the specific worry issue will go on for days or even weeks. Then there are much more harmful consequential effects. Apart from the direct lack of sleep, you may become, for example, grouchier, even more lethargic, short-tempered, your diet may get worse, you may stop exercising or you may become physically ill. None of these will help with your sleep and before you know it the sleep issue has become more of a problem than the initial particular worry point.
Your weight and size can have an impact on how well you sleep, for several reasons. Extra weight can cause snoring and sleep apnoea, which can then affect your sleep (and your partner’s). With weight gain, your body deposits excess fat wherever it can, including the lining of your throat, so your breathing passages get narrower and narrower, making you more likely to snore.
Additionally, being overweight or obese can lead to more physical pain, like joint, muscle and back pain, which may well disturb sleep patterns. You may also sweat more at night and feel hot, which can affect sleep. Overweight people are more likely to feel tired, and do the less physical activity as a result, so although they will feel tired their body has not been active enough to induce proper sleep.
Being overweight may also affect your confidence and self-esteem and contribute towards anxiety and depression, which will then impact on your sleep. You are more likely to have an unhealthy diet that adds to the issues, and of course, this cycle can develop in a negative way, whereby poor sleep leads to less activity, unhealthy eating, lowering of mood and then poor sleep again. One of the best ways to improve sleep if you are overweight is to focus on reducing your weight through more exercise and improved healthy eating. The improved sleep will, in turn, help towards increased activity, improved mood and healthier eating.
Physical pain and injuries
It can be tough to sleep if you have any form of physical pain or injury and although it may be for only one or two nights for some, it can be for a prolonged period for others. It could also be related to an injury even though the pain may not be a factor; for example, you may have broken your leg or arm and be in a cast, which causes you problems sleeping.
While writing this book I was stung by a wasp, and for about three nights in a row, I struggled to sleep as a result of the itching and pain from the wasp sting. So it could even be something like that which causes sleep issues and although only temporary it can still be very frustrating and have negative knock-on effects in your life.
Some people, though, will live in constant pain or go weeks on end with a painful injury or physical condition that causes pain and consequently impacts heavily on their sleep and ability to sleep well.
Food and drink
What you eat and drink can have a big effect on your sleep, especially the nearer to bedtime you consume these. Not everyone is the same and different foods and drinks will affect people to varying degrees, but it is likely that your sleep will be impacted in some way as a result of your food and drink consumption.
Food and drink. It is quite likely your sleep will be interrupted by needing the toilet during the night if you drink anything close to bedtime. So be sensible with how much fluid( s) you consume as you near bedtime and ensure you go to the toilet just before you go to sleep if you can. Also, as previously mentioned, be aware of any foods and drinks that contain caffeine as this stimulant is likely to impair your ability to get to sleep. Some foods will be much harder for your stomach to digest than others, too. It is not recommended you eat much close to bedtime and certainly not any big meals.
Additionally, proper sleep can help you eat better and more healthily as it increases your production of the digestive hormone leptin, which helps prevent you eating too much, and sleep also causes a decrease in the manufacture of the gastrointestinal hormone ghrelin, which boosts appetite. So a good night’s sleep reduces your hunger, and you are less likely to eat the unhealthy foods you may crave when you don’t sleep well.