“I’m just exhausted…”: A guide to improving your sleep pattern
Sleep is an essential part of our wellbeing, but almost everyone experiences problems sleeping at some time of their life.
We all know that feeling when we are absolutely and truly exhausted. This is often the result of a number of factors, such as a busy lifestyle, work demands, and responsibilities at home. We can also feel exhausted because our concerns and worries mean we don’t sleep very well. Sometimes our concerns make it hard to drift off to sleep or we might wake up frequently through the night thinking about them.
Sleep disruption is common, especially during times when you may feel emotionally overwhelmed. Anxiety, relentlessly replaying the day’s events, and heightened emotions may significantly interfere with your sleep.
When we aren’t sleeping well, the physical exhaustion that comes from not sleeping can make our concerns and stresses feel that much worse, meaning our mental health declines further, making it more difficult to sleep well. And the vicious cycle goes round and round.
Sometimes we engage in behaviours that exaggerate this cycle, without being aware we are actively making our sleep worse. For example, we might go to bed late because we want to work late. We might lie in bed thinking about our worries over and over (also known as ruminating). We might get increasingly frustrated with ourselves for not sleeping.
Part of making changes to our sleep pattern to promote a healthy level of sleep (also known as ‘sleep hygiene’) involves working out where we are going wrong with our sleep and taking committed action to improving this. However, it often takes some time to get problematic sleep under control and this is rarely solved overnight!
The list below shows some ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of sleep hygiene. These do’s and don’ts may help to improve your sleep pattern. And when we are well rested we are in a better position to improve our mood and general wellbeing:
- Go to bed at the same time each day
- Get up at the same time each day
- Get regular exercise each day, preferably in the morning
- There is good evidence regular exercise improves restful sleep
- Get regular exposure to outdoor or bright lights, especially in the late afternoon
- Keep the temperature in your bedroom comfortable
- Keep your bedroom dark enough to facilitate sleep – thick curtains will help with this, or wear an eye mask
- Keep your bedroom quiet – try thicker curtains or even wear ear plugs to avoid being woken by noise
- Use your bed only for sleep – try not to watch TV in bed
- Take a warm bath or shower about one-hour before bed
- Use a relaxation exercise just before going to sleep or a relaxation tape
- Try muscle relaxation to help de-stress and unwind, e.g. a warm bath or a massage
- Keep your feet and hands warm. Wear warm socks and/or gloves to bed if needed
- Exercise just before going to bed
- Engage in stimulating activity just before bed, such as playing computer games, watching an exciting programme on television or movie, or having an important discussion with a loved one
- Have caffeine in the evening (coffee, teas, chocolate, etc.)
- Have alcohol in the evening or use alcohol to sleep (it may make you drowsy but it doesn’t improve sleep and you will be more likely to wake to go to the toilet)
- Smoke before going to bed – nicotine is a stimulant and will keep you awake
- Watch television in bed
- Go to bed too hungry or too full
- Take another person’s sleeping pills
- Never take daytime naps or doze off in front of the TV in the evening – keep yourself awake with something stimulating or you risk resetting your body clock or disrupting the amount you’ll need to sleep that night
- Command yourself to go to sleep. This only makes your mind and body more alert
- If you lie in bed awake for more than 20-30 minutes, get up, go to a different room (or different part of the bedroom), participate in a quiet activity (e.g. non-excitable reading or television), then return to bed when you feel sleepy.
If needed, you could try over the counter sleep remedies, such as Nytol, but these are no substitute for addressing the problems that cause poor sleep. Sleeping tablets do not address these issues either and are not suitable for many people. Either way, check with your GP before taking any medication.
When considering these do’s and don’ts, it is important to note that everyone is different and that what works for you may not work for someone else. This list is also not exhaustive – the most important aspect is to establish a routine that works for you.
If you have concerns about your sleep pattern or your mood, State of Mind Psychology Services may be able to help. Alternatively your GP may be able to advise you about alternative methods of promoting improved sleep.
When trying to improve your sleep pattern, try making one or two changes at a time, rather than changing everything at once. That way you will be better able to recognise what is working for you and you will have a personalised sleep hygiene plan that is bespoke to your needs.
For further information about sleep hygiene, please complete an enquiry form by clicking here.