What to do when you can’t get to sleep, and how to beat sleep disorders

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Sleep problems are pervasive in today’s society and can cause a lot of problems with other areas of health such as mental health, energy, body composition, digestion and fitness (what we call the Six Signals®). Sleep disorders come in many forms, although we tend to think of insomnia when we think of a sleep disorder. A sleep disorder can include:

  • Getting up in the night to use the toilet
  • Problems getting to sleep
  • Problems waking up
  • Lack of REM or deep sleep
  • Insufficient hours of sleep
  • Nightmares
  • Sleep walking
  • Sleep talking

Most people simply don’t get enough quality sleep and are not asleep for long enough. The average person needs 7.5 hours (or 5 sleep cycles) per night although this does vary from person to person. Most of us are getting 1-2 hours a night less than we need. Imagine how much more energised we could be if we had more sleep!

If you struggle to fall asleep, or get back to sleep after a disturbance, here are some tips to help you.

Sleep staircase

This is a killer tip. The sleep staircase is a metaphorical concept that guides you from the moment you get home to the moment you get to bed. It’s a set of actions that you follow to quieten your mind and get you feeling sleepy by the time you hit the mattress. Here mine:

  • Get home / shut down laptop
  • Change into casual clothes
  • Make a to-do list for tomorrow
  • Eat a meal (ideally 3-4 hours before bedtime)
  • Switch off alerts on my devices
  • Watch TV with blue light blocking glasses on
  • Brush teeth
  • Sprinkle essential lavender oil on my pillow
  • Read light fiction
  • Sleep

Each step should be getting you ready for a restful sleep. What’s your version of a sleep staircase?

Quieten your mind

Both before bed and if you wake, your primary goal should be to quieten the mind. It’s often a busy mind that prevents sleep, combined with a body that isn’t ready for bed (i.e. exercising too late, stressed or anxious). Breathing exercises and meditation are excellent at quietening mind and body as is reading light fiction or simply body scanning in your mind (relaxing and contracting each muscle in turn). You can start the process of quietening your mind as soon as you get in and by avoiding anything high intensity (mental or physical) a few hours before bed.

Journal or make notes

If there’s something on your mind, it can be helpful to get up and write it down. This helps ‘park’ the intrusive thoughts or worries until morning. You could keep a small notebook by the bed for this purpose. Do not use a smartphone or tablet though as the blue light from the screen will interfere with your melatonin production and stimulate your brain. (Here’s a cool video on what happens to your brain and body when you check your phone at night).

Watch your body temperature

Your body temperature is very important if you want to create optimal sleep conditions. Ideally, you should be slightly warmer than the room you’re sleeping in. One way to achieve this is to have a bath 90 minutes before bedtime. You can also keep your bedroom cool by switching the radiator off or on low. However you do it, you want to be warmer than your room temperature. Also pay attention to the bedding you’re using. Use seasonal, non-allergenic bedding.

Have a fluids curfew!

One of the most common causes of sleep disturbances is getting up in the night to use the toilet. You can avoid this usually by stopping drinking fluids a couple of hours before bedtime. Your hydration should be taken care of throughout the day so not drinking after say 8pm, is not an issue. The last drink you should have is ideally a herbal tea (camomile, lavender, peppermint, St John’s Wort, valerian are all excellent) or simply water.

Lose yourself in a book

I find reading light fiction a really good way to still my mind and help me prepare for a good sleep. It’s also a healthy form of escapism. As children we grow up enjoying bedtime stories, and I think we should continue to enjoy them as adults (although maybe we need to read our own now!). Avoid business books or anything that’s too challenging and over-stimulates the mind.

Lie still and relax

Finally, if you wake up in the night and can’t sleep, try not to worry. Lying still and trying to quieten the mind still has a benefit, and is certainly better than stressing out and tossing and turning. Practice deep breathing, think of things that usually relax you and avoid looking at the clock. Better not to know than to wind yourself up counting down the hours until you have to be up.

What’s your Health IQ?

If you’re reading this, you’re are probably in a reasonably senior position, running your own business or have a busy life running the home and juggling other responsibilities. Either way, you’re busy. The convergent pressures of work and family life have probably meant that the time you did have to spend on health and fitness has disappeared. Why not talk to us and see how we can help.

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Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email info@bodyshotperformance.com to register your interest in our services and connect with us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.