Many people who struggle to sleep do so because they don’t have the basics in place. As a culture that praises busyness and vilifies rest, sometimes we don’t put enough effort into making sure our homes and lifestyles make space for us to surrender to sleep.
Drawing both from science and concepts like the Danish ‘hygge’ (a feeling of cosy contentment and well-being through enjoying the simple things in life), here are some ways to welcome sleep into your life.
- Prioritise sleep and aim to get an appropriate amount. For most adults, that means seven to eight hours a night. Let go of the idea that exhaustion and lack of sleep are to be prized, and seek out ways to get more of it.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Yes, that includes weekends. You confuse your body clock when your sleep patterns are erratic. This is not always easy, but it’s a good goal to aim for.
- Limit daytime naps to 30 minutes. A 20- to 30-minute power nap is a great way to boost your mood, alertness and performance, but any longer than that and you’ll disturb your night-time sleep.
- Avoid stimulants like caffeine close to bedtime. And keep alcohol consumption moderate at about one to two drinks a day. Alcohol might help you to fall asleep, but it will disrupt your sleep later when your body metabolises it. I find stopping caffeine intake by 2pm is helpful.
- Exercise regularly. But don’t exercise strenuously close to bedtime. Keep cardio or intense workouts for earlier in the day and perhaps do some gentle stretching such as yin yoga before going to sleep, to calm body and soul in preparation for a great night’s sleep.
- Avoid foods that disrupt sleep. This includes heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried foods, spicy foods or high sugar foods such as carbonated drinks. These can trigger heartburn and disrupt sleep. It may also help to have at least two hours between your last meal and climbing into bed.
- Get enough exposure to natural light. This is especially important if you don’t spend much time outdoors. Exposure to sunlight during the day and to darkness at night helps your internal body clock to regulate itself. Dim lighting in your home, especially as bedtime draws near, will also signal to your brain that it’s time to wind down.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine. This tells your body it’s time to sleep – and you need a routine just as much as small children do. Take a warm shower or bath, read a book, meditate or do some light stretches. Allow yourself a slow, gradual journey towards rest.
- Turn off devices two hours before bedtime. The light from computer, tablet, phone and television screens mimic daylight, waking you up, but there’s also scope for overstimulation from the content you engage with. Try and replace your screen time with something mindful that doesn’t require a screen or too much concentration.
- Make sure your bed and bedroom are conducive to sleep. That means a comfortable mattress and pillows, a cool room, and dim lighting. Consider your sleepscape. What would you change if sleep were a loved one or a lover? Would you change the colours? Temperature? Things? Linen? Do you climb into bed and experience a sense of nurturing and comfort? Surround yourself with things that are comforting and soothing so you can drift off gently.
Making these small changes can have a big impact on your sleep and mean the difference between walking around in a daze all day – and being fully awake, alert and productive. If you try them consistently for a month or so, and your sleep doesn’t improve, then it may be time to seek professional help.