Sleep Hygiene: Getting to Sleep
For most people there is nothing better than getting in to bed and relaxing before dropping off to sleep. For others, this process can be a painful one of fretting, worrying and hours of trying to sleep. Here we will briefly outline the important areas of consideration when wanting to drop off easily. Let’s begin with the important things to remember during the day.
· It is important to try to exercise each day – if we use our muscles during the day this can help us to sleep better at night.
· It is important to watch our caffeine intake. We are all different here, but if you are someone that is affected by caffeine then try not to consume it after lunch-time; instead stick to decaffeinated drinks. Do remember, though, that some decaffeinated coffees still have caffeine in them.
· The temperature of the bedroom: not too hot or too cold.
· The light of the bedroom: make sure there is no outside light coming in.
· The amount of light that we have in the hour before we sleep is also important: turn any bright lights down and make sure we block out light from outside. If you can, turn any gadgets to a red hue.
Waking and sleeping times:
· It is important, if we have problems with insomnia, for us to go to sleep at around the same time each night. Our brain takes in light during the day to help the brain decide when it is time for sleep. If we sleep at around the same time, the brain will make the connection between that time and sleep and will start to prepare for sleep, which will help us if we struggle with getting to sleep.
· Waking up at the same time is also important. If we wake up at the same time each morning then we will naturally be sleepy at around the same time every night. As already mentioned, our brain gets used to this and expects this and then will also begin to switch off when we are coming close to that time.
· Sleep Routine: it is also important to remember to carry out a sleep routine (please see the ‘sleep routine’ information in this series).
So, we are finally at the point of getting in to bed!
· You may have heard of circadian rhythms. These are the rhythms of the brain that make us feel awake and sleepy. They are influencing our brain during the day but they become more prominent when we are getting ready to sleep.
· Our circadian rhythms take us through ‘sleepy’ stages and ‘wakeful’ stages. Have you ever had the experience of sitting in front of the TV and feeling like you are just about to fall to sleep? You get up and turn off the TV, take the cup or glass in to the kitchen, turn off whatever needs to be turned off and get your home ready for the night. You then go to the bathroom and prepare for bed – wash and brush your teeth. You then get changed ready for bed and then when you finally get in to bed you feel wide awake. How annoying! This is your circadian rhythms at play: you have passed through a sleepy stage and you have arrived at a wakeful stage.
· There is about 45 minutes between the height of a ‘wakeful’ stage and the middle of a ‘sleepy’ stage. There is no point in trying to sleep during a wakeful stage.
o The best course of action is to relax in bed – read or do something that relaxes you. Nowadays, there are lots of relaxation apps or videos to listen to on YouTube. Please find one that works for you and have it ready to listen to when you go to bed. We have examples of ‘breath work’ and ‘progressive muscle relaxation’ in the anxiety series – it is important to familiarise yourself with them, so you don’t have to read them when trying to sleep.
o Wait until you feel your sleepy stage coming on and then tuck in to bed and allow yourself to fall to sleep.
· What happens if you don’t fall gently off to sleep? Firstly, it may be because your brain has associated getting in to bed with fretting and worrying about things. It is important for this association to be broken but it can take months for this to happen.
· Firstly, if worrying about something is keeping you awake. Write it down and put aside a time in your diary to deal with it (this is, of course, easier said than done sometimes).
· Secondly, make sure that all you do in bed is sleep. Your bed has to be associated with sleep. Not with working, or watching films or reading for hours and hours on end.
· It is important to try to get to sleep for about twenty minutes by doing relaxation exercises. If this fails and you still feel wide awake then get out of bed and sit in a chair, on cushions or a beanbag – anything that is comfortable but is out of bed. Sit wrapped in a blanket to keep warm and repeat all of the relaxation tasks.
· We are all aware of the feeling that we have just before we fall to sleep – we are suddenly thinking less and the body feels relaxed. At that point, get back in to bed and fall to sleep.
· If that does not work, then repeat the above time and time again until it does work.