We’re all aware of the importance of sleep, but it’s not always easy to drop off naturally and get a full eight hours. Take a look at our expert advice on curing sleepless nights to achieve better quality sleep and fast.
How to fall asleep in five minutes
Do you lie in bed struggling to nod off? Then try these simple steps to help you fall asleep in minutes...
Good quality sleep is vital for your health and wellbeing. “It helps to improve your energy levels, concentration and memory, with some studies even showing that regularly sleeping well could help to reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” says clinical hypnotherapist Fiona Lamb (www.fionalamb.com). “Sleep allows your body to repair itself, so your immune system is stronger and you’re able to fight off bugs and diseases.”
If you struggle to fall asleep at night, or wake up often during the night, it can be very frustrating. “So many of us find it hard to switch off because we’re feeling worried or we’re wrestling with an overactive mind which disturbs our sleep,” says Fiona. But a few simple tricks can help you turn off your mind’s chattering, ease your stress levels and get you to sleep soundly in just
a few minutes.
The tension body scan
Tense shoulders or a knot in your stomach could be a sign of stress and could keep you awake. “Using a relaxation technique called a tension body scan helps you to understand where you hold stress in your body and allows you to release it,” says Fiona. “When your body is relaxed, it helps your mind relax which will help you to fall asleep.” All you have to do it is squeeze and relax each muscle in your body. Start at your toes and move up your body, turning your attention to each part of your body in turn.
Focus on your breathing
“Slowing down your breath could help to slow down your heart rate, triggering your parasympathetic nervous system, lowering your adrenaline levels (which keeps you awake) and helping you switch off mentally and physically,” says Fiona. “You don’t have to focus on breathing in and out for a certain count, just focus on slow, soft breaths to help you relax.”
Hum to yourself
Admittedly this works better if you sleep by yourself, but humming a tune could help you to fall asleep faster. “Studies have shown that the vibrations of humming can relax you,” says Fiona. “It can also act as a distraction from anything unwanted that pops into your mind. Be sure to choose a song that isn’t too fast, or reminds you of anything emotional.”
Roll your eyes backwards
“You can simulate the same eye movement you experience in sleep by rolling your eyes upwards and back,” says Fiona. If you do this three times you will automatically feel yourself going into a deeper relaxation.
If you’re still awake it’s time to use your imagination. “Imagine going back to a time you felt deeply relaxed and content,” suggests Fiona. “This works best when you use at least three senses so think about what you saw, felt, smelled or tasted and keep focused on that memory until you drop off.”
Calculate what time you should be going to sleep
This clever tool from Hillary’s is on hand to help us know what time is the best for us to get to sleep based on the time we have to wake up in the morning to allow us to have the optimum amount of sleep every night. Find out more at www.Hillarys.co.uk
If you suffer from back pain, arthritis, headaches and fibromyalgia, getting to sleep can be extremely difficult. Furthermore, it’s even harder to get up in the morning if you’ve been sleeping on an uncomfortable mattress. Here’s our top picks of the best mattresses on the market to improve your quality of sleep and help you wake-up feeling fresh in the morning.
This mattress is great for those who may find it hard to reach a comfortable temperature when in bed, using the latest technology in breathable cotton fabrics. The smart memory foam makes the bed firm enough to support you whilst hugging the contours of your body. Plus, with a 365 night trial, you’re covered to get your money back if you don’t like it.
Nectar mattress, available from www.nectarsleep.co.uk with prices starting from £399.
The triple layered foam supports your body, even if you’re someone who moves a lot in the night. Leesa are also very keen to stay sustainable and do their part for the community. For every 10 mattresses sold, they donate one to a homeless shelter and for every mattress sold, one tree is planted. This has amounted to 30,000 mattress donations and 135,000 trees planted.
Leesa mattress, available from www.leesa.co.uk with prices starting from £450.
Smart TEMPUR mattresses were first developed by NASA in the 1970s to help support astronauts during lift-off. The science behind the mattress helps people to feel weightless when they sleep and help them to fall into a deep sleep. Even tennis champion Serena Williams has endorsed TEMPUR, claiming her mattress helps her get her all important quality sleep to optimise her performance on the court.
“I require consistent, restful sleep in order to be at my best, and for the past 10 years, my Tempur mattress and pillows have delivered that,”
TEMPUR mattress, available from https://uk.tempur.com/mattresses/ with double bed prices starting from £2,049.00
It might also be time to give your bedroom a make-over, making changes that will benefit your comfort and declutter so you can sleep soundly. From avoiding injuries when waking up in the dark and walking round to clever lighting, here’s our top tips on making important changes to your bedroom.
The best pillows for you
For back sleepers that struggle with back and neck pain - Mediflow Water Base Orthopaedic Pillow. Available from www.healthandcare.co.uk from £34.95
If you sleep on your back and suffer from back and neck pain or arthritis, the Mediflow pillow is great for ensuring your neck stays in the correct position whilst you sleep and isn’t being pushed too far forward or back. You can even adjust the pillow to give it your desired level of support by changing the amount of water you fill it with.
For side sleepers with back and neck pain - TEMPUR Comfort Support Standard Pillow. Available from www.johnlewis.com from £90
It’s well worth investing in a decent pillow to sleep on at night, especially if you suffer from back and neck pain. This luxurious soft pillow is a brilliant option for side sleepers who need added comfort and support in bed, using the latest technology to wrap around the curves of your neck and head. The pillow also comes with a three year guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
TOP TOP: Make sure you give all new pillows and mattresses a 2-3 week trial period before deciding whether or not to return it. It can take some time for your body to adjust to a new sleeping position.
What’s stealing your sleep?
If these six common sleep disruptors are keeping you awake, try some simple solutions to help you sleep well tonight with advice from our experts…
Dr Neil Stanley is an independent sleep researcher
Emma Ross is a nutritionist with a special interest in digestive health and female health issues
Dr Trisha MacNair is the Yours Doctor
“Hot flushes and night sweats are often a result of falling levels of oestrogen,” says nutritionist Emma Ross. “Night sweats can disrupt your sleep cycle and you can wake up feeling uncomfortable.”
What can help?
“Avoid eating too late at night, especially fatty foods, sugar, caffeine and alcohol,” says Emma. “Wear loose, cotton clothing and keep your room cool.
Sage can be helpful for hot flushes and night sweats. “ Try A Vogel Menoforce Sage Tablets, £12.99/30.
“This is the most common cause of sleep disruption,” says sleep expert Neil Stanley. “You can’t fall asleep without a quiet mind, even if you’re physically exhausted and your sleep environment is relaxing.”
What can help?
“You need to switch off for 40 minutes to an hour before bed to quieten your mind,” says Neil. “This may be listening to music, reading or having a warm bath. If you wake in the night worrying and haven’t fallen back asleep within 20 minutes, go out of the room until you feel sleepy again. Staying in bed will just make you feel more stressed. Sit somewhere else or read a book until you feel tired.”
“Acid reflux is a common reason for coughing at night,” says Emma. “This occurs when stomach acid escapes through the lower oesophageal sphincter and moves up into your oesophagus. Not only is this uncomfortable, it can trigger the coughing reflex. Reflux can be worse at night because lying down makes it easier for stomach acid to flow the wrong way.” Other conditions, including asthma and viral infections, can also cause night-time coughing.
What can help?
If you’ve recently starting waking with a cough and there isn’t an obvious reason (such as a cold), see your doctor. Coughing at night can be a sign of asthma, which can develop at or after menopause. “To help with acid reflux, avoid eating several hours before bed,” says Emma. This allows time for your latest meal to digest and move out of your stomach. Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed as these can cause your lower oesophageal sphincter to relax and make acid reflux worse. Try elevating your head and chest in bed, too.” Silicol Gel £8.29/200ml, contains silicic acid and helps create a gentle lining
in the stomach to soothe acid reflux.
“Restless legs are often a sign of poor circulation,” says Emma. “This can be uncomfortable, which can mean you have trouble falling asleep initially and your sleep can then be disturbed during the night. A magnesium deficiency is a common cause of restless legs and that can be more likely after menopause as oestrogen helps manage magnesium levels – so when oestrogen falls, your magnesium levels decline too.”
What can help?
“Drink plenty of water, which is crucial for good circulation,” says Emma. “Stay active; exercise increases your heart rate and gets blood pumping, and as your muscle strength improves so does your blood flow. Make sure your diet is high in fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and top up with a magnesium supplement to boost your levels.” Try Holland & Barrett Magnesium Tablets, £9.99/250mg.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day, which is crucial for good circulation.
Needing a wee
While we tend to think of this as a male problem, women can also find themselves waking in the night to use the loo. “Your bladder could be more sensitive to irritants and stimulants, especially post-menopause, which means you need to wee more often,” explains Yours doctor Dr Trisha Macnair. “And if you don’t drink enough during the day, your urine may be too concentrated and might irritate your bladder, meaning you need to pass urine in small amounts but more frequently.”
What can help?
“Avoid bladder irritants including caffeine, acidic fruit juice, spicy foods and chocolate, especially later in the day,” says Dr Trisha. “Drink plenty of fluid but reduce you intake after 4pm. Ask your doctor about pelvic floor exercises, which can help your bladder become more efficient.”
“People tend to joke about this but it’s a serious issue,” says Neil. “We know noise of
30 decibels (db) is enough to disrupt sleep but snoring can reach 50 to 95 db.”
What can help?
“Make sure your partner sees his GP to rule out problems such as sleep apnoea and other medical causes of snoring,” says Neil. “It’s also worth trying various snoring solutions, although they don’t work for everyone.” Most earplugs only block out 25db, although you can get special ones for snoring that work up to 35db – if your partner’s snoring is only moderately loud, this might be enough to let you sleep. You can find other snoring solutions, such as nasal strips, at www.britishsnoring.co.uk
“Often, though, the best solution is to have separate rooms, if possible,” says Neil. “People worry this is bad for their relationship but being kept awake by a snoring partner is far more damaging. We know that one bad night’s sleep can lead to more arguments and less empathy.”
Sleep and the menopause
Lack of sleep is a very common problem amongst women going through ‘the change’ with waking up in the early hours and not being able to drop back off is a constant battle for so many of us during menopause. Not only can this be terribly frustrating but it leaves us feeling totally drained and exhausted during the day.
Recent research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than half of peri- and postmenopausal women got less than seven hours of sleep per night, proving that this is a real universal issue for women over a certain age. So what can we do to combat this problem?
Create a wind-down routine
A few hours before you want to fall asleep, ensure the lighting around you isn’t too offensive and quite dim. It might be worth investing in some dimly lit table lamps or adjustable light switches. Avoid any screen time as this will keep your brain alert. This includes TV, computer, tablet and phone screens. Instead opt for an activity that will calm you down, such as reading a book, doing a jigsaw or meditation.
What to eat and drink before bed
Try not to consume caffeine and instead opt for a cup of hot milk before bed and a light supper if you feel hungry such as toast or a ham sandwich.
Only using your bed for one thing
It’s also important to only use your bed for sleep, so for example reading in bed could keep your brain alert after you’ve put it down as you’re still in the same environment. Instead, read in a comfy chair in a different room before retiring to your bedroom. This helps your brain understand that the bed is just for sleeping.
Consider hormone replacement therapy
If you’re really struggling with menopause symptoms, including lack of sleep, it might be worth considering hormone replacement therapy or HRT. In recent years, HRT has received some bad press, being linked to breast cancer, dementia and many other life threatening diseases. Luckily, these studies have been proven to be flawed and inaccurate and now, scientists believe HRT could be the best way for women to deal with the menopause and improve general health. If you’re finding the symptoms of menopause difficult to deal with, book to see your GP and find out what options are available to you.
Keep yourself active in the day to increase your fitness levels and tire yourself out before bed. Doing regular exercise can do wonders to your sleep pattern, even if it’s just two brisk walks per day with your dog.