Experts agree that most adults need at least 7 hours sleep per night for optimal health and mental alertness. The Great British Bedtime Report by the Sleep Council in 2013 showed that the average for UK adults is just over 6.5 hours and that only 30% get more than 7 hours per night. According to a Gallup poll in the same year the average for Americans is 6.8 hours. For some people, it’s a personal choice to sleep fewer hours. Others maybe would prefer to sleep longer but don’t have time. However, a large number of people who don’t get 7 hours or more suffer from sleeping problems and would like to find a way to sleep better. Unfortunately, there’s often no easy solution to getting in to a better sleep pattern. This post goes through some of the strategies that can help. There’s a printable sleep tracker at the end, to help you monitor your progress.
Why do we need to sleep?
Despite extensive research, no clear answer has been found to this question. What is more clear is how inadequate sleep affects us. We can:
- Feel irritable and anxious
- Make mistakes/have poor judgement
- Have slow reactions
- Have poor concentration
- Be less creative
- Have memory problems
- Struggle with problem solving and reasoning
- Be less alert
There’s also been some suggestion that long term sleep deprivation may put us at higher risk for developing serious health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. However, as yet there is no conclusive evidence on this.
When it goes wrong
We should be able to fall asleep within half an hour of going to bed, sleep well and wake up refreshed. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Problems include:
- Failing to fall asleep quickly after going to bed
- Waking in the night and not being able to go back to sleep
- Not having adequate deep sleep
- Being too easily disturbed
Episodes of insomnia often start during a period of stress. Once a bad sleeping pattern occurs, this makes stressful situations harder to cope with and also becomes a source of stress in itself. This results in a downward spiral which is difficult to break. Disturbance to normal sleeping patterns, such as noise from neighbours can also cause insomnia, especially if the disturbances cause anger and frustration.
How to sleep better – solutions to insomnia
Getting back into normal sleeping habits usually takes time and a combination of strategies. Other than medication, most strategies to sleep better fall into one of the following categories:
This involves developing habits which will help you sleep better, for example:
- waking up and going to bed at the same time each night
- getting out of bed if you can’t sleep
- taking exercise and fresh air during the day
- having a relaxing evening routine
Strategies for coping with stress and anxiety
These include relaxation techniques, meditation, massage and vaporising essential oils.
Cognitive restructuring and understanding sleep better
This is to encourage you to take a calmer view of insomnia and your perceptions of how it is affecting you. Often, worrying about insomnia doesn’t only make sleeping more difficult, it also carries through into the day. After a bad night, many people are so sure they will have a bad day that this makes the effects of lack of sleep worse. Also, research shows that some people don’t actually have as much of a sleep problem as they believe. Taking a calmer approach to the problem will make you more likely to have a good night and not feel so bad if you don’t. The printable sleep tracker download below is designed to help you to get the problem into perspective and be more positive.
Although it might seem counter-productive, it can also help if you cut back on the hours you spend in bed. If you’re spending a low percentage of your hours in bed asleep, it may be better to aim to increase this percentage by decreasing your time in bed. Spending a greater proportion of your time in bed asleep helps to create positive associations with being in bed, rather than the negative associations of insomnia. As your sleeping improves, you can gradually increase the amount of time you are in bed for.
Printable sleep tracker download
This printable allows you to track hours of sleep, quality of sleep, your feelings about episodes of insomnia and how you cope with lack of sleep. Sign up for My Fitness Planner updates to get the download link e-mailed to you.
After you sign up, you’ll get 2 e-mails:
The first will ask you for a one-click confirmation of your subscription.
Once you’ve confirmed, you’ll get a second e-mail with a link to your download.
Be patient and consistent
When you have developed poor sleeping patterns, it takes time to correct these. None of the strategies above is going to be a magic cure, but if they are all applied consistently, improvements should follow.
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