Tips to improve your sleep
Everyone has an occasional bad night’s sleep but 4 in 10 people suffer from extended periods of difficulty sleeping and this can be worsened when you’re stressed or anxious. We’re hearing from an increased number of patients reporting sleep difficulties, caused in various ways by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone has times when they struggle to fall asleep or wake up not feeling completely rested. Fortunately, most of the time you can improve your sleep by understanding a little more about it.
Causes of poor sleep
Sleep is an essential part of staying healthy, both mentally and physically. It’s as important as what you eat and drink and the air you breathe. Let’s start by looking at what can cause poor sleep. Sleep problems can be caused by a number of things including stress, anxiety or depression (psychological factors), a room that is too hot or cold (environmental factors), or alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, jet lag, shift work, or using screens late at night (lifestyle factors).
Sleep is an essential part of staying healthy, both mentally and physically. It’s as important as what you eat and drink and the air you breathe. Let’s start by looking at what can cause poor sleep:
The most effective way to improve your sleep is to change your sleeping habits. Sleep hygiene is the technical term that describes the things to do or not do to promote good sleep. It includes sticking to a regular sleep routine, doing regular exercise, and avoiding caffeine and stimulating blue light screens (like mobile phones) in the evening. For more information, look at this helpful guide from the Sleep Council:
This technique is an extension of sleep hygiene and aims to shorten the amount of time spent in bed to improve the overall quality of sleep. It takes several weeks to work through the process but the long-term benefits make the time spent invaluable. For information on how to do this at home, see Part Two of the following guide:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Trouble sleeping can be also be caused by tension in the body. By using a technique known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, this can promote relaxation of the muscle groups. This has been specifically looked at in a small group of COVID-19 patients in China and has proven beneficial in reducing anxiety and improving sleep in patients who were isolating. Another Hospital Trust has produced the following audio guides to help you with this technique:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=912eRrbes2g (female voice)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUQoflmFQpw (male voice)
Sometimes it’s easier to learn techniques to fall asleep faster and stay asleep through the night with the help of technology. The Sleepio and SleepStation programmes are available online (please note these are not currently available on the NHS to patient’s in North West London):
Other Apps to help with sleep are available for free via Good Thinking (Digital Mental Wellbeing for London) website:
How long will it take to improve sleep?
Much like learning a musical instrument or a new sport, you will need to persevere. You can’t pick up a guitar and play it immediately, but practice these techniques little and often and you’ll soon start to feel some improvement. Stay disciplined and persevere and you’ll experience further improvement including improved energy and concentration levels and better mood. Practice enough, and you’ll turn it into a habit – something that you do unconsciously without even trying.
If you are interested in learning more about why sleep is so important, and how different things impact sleep, we would highly recommended reading Professor Matthew Walker’s book titled “Why We Sleep”: