We are a nation suffering from a lack of sleep. Around a third of us Britons are not sleeping properly and more than half of us still feel tired when we have to get up in the morning. You may be shocked to discover that the NHS is now spending around £50 million pounds a year on sleeping tablets and that insomnia contributes to many serious health conditions such as diabetes, depression, obesity, heart disease and even cancer.
So what is causing all these sleeping problems? Stress is one of the major reasons why so many people cannot sleep at night. Not sleeping well can leave you feeling tired and drained, which can have a negative impact on your work, relationships and cause problems when you are driving. It becomes a vicious cycle where busy, stressful days lead to poor sleep at night, which makes you tired the next day and even more stressed because of it. It is also not just completely sleepless nights that are causing problems; more and more people of us are suffering from disrupted sleep where we toss and turn and wake frequently. So why does being stressed and anxious lead to insomnia and how can we enjoy a peaceful, refreshing night’s sleep without having to reach for those sleeping pills?
These days we are not helping our stress levels by using electronic gadgets during the evenings and bringing our work home with us. In the past, you might have had a stressful day, but when we got home at night we would be able to switch off and relax. Now far too many of us are glued to our laptops, smart phones and TVs throughout the evening. We are never off duty or give our brains a break, because we are always checking emails, texts, tweeting, posting on Facebook and taking calls, quite often performing several tasks simultaneously. So is it any wonder that our brains get little or no time to relax and quieten down before we prepare for sleep? We now even take this technology into our bedrooms with us and gaze at flickering screens right up the very minute that we close our eyes for the night.
So many of us are going to bed at night feeling stressed and with our brain’s completely overloaded with information. We need to sleep so that our mind can sift and process all the information that it has taken on board during the course of the day. But because of the internet, TV and other media we are taking in far larger amounts of information than we ever have before. Therefore, we are not spending as much time in the restorative, restful phases of sleep and spend much more of our sleep time sorting out all of this information that we have accumulated. No wonder we are waking up feeling more exhausted than when we went to sleep?
Our brains need to gradually wind down towards slumber as our evening progresses, but instead we are giving them so much stimulation that we are keeping them in a permanent state of arousal. Going to sleep is a process that happens in stages, not just something that automatically occurs when you put your head on the pillow. To fall asleep our brain needs to produce a hormone called melatonin, so the lights need to dim as it gets closer to bedtime. Then our body temperature drops and our body and brain start to wind down and relax. Research has shown that looking at screens can reduce our melatonin production by at least a quarter, making it much harder to drop off. Also, because of the radiation they emit, using a mobile phone too close to lights out can cause you to take longer to get into the deepest sleep levels and shortening the amount of time you spend in them.
And it is not just during the evening that we contribute to this information overload. We need to allow ourselves much more time during the day to let our brain’s unwind. So try to avoid checking your phone constantly or hopping on to the net every time you have a free moment. Give your brain time to wander, daydream, people watch and generally relax. It is not just our eyes that need a break from staring at a screen; your mind needs it to. So make sure that during the day you take the time to move away from your screen regularly and have a break. The more of this information you can process during the day, the easier you will sleep at night and the less stressed you will feel. Regular practices such as yoga and meditation can also help to reduce your stress levels and empty your mind so that you can relax properly.
Worry is another contributor to poor sleep and just adds to your stress levels. Having the day’s problems whirling around your mind as you are lying in bed just makes the rest you need seem very elusive. The economic downturn of recent years has caused a lot more of us to be to be worried about money and our future financial security. Levels of anxiety have sky rocketed and even those who have not been directly affected have caught the general sense of pessimism sweeping the nation. One useful technique is to visualise packing your worries away for the night as you brush your teeth or are settling down in bed. Say to yourself that you can do nothing about what is troubling you overnight, that you are putting them away in a box until morning and that you may or may not choose to get them out again when you get up tomorrow.
So if you are feeling stressed and are finding it hard to sleep, you might find it helpful to develop a new evening routine.
1) Gradually dim the lights as the evening progresses
2) Switch off all screens at least one hour before you intend going to bed and strictly no TVs, laptops or other electronic devices in the bedroom
3) Your bedroom needs to be as dark as possible. Make sure there are no lights on in your bedroom during the night and that nothing is left with the standby lights flashing
4) Do some yoga or meditate to relax and quiet your mind
5) If you are worried about money or your family’s future, count your blessings and make a list of all the things that you have in your life to be grateful for
6) Try not to drink any liquid that contains caffeine after 6pm and curtail your alcohol intake.
7) Pack your worries away for the night
8) Ensure that your bedroom is comfortable, well ventilated, you have a properly sprung mattress and some luxurious bed linen to snuggle into
9) Try to keep to a regular sleep routine. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time in the morning, even at weekends
So allow yourself to relax a little bit more and let go of that stress. We live in busy, information-packed times, but you can get the good night’s sleep that your body and mind craves if you take some deep breaths and just shut down your computer, turn off the TV, dim the lights and chill out for a few hours before bedtime. Then climb into your bed made with gorgeous bed linen from The Fine Cotton Company!