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Trouble sleeping? How to practice good sleep hygiene.



Sleep is an essential part of life, in fact, you can survive for longer without food and water than you can without sleep, that’s how important sleep is.

During sleep, hormones are produced, tissue repair takes place, emotions are processed, learning and memory are also consolidated.

Our sleep occurs in cycles, this means that there is a natural awaking after about four hours. In a stress-free person, this momentary state of awakeness may not be remembered. Those with a troubled mind may struggle to fall back into the next cycle of sleep.

An adult needs between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Less than that can lead to sleep deprivation, causing a heightened emotional state of mind, irritability, forgetfulness, fatigue, aches and pains, along with an impaired immune system, and increased risk of type 2 diabetes (the list goes on)…

You might be tempted to think that you can catch up on lost sleep, but sadly that’s a myth, lost sleep gives you a sleep deficit which cannot be undone by taking a nap or having an extra long lie-in.

You may also be thinking that you function perfectly well on five hours sleep a night, in that case, dare for a moment to imagine how amazingly well you would feel with seven hours of sleep under your belt.

So what causes a rupture to your natural sleep cycle?

  • a late-night will certainly whack you off balance

  • stressful life events, including unprocessed past trauma

  • unhealthy lifestyle; stimulants (caffeine, sugar, drugs), excessive alcohol, junk food, lack of exercise

  • shift-work

  • blue light: smartphone, tv, tablet, laptop – it takes your brain about an hour to switch off from blue light input

  • menopause

  • mental health issues; anxiety makes it difficult getting to sleep, while depression mimics the effect of sleep deprivation

  • vitamin D deficiency can be quite problematic in the UK and Ireland, but mostly during the winter months


What is good sleep hygiene?

Regular bedtime and sleep routine Having regular bedtime and sleep routines is by far the best option. This means going to sleep and getting up at roughly the same time each day, yes, even on weekends.

Be mindful of what you consume Heavy meals before bedtime might not do you any favours, and of course watch out for how sugary foods, caffeine and alcohol impacts the quality of your sleep.

Exercise, natural sunlight and fresh air Making sure we get regular exercise and getting outside are likely to aid a good night's sleep. We all know this already but can easily forget the importance of this, so reminding ourselves to do it is always a good thing.

Keep a sleep journal Keeping a sleep journal can help you pinpoint your sleep pain points. A journal tracks your quality of sleep and may help you identify patterns, for instance staying up watching TV for an hour longer than normal may trigger a lapse in concentration the following day. Or perhaps you notice that on days you consume alcohol, you wake up with aches and pains.

Create a calm and relaxing bedroom environment That means creating a dark, quiet, and cool, but not cold space for yourself. Perhaps a declutter is due, maybe it’s time to replace your mattress, or invest in some black-out blinds or curtains.

In an ideal world, your bedroom should be a sleeping room free from work, visual input and distractions. If you aim to have a different sleeping pattern, then actively doing something different is needed.

Keep a pen and notebook by your bed Pause the worry part of your mind. Sounds difficult? With a bit of consistent practice, this is absolutely possible and doable. Have you tried keeping a pen and notepad next to your bed, writing down any niggling or worrisome thoughts?

Diverting thoughts Diverting your thoughts is a simple method of distracting your brain by focusing on factual aspects rather than the type of thoughts which can be emotionally triggering.

How it works:

  • Pick a letter, for example, A. Think of an object beginning with that letter, for instance, Apple.

  • Picture in your mind’s eye what it looks like, is it green or red? Is it sweet or tangy?

  • Move on to a different object; aeroplane, apron etc.

  • Once you have exhausted items beginning with the letter A, move on to letter B, and so on.

Relaxation techniques These can be anything from focusing on your breath, noticing sounds or smells around you, for instance, newly washed bed-sheets or a calming pillow-spray. There is also an abundance of free guided meditations available on various mobile apps.

Tiny adjustments can have a significant impact on your sleep, it’s a matter of figuring out what works for you.

If you continue to struggle with sleep, contact a suitably qualified therapist who can help you with your individual circumstances.


*This article was originally published on CounsellingDirectory.org.uk on September 3rd 2020.