As a nation of sleep obsessives, there are few things worse than a bad slumber. Hours spent tossing and turning under the sheets whilst you question every life decision is a common problem, leaving you frazzled, foggy and fully unprepared for the day ahead. Sound familiar? We hear you.
If you’ve desperately tried every trick in the book to no avail (looking at you, lavender spray), fear not, nutritionist Rob Hobson is on hand to help. In his new book, The Art of Sleeping, Rob identifies seven easy steps you can follow to ensure a good night’s sleep. From the position you sleep in to the way you’re breathing, Rob’s practical handbook will have you passing out before you hit the pillow.
As you start to fall asleep your body temperature begins to lower by one to two degrees, which helps the body to conserve energy. This drop in temperature signals the release of melatonin to help induce relaxation and sleep by slowing the heart rate, breathing and digestion. If your sleep environment is too hot or cold, this can make it more difficult for your body to reach the optimal temperature required for a good quality of sleep.
Take a bath
While it may seem counterintuitive to what we’ve just discussed, many studies have shown that warming your body by bathing can help to promote sleep, but to harness these effects, timing is key. The best time to take a bath is at least one hour before you hit the hay, as this gives your body enough time to cool down to its optimum sleep temperature.
Similar effects have been shown when showering or even soaking your feet in warm water to increase your skin and body temperature.
Bathing has also been shown to help relieve anxiety and muscle stress, which can help with relaxation and sleep. Epsom salts are a good choice for putting in the bath water, as they are rich in magnesium which helps to promote muscle relaxation and sleep.
Bath oils can also help with relaxation as they stimulate the olfactory nerve. This nerve gives us our sense of smell and sends signals to parts of the brain that are in charge of emotions and mood, soothing us through the parasympathetic nervous system which relaxes the body. Oils traditionally used for relaxation include lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang, clary sage and vetivert. Whilst the essential oil aromatherapies may not have been rigorously studied, they can still have calming effects.
You can make bath time even more relaxing by burning candles and turning off the bathroom light. Listening to calming music or using a meditative app on your phone can also make bath time even more relaxing and offer an opportunity to calm a busy mind.
Restlessness and a busy mind can easily make falling asleep difficult. As you lie awake your mind can go into overdrive while you focus on the issues and worries impacting on your life, many of which you will unconsciously ruminate on all night.
People who write down their thoughts, activities and tasks that need to be completed before they go to bed fall asleep much quicker than those who don’t.
Keep a pad of paper and a pen next to your bed so you can jot down your thoughts before you go to sleep each night. As well as writing down your worries and stresses, include any unfinished tasks that need to be completed the following day, or make a to-do list.
If you wake up during the night and your mind starts to wander, read through your diary and to-do list, adding to it if you need to. Sometimes the best ideas can occur in the middle of the night, so be sure to keep plenty of space to jot these down. As I mentioned earlier, don’t spend hours lying in bed trying to fall asleep. Instead, get up and sit somewhere quiet, keeping the lights down low. Use this time to reflect and to help organise your thoughts by writing them down rather than letting them buzz around on repeat in your head.
The position you choose to sleep in could be a factor in your ability to sleep through the night. The most common sleep position – and the one recommended by many sleep experts – is foetal. If you choose to sleep this way you should favour the opposite side to the one of your dominance (in other words, if you’re right-handed, choose your left side). Not all experts agree on this though, with many suggesting that sleeping on your back is better for your health, even though this is the least popular position to sleep in.
Establishing the best position for sleep ultimately comes down to comfort, and you can figure this out through trial and error. However, certain positions are more favourable if you suffer with specific health conditions that are affecting your sleep quality.
Back and neck pain
Sleeping on your back allows your head, neck and spine to rest in a neutral position, which limits any excess pressure on those areas. Placing a pillow under the back of your knees can help to support the natural curve of your lower back and further lessen any stress on your spine. Make sure the pillow you rest your head on supports the natural curve of your neck and shoulders.
Snoring or sleep apnoea
Sleep apnoea is a condition that causes the airways to collapse during sleep, which leads to interrupted breathing. The condition can cause disrupted sleep and snoring. Avoid sleeping on your back as this encourages the base of your tongue and soft palate to collapse to the back wall of your throat, which causes snoring. Adopt a side position to help prevent this happening and to aid in opening up the airways. Placing a firm pillow between your knees can help reduce any stress on your hips and lower back.
Reflux and heartburn
Many people struggle with reflux and heartburn, which is caused by stomach acid rising up into the oesophagus and throat. Pregnant women and people who are overweight are more prone to this condition. Lying on your back can make symptoms worse, but if this is how you sleep, elevate your head and shoulders to an incline using pillows. Sleeping on your side has been shown to help with reflux and heartburn, but the side you choose is important and is largely down to gravity. Given the position of your oesophagus, sleeping on your left-hand side means reflux is more easily drawn back towards the stomach.[Via GLAMOUR UK]