Have you ever struggled to fall asleep, repeatedly woken during the night or battled with a bout of insomnia? Well, I definitely have! If you’ve experienced any of these, then you know how horrible it is to lie awake at night, trying to get back to sleep. For me, it always feels like the harder I try to pass out, the more elusive sleep becomes!
On those nights when I can’t sleep or I wake without explanation, I find myself tossing and turning, trying so hard to get back to sleep. I rarely wake in the morning feeling rested and rejuvenated. More often than not, I’m tired, cranky, and bleary-eyed but this had become so normal, I didn’t even register it as a problem. However, when I started Only One Small Thing and began examining my own health, happiness, and mental well-being, one thing I realized was that I was definitely not getting enough rest!
Like most things, once I’d made the decision to fix my problems sleeping; I started to do a little research:
- How much sleep did I actually need?
- What was causing my disrupted sleep?
- What could I do to fix my sleep problems?
In looking at this one small thing, I actually learned a huge amount so I decided I’d share the best of that information with you!
How Much Sleep Do I Actually Need?
The first thing I had to figure out was how much sleep I actually needed. I’ve always known I’m not someone who copes well if they haven’t had a good night’s sleep, but I’ve never been able to quantify what a “good night’s sleep” actually looked like. It seems it varies from person to person and is influenced by lots of things such as age and lifestyle, but everything I read tells me that, on average, adults typically need between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
My research also showed me that this kind of issue was far more common than I realized. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimates that 30 to 35% of Americans experience brief symptoms of insomnia and 10% have chronic insomnia disorder. The Great British Sleep Report also states that 70% of Britons now sleep for less than 7 hours per night and 27% experience poor sleep quality on a regular basis.
What Causes Sleep Problems?
While not exactly comforting, the above figures at least reassured me that difficulty sleeping is very common! It seems that most people experience trouble sleeping at one time or another, and common causes are stress, travel, illness, or other temporary interruptions to your normal routine. Other contributing factors are aging, too much stimulation before bedtime (such as television, video games, or exercising), consuming too much caffeine or problems with your sleep environment such as noise, temperature fluctuations or an uncomfortable bed.
I realized that work-related stress, stimulants and some minor issues with my sleeping environment were all likely contributing to my poor sleep quality. In addition to taking steps to reduce stress which I’m going to talk about at another time, I also decided to take some very simple steps to improve my quality of sleep:
1) Create A Calming Sleep Oasis
While I love a clean home, if I’m being honest, my husband and I are naturally pretty messy people. We definitely have to make a very conscious effort to keep our house clean and tidy and as our bedroom is a private space, typically not seen by visitors, it rarely got prioritized when we were cleaning, meaning it was usually fairly untidy.
However, when I wanted to take steps to improve my sleep quality, I decided I needed a calm and comfortable sleeping space. The reality was that this will mean different things to different people, but for me, it meant decluttering and tidying our bedroom, updating our pillows and bedding, as well as implementing a few other changes such as blocking LED lights.
Honestly, by making a few very small changes to create a calming bedroom environment, it made a huge difference to my sleep quality. I would highly recommend that for anyone struggling with sleep, simply try updating your sleeping space!
2) Avoid Stimulants After 12pm
So one thing which has really helped to improve my sleep quality was to reduce the amount of stimulants I consumed after 12pm. I tend to drink a lot of diet coke (yes I know it’s really bad for me, but I don’t drink coffee and I am trying to reduce my intake – it’s my one vice so hey…) but I did find that limiting myself to one or two cans of diet coke over the course of the morning and then switching to water or caffeine-free soda in the afternoon and evening, made it so much easier for me to fall asleep. I’d definitely recommend reducing the amount of stimulants like coffee that you consume after 12pm.
3) Stop Eating 3 Hours Before Bed
There are a lot of contrasting opinions on eating before bed but I’ve found that if I eat a satisfying meal at around 7pm, and avoid snacking for the rest of the evening, I am neither hungry or uncomfortably full when going to bed. If I do find myself feeling hungry near to bedtime, I try to have a small snack such as a high protein yogurt or a slice of wholemeal toast with peanut butter, as while I’ve found it’s best not to be too full going to bed, it’s also best to not be hungry. Ultimately, I just don’t want to be thinking about my stomach while trying to fall asleep.
4) Avoid Naps & Keep A Regular Sleep Schedule
I have always said I’m naturally a morning person, I’d much rather get up early to work than to try to work late at night, but I’m also very fond of napping. A Saturday or Sunday afternoon would often find me curled up on my sofa, half-watching some film I’ve seen many times before, until I’d find myself drifting off to the land of zzz’s. I loved these naps but unfortunately they were not actually helping with the sleep I wasn’t getting at night and once I made a conscious effort to avoid them, I did see an improvement in how I was sleeping especially on weekend nights.
While I have also always been pretty good at getting to bed by 9.30-10pm on weeknights, and then woke to my alarm for work. However, I found that by also keeping the same bedtime at weekends, I also started to wake naturally at the same time without an alarm. My body became accustomed to the sleeping schedule and I began to wake feeling much more well-rested and rejuvenated.
5) Create A Bedtime Routine
Whether you are someone like me, who likes to plan things and creates lists for everything, or you are someone who doesn’t like a lot of structure and prefers to “go with the flow”; the reality is that people are creatures of habit, and just like Pavlov and his dogs, routines are a way to condition ourselves into certain behaviors. In this case, creating a bedtime routine is a way to condition your body to expect sleep, making it easier to fall (and hopefully to stay) asleep.
An effective bedtime routine for me involves completing a few small tasks to put me in the right-mind-set. Steps like dimming the lights a couple of hours before bedtime, having a warm drink, completing a basic beauty regime, and doing a mental “brain dump”.
Simply taking some time to look at the quantity and quality of sleep I was getting and acknowledging I wasn’t getting enough rest, was the first step to getting a better night’s led me to make some simple changes:
- Create a Calming Sleep Oasis
- Avoid Stimulants After 12pm
- Stop Eating 3 Hours Before Bed
- Avoid Naps & Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
- Create a Bedtime Routine
These steps, combined with more effectively managing stress, have made a huge difference to my sleep quality. I hope these tips will help you to get a better night’s sleep too! Let me know what works for you in the comments below?