A restful sleep, night after night; it’s one of those things that we all aspire to, but which alarmingly few of us have actually been enjoying consistently, especially since the start of the UK’s first COVID-19-enforced lockdown in the spring.
That’s according to the results of a King’s College London and Ipsos MORI study conducted in May, which discovered that six in 10 British adults had experienced worse sleep since the announcement of the initial lockdown on 23rd March.
So, if such sleeping troubles sound familiar to you, what can you do about them, especially during a time when so much about your life and the wider world may feel extremely stressful and out of your control? We’ve outlined seven proven steps below for achieving a deep and satisfying sleep, taken directly from sleep experts.
As explained by The Sleep Council, your bedroom plays a central role in your ability to get to sleep.
The national body for sleep health points to the importance of maintaining a balanced temperature of around 16 to 18 degrees C (60 to 65 degrees F), as well as of keeping the room completely dark, whether you achieve this with the help of curtains, a blackout blind or even an eye mask.
A bed is never ‘just’ a bed – it’s the literal foundation of a good-quality sleep.
Again, The Sleep Council has in-depth advice on how to select the right bed from the vast range on the market. The organisation advises would-be restful sleepers to consider changing their bed every seven years, and to purchase the highest standard of bed they can afford. The mattress should feel neither too hard nor too soft, to ensure the right balance of comfort and support.
Age UK says you should aim for seven to eight hours sleep a night – but also to do so consistently, ideally going to bed and getting up at the same times from day to day.
Yes, the charity says, it’s tempting to sleep in – but doing so can interfere with your body clock and your ability to sleep the next night.
Diet definitely isn’t a minor factor when it comes to sleeping well. Caffeine and nicotine, for instance, are notoriously stimulating, with their effects not wearing off for hours – which isn’t something you will want when bedtime is looming.
But there are also certain foods that have a strong reputation for supporting sleep, such as milk, chicken, rice and cherries. If you’re altering your diet with a view to achieving more shuteye, keep a lookout for such highly rated vitamins and minerals for immunity and sleep as vitamin D, melatonin and iron. Melatonin, for instance, is present in small amounts in meat, grains and vegetables.
People who struggle to sleep are frequently advised to boost their physical activity. Sure enough, yoga and moderate aerobic exercises like walking are known to help us drift off sooner.
There are some myths around exercising to improve sleep, though. One of those is the idea that physically wearing yourself out is likely to induce sleepiness. Instead, think of it in terms of gently tiring out your body, releasing pent-up tension and lowering your body’s temperature, the latter another thing that many people may not realise will help them to sleep.
As we touched on above, the current times have been stressful and angst-inducing ones for many of us. Furthermore, scientific evidence exists of a direct connection between anxiety and sleep rhythms.
That’s all the more reason for you to get serious about managing your sources of stress, including trying to resolve any worries or concerns you have before bedtime. Even just jotting down what’s bothering you, so that you can mentally set it aside and deal with it tomorrow, could go a long way to aiding your efforts to improve sleep.
The 20-minute rule, states sleep expert Kathryn Pinkham, is about trying to avoid being in bed for longer than this length of time if you are wide awake.
She advises against people remaining in bed awake for so long that an association may be created between their bed and such negative feelings. “Instead”, she says, “leave the room and watch TV or read until sleepy and then return to bed and you will find you are more likely to drop off quicker than if you stay in bed.”
Catching some Zs is one of the most important things we do as human beings – so if you’ve been struggling with your sleep as much as many Britons have lately, you should take measures like the above seriously. It could do so much to support both your short-term and long-term health and wellness.