Do you feel slow and foggy in the morning, constantly yawn, doze off during the day or find it difficult to concentrate? Sleep deprivation has been shown to be the equivalent of a blood alcohol level of 0.1, reducing hand-eye coordination and reaction time! Chronic sleep deprivation can increase the risk of accidents or injury, while also reducing your overall wellbeing. So before lack of sleep gets out of hand, try following these simple tips.
Know your body clock
Your body’s sleep-wake cycle is controlled by an internal clock within the brain and it’s important to stay in harmony with it. Rise at the same time every day, regardless of variations in your daily activity. This will set your body clock and help you to feel sleepy around the same time every night. Avoid sleeping in on weekends, it can make it harder to wake up early during the week by resetting your sleep cycles to wake up later. Get yourself enough sunshine as exposure to light during waking hours helps to set your body clock. If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for those struggling to fall asleep.
Set up your bedroom
If your bedroom is uncomfortable and untidy, it’s unlikely to promote rest and relaxation. Ensure your mattress is comfortable, that your room is at the right temperature for optimum comfort and that your room is dark enough to help you sleep soundly. For a noisy environment, try earplugs to help block out uncontrollable noise and make sure your bedroom is just for bed – not for working, studying or watching TV.
Limit screens before bed
Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock, suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This is mainly due to the short-wavelength, artificial blue light that’s emitted by these devices. The more electronic devices that a person uses in the evening, the harder it is to fall asleep or stay asleep. This is true for kids and adults alike. It’s important to initiate a digital curfew for the entire family, a time at which you and your kids turn off all electronic devices for the night. Try setting the curfew at two hours before bed, one hour before bed, or even 30 minutes before bed—the earlier in the evening, the better, but whatever feels realistic. One good substitution is reading. Reading an old-fashioned, printed book under lamplight (as opposed to bright overhead lighting) is a great choice.
If you can’t sleep, get up!
The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia, so if you can’t get to sleep, don’t lie in bed. Do something else like reading or going into the living room to do some breathing exercises until you feel tired.
Avoid unnecessary substances
Thinking that pills, wine or nicotine will help calm your nerves and help you sleep soundly? Think again. Nicotine is a stimulant, the side effects of which are likely to keep you awake. Conversely, alcohol is a depressant, which slows the workings of the nervous system, so it will disturb the rhythm of your sleeping patterns. So while a glass or two may help you drift off, you won’t feel refreshed in the morning. Sleeping pills, too, are to be avoided. They can make you feel drowsy during the day and may make it harder for you to sleep without them.
Lower your stress
Look at your life, are there stressors affecting your sleep? Try scheduling a half-hour of relaxation before bed. Relaxation exercises, such as taking up mindfulness or lying in bed visualising a favourite calm and peaceful place, may help.
If you have tried and failed to improve your sleep, you may want to consider professional help. See your healthcare professional for advice or referral to a sleep clinic.