Tuesday, 18 March 2014

National Bed Month - Getting a good night's sleep

Recently, an e-mail appeared in my inbox informing me that March is National Bed Month. It got me thinking about sleep – when I was younger I never really thought about sleep that much. It was just something that happened every night when I went to bed. But as I’ve got older, and especially since I developed M.E. I’ve thought about sleep a lot more. I guess it’s one of those things that if it’s going well, there’s nothing to think about, but when it starts going wrong you start evaluating what you can do to make it better. I’ve suffered from periods of terrible insomnia, which has got to be one of the most frustrating complaints I’ve ever come across. Lying there in a dark room wide-awake, knowing everyone else in the house is slumbering peacefully. You feel exhausted and are desperate for sleep, but no matter how you lie or what you try to think about, nothing seems to work. So, I thought I’d do a post about sleep and the best ways to help you get the perfect amount.

How much of our lives do you think we spend sleeping? 1/8th? 1/5th? We actually spend 1/3rd of our life in the land of nod – that’s quite a few years just spent with your eyes closed! So it’s obviously a pretty important part of life. But why do we need to sleep so much? I did a bit of reading around and found that while we are asleep, the body repairs, renews and restores energy. Apparently skin renewal and repair happen during your deepest sleep, where cell division rises by up to 300%. So that’s why they call it beauty sleep! A good night’s sleep is also important for your immune system, concentration, brain function and general wellbeing. We all know what it’s like when you’ve not slept properly – you can’t focus on anything, you get grouchy and snap at people, and if you’ve had a few nights of very little sleep you begin to feel run down and are more likely to pick up coughs and colds.

Image from Weheartit

That’s all well and good knowing why we need to sleep. But how do we actually get a decent night’s sleep, especially when we’re finding it very difficult? One of the most important things that I’ve discovered is to create a bedtime routine, which you repeat night after night. This includes sticking to a regular bedtime, which helps to prepare your body for the idea of going to sleep, and the more you do it, the more your body will associate it with going to sleep. There’s no right or wrong way to plan your routine – it should be whatever works for you. But I’ve picked up some sleep hygiene tips over the years, which are known to help induce sleep. I’m not able to do any vigorous exercise with my M.E, but even a small amount of exercise regularly can help improve your sleep. If you’re a keen runner, then by all means go for a 10K run every day, but if, like me, you’re not that sporty, even a short walk every day can be beneficial. The exercise isn’t the only thing that helps – if you’re exercising outside, it also means you’re getting enough daylight, which is really important for regulating your sleep cycle as your body responds to changes in light. If you have difficulties getting outside, for whatever reason, it can help to get a light box so you don’t miss out on your daylight. Recently I discovered these Lumie Bodyclocks, which recreate a gradual sunrise in your bedroom. They’re not cheap, but they have been shown to improve energy in the morning and even boost mood and productivity levels.

 For a decent night’s sleep, relaxation is vital. You’re never going to sleep properly if you’re feeling tense, angry or have hundreds of worrying thoughts running through your mind. Everyone has their own way to relax, although some people find relaxation incredibly difficult. I’m not brilliant at relaxing, but some of the following things can help. Before bed I like to have a warm, bubbly bath with essential oils like lavender, which is known to promote relaxation. The warmth of the water can also help your whole body to unwind. If you’re not one to take baths, trying something like meditation or yoga is another way to relax your mind and body. If it’s not something you’ve ever done before, have a search on YouTube, as there are plenty of videos demonstrating meditation methods and yoga positions. This is particularly helpful if you struggle to slow down your thoughts. As part of your bedtime routine, you might like to buy a pillow mist to spray every night. Again, use something like lavender or another scent that makes you feel relaxed, and gradually your brain will begin to associate that smell with going to sleep. Something that has really helped me to relax a bit more is keeping a notebook and pen by my bed. Then, if I have any thoughts going through my mind, I’ll jot them down and tell myself I can pick them up again in the morning. This really does seem to help me empty my head a bit; as I’m no longer worrying that I’ll forget about what I was thinking about, so I can shut off for a while!

Body Shop Pillow Mist - £10

The environment where you go to sleep is also really key to the quality of sleep you have. Have you ever heard the saying ‘A tidy house means a tidy mind?’ You need to make sure you’re bedroom promotes rest and relaxation, so start by tidying up! Clothes all over the floor will just make you feel stressed, so you’ll never get a good night’s sleep. When you go to your bedroom you want to feel calm and tranquil, so if you can, redecorate your room using soothing colours like blues and lilacs. You also need to keep the temperature just right – not too hot and not too cold. Invest in a fan and an electric blanket so that you’re ready for all eventualities! When my doctor discussed sleep hygiene with me, she said the bedroom should be used for two things, and two things only – sleeping and sex! Taking technology out of the bedroom is another positive move to create a more relaxing environment. Obviously sometimes this isn’t possible – for example, I’m still living at home so my room is also my study/lounge/place to hide, so I need things like my computer and television. But if that’s the case, you can still make sure technology is turned off at bedtime. That means no phones/iPads/backlit e-readers and so on when you get into bed. A good old book is much more preferable. So, that’s your bedroom environment sorted, but what about your actual bed? How long have you had your mattress? Too long to remember?! They say you should change your mattress every eight years, so if you’re constantly tossing and turning and waking up with back pain, it might be time to invest in a new mattress. It’s so important to try mattresses out before you buy them. Pop your shoes off and have a good lie down, and if you share a bed you need to try the mattress together (for sleeping, obviously!) Also, there’s nothing better than fresh bed linen, so change yours regularly to keep your bed feeling comfortable and clean.

Bedroom inspiration from Weheartit

Often, people assume that a glass or two of wine will help them off to sleep. And to some extent they’re right – it probably will make you fall asleep. However, it won’t help you stay asleep and once it’s worn off you may find yourself waking up feeling worse than before. Alcohol also affects the quality of your sleep, so if you’re already having trouble sleeping it’s best to steer clear of it. Instead, reach for a milky drink before you head off to bed. I always favour a hot chocolate, as I love the warmth of it, but you could also go for a milkshake or just a plain glass of milk. Milk contains something called tryptophan, which aids sleep and calms your brain, especially if it’s paired with carbohydrates like cereal or a small turkey sandwich. Feeling hungry can also keep you awake, so grabbing a banana (which also contains tryptophan) can also help. It is also recommended that we shouldn’t drink caffeine after lunch, as it can take a while to leave your body. And large meals right before bed are also a no no, as your body starts using its energy to digest the food, keeping you awake for longer.

Image from Weheartit

Finally, probably one of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given about sleep is not to lie in bed awake for hours on end. If you’re still awake after 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing like reading a book (with dim lights), drinking herbal tea or meditating. When you start feeling sleepy, head back to bed. By lying in bed wide awake for hours, you’re actually training your brain to associate bedtime with lying awake not being able to sleep. So you need to retrain your brain’s association with your bed. Lastly, I need to add that it’s important to know when to see your GP. If insomnia is taking over your life, affecting your daily life or if it’s a new thing for you, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor. There may be an underlying problem causing you to not sleep and there are medications to help, so don’t suffer in silence. Happy sleeping!

What’s your sleep like? Do you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow, or do you lie awake for hour? Do you have anything that helps you get to sleep?


  1. I definitely think getting a good nights sleep is so important especially this month the clocks moving always messes up my whole body clock for a couple of weeks at least! xx

    1. Ah yeah I forgot the clocks change soon - always confuses my body for a bit!

      Jenny xx