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How to improve sleep – 20 quick and doable tips

Photo by Zohre Nemati

If you are anything like me, you’ve struggled with sleep at some point in the past six weeks. For those of us balancing home schooling with trying to work, it’s almost inevitable that there will be nights when we don’t sleep well.

In this piece, I share my 20 quick, doable tips for improving sleep and beating insomnia.

 

1. Wake up at the same time every day​

Sleep pressure builds throughout the day and the later you get up, the later you’re likely to feel sleepy and go to bed. It is calming for the body’s systems to have a regular routine. If you have young children, you probably won’t get a choice in this, no doubt they will wake you up early each day!

 

2. Get some daylight within an hour of waking up

Getting outside in the first hour of your day helps to set your circadian rhythm, which is responsible for regulating your sleep-wake cycle, amongst other things.

Have you ever noticed how easily you fall asleep when you go camping? When you get natural light just after waking up, it gives your body a huge boost. Why not have your morning cup of coffee on your doorstep, balcony or patio? Click To Tweet

 

3. Buy some blue-light blocking glasses – and wear them!

Wear these glasses when using laptops, tablets, phones or TV, especially in the evening. They’re not the most glamorous but definitely do have an effect. The best ones for evening use are orange glasses and it’s also possible to get prescription glasses with blue-light blocking lenses for daytime wear.

 

4. Sleep in a dark, cool room

Use blackout blinds and curtains, if you can get them, along with an eye mask. And if you live somewhere with noise or are sensitive to it, ear plugs are essential. You can even get ear plugs that block out the frequency of a snoring partner. Temperature also makes a difference, with the ideal room temperature for sleeping being around 16°C (or 60°F).

 

5. Get laptops, tablets, phones and TVs out of the bedroom

The blue light can disrupt our sleep cycle, and the association with work can affect our ability to mentally switch off. But TV is not work! True. On the other hand it can be very mentally stimulating, especially if you watch the news or documentaries.

 

6. Keep your bed just for sleep and sex, nothing else

If you want good sleep, you need to protect the place that you want it to happen- your bed. When working from home, avoid the temptation to sit with your laptop in bed. We’ve all done it, the problem is that it builds a mental association between the bed and work which can make it hard to switch off.

 

7. Work at resolving tensions and conflicts

While we’re on the topic of relationships, this is a plea to work at resolving the conflicts and tensions in your life. Yes it’s scary/painful/awkward/annoying. And yes it’s so worth it. We’ve all had the experience of not being able to sleep after a difficult conversation, or even just a comment that upset us. There are some tips in my blog post on this here.

 

8. Harness the power of touch to relax

If you’re lucky enough to have a partner, make love! OK granted you make be sick of the sight of them after so many weeks of lockdown. The more you can keep that intimate relationship healthy, the more relaxed you’re likely to be. Touch reduces endorphins that help our nervous systems to relax.

And if you’re on your own, you can learn the art of self-massage to help you relax. Self-massage or ‘abhyanga’ is a recognised practice in Ayuverdic medicine. Just be sure to do it when you have time on your hands, don’t mind getting all oily – and use an old, worn out towel! Here’s a great little video on how to do it.

 

9. Make managing stress a priority

Just as we all get triggered by different stressors, we also need different ways of managing our stress. The key thing is to notice it and make managing stress a priority in our lives. Ideas include: watch belly-aching comedies, get out in nature, if you have young children play physical monster/tickling games, dance like no-one is watching, chat on the phone to a friend, practice deep breathing, volunteer to be of service to others, try walking health coaching!

 

10. Get some exercise every day

Exercise helps reduce stress and studies have shown that exercising every day is effective for reducing insomnia. Even better when it is done outside, as you’ll be supporting your circadian rhythm again. And if you’re struggling for motivation, remember just how well you sleep when you’ve been for a long walk in the hills or on the beach.

 

11. Aim to go with the flow more

Notice when you’re trying to do too much or be too much for everyone else and allow yourself some space. Just to be. Let go of perfection and judgment.

One of the principles of my Chinese martial arts practice is to go with the energy and relax as much as possible, instead of pushing and striving all the time.

I’ve been experimenting with this with home schooling.

Last week my nine year old son was refusing to do the work that his teacher had set on google classroom. He seemed worked up. We’d had a few clashes about this the previous week.

I did a quick mental check-in on how driven I was getting with it, “Maybe he’s feeling stressed, just go with the flow Laura”, I told myself.

So I said, “what would you like to do?”. “I dunno”, came the reply. I paused to give us both time to think.

He had been doodling while we had the conversation, so I took a punt, “You seem like you want to draw, would you like to do some art?”.

His face lit up, “Yes!” and he happily spent the next 45minutes drawing a picture. This gave me some undivided attention with my 5 year old, who was keen to do her maths.

 

12. Have a journal next to your bed

Many people find ‘bullet journaling’ helpful. This is one journal where you write everything down. Having this next to your bed means that if your brain suddenly kicks into gear as you’re about to drop off, you can make a note of things you need to do without worrying that you’ll forget.

 

13. Take a hot bath before bedtime

The heat of the bath will raise your body temperature, which will then cool and bring with it feelings of drowsiness. Even better, if you can get some epsom salts, add half a cup to your bath water. They contain magnesium, which has relaxing properties.

 

14. Consider a magnesium supplement

Consider taking a magnesium supplement before bed. Many people are deficient and because stress saps our body’s supplies, it’s likely that many of us are deficient right now. I use this one.

 

15. Create a bedtime routine

Create a bedtime routine for yourself that is consistent, like we do for children. Little rituals that are the same each day signal to our brains that it will be time to sleep soon. As part of the routine, allow yourself time to wind down. I have noticed that on the days when I give myself 30-40 minutes to go through the routine and really let go of the day, I’m more likely to sleep better. Mine includes: magnesium supplements, ablutions in the bathroom, 3 minute standing meditation, reading, gratitude journal and finally putting on my eye mask and ear plugs before going to sleep. I try to go to sleep at the same time each day, but regardless of when it is, this is the routine I follow.

 

16. Notice the effect of alcohol

Notice how alcohol affects your sleep and reduce your intake if it makes sleep worse. For many women in their 30s, 40s and 50s it can have an impact, much as we’d rather it didn’t! At least when you become more aware, you can make a conscious choice either way as to the impact of alcohol and whether or not you want to drink.

 

17. Eat carbs at your evening meal

This one is slightly counter-intuitive so hear me out. Healthy carbs like sweet potato, potato or rice, can help to regulate blood sugar levels, which is important for helping you to get to sleep and stay asleep at night. Just try to make sure that you eat this meal at least three hours before the time you want to be falling asleep.

Also make sure you eat enough throughout the day so that your blood sugar doesn’t drop so low that your body wakes you up at night. Low blood sugar can be a cause of waking around 3-4am. If this is a frequent problem for you, a small snack such as a couple of nuts and a date before bed could help with this.

 

18. Avoid caffeine after midday

Avoid tea, coffee, chocolate and any caffeinated drinks in the afternoon. If you’re desperate, you may also want to try cutting out these things altogether. This experience will tell you if you’re one of the caffeine sensitive people who is very slow to process caffeine.

I found out that I’m one of these people almost by chance.

I grew up in the church and my father was a big believer in giving things up for lent. I carried over this tradition into adult life and one year decided to give up all caffeine – tea, coffee, chocolate, coke. I was so astounded by the difference it made to my sleep, regardless of when I consumed the caffeine in the day. It turns out I’m a particularly caffeine-sensitive person, which means my body metabolises caffeine more slowly than others. Could it be possible that you are too?

 

19. Try gardening!

This is purely anecdotal, but I swear that on the days when I’ve been digging the ground, weeding or planting seeds, I sleep much more soundly. And my friends who are keen gardeners all say the same too. It’s worth a go and can’t do any harm!

 

20. Let go and do something else

This one is counter-intuitive for me, but sleep experts recommend it. If you’ve been tossing and turning for much more than half an hour, let go of not sleeping well and get up and do something else for at least half an hour, or until you feel sleepy. If you really can’t sleep, don’t just lie there fighting it for hours. Get up and do something else that is not too stimulating.

These are my 20 tips. I’d love to hear what works for you? Please comment below.

I find the science of sleep a fascinating topic and am especially interested in how women in menopause and post-menopause can maximise their chances of a good night of rest. If you have found something that works, please share your thoughts below.

 

For some further reading on sleep:

 

  • The Circadian Code by Dr Satchin Panda

 

  • Why we sleep by Matthew Walker

 

 

Disclaimer
Always consult a physician if you are concerned about your sleep. This article does not constitute medical advice nor is it intended to replace medical advice.
None of the links in this article constitute recommendations, they are simply what I have found to work in my own life. Nor am I an affiliate of any of the companies or people linked to.

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