National Sleep Day: Five top tips to improve your sleep

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to bad sleep, so you have to find what works best for you. You will also need to be patient, so give it at least five nights to assess if years of bad sleeping is being resolved.

There are hundreds of ways to improve your sleep, but here are a few from us:

Man on phone in bed

1. Turn off the blue light

Do you use your smart phone as your alarm or play with it just before putting your head down? Research has shown that the blue light emitted from smart devices disturbs our internal clock. You are essentially causing yourself a terrible case of prolonged jet lag.

The best advice is investing in an old-fashioned alarm clock. If this isn’t going to happen, try and set your alarm at least one hour before you go to sleep, and then put down the electronic devices and switch off the TV.

Ideally, relaxation is a better use of this hour if you have trouble sleeping. This can be tricky to master but is worth learning for that good night’s sleep. A good way to relax is by simply running yourself a nice bath. Consider adding lavender, as this has been proven to help sleep.

2. Clench and release

Physical stress can cause us to maintain tension in the body. As you lie in bed, you may not notice that your shoulders are still up around your ears and your toes are curled under. Unfortunately, if we don’t know we are tensing it can be extremely difficult to unclench.

Try the body walk through technique. Start at your toes on one leg or both and screw them up as tight as you can, hold for three seconds, then release. Then the calf on the same side – tense by pointing your toes, hold, and relax as you release. Then, knees: flatten them to the mattress and try and tense your thigh, hold, then relax. Then move up to your buttocks, stomach, chest, hands, arms, shoulders and finally screw your face up into a tight ball and release.

Next, breathe in for three seconds then out for three seconds. Focus on the part of your body that feels the most relaxed and try and echo that feeling throughout your body.

3. Establish a bedtime routine

Children thrive on a bedtime routine. If you’re an adult that struggles to sleep, this might be exactly what you need. A 5-point wind down plan is a good place to start. You can build one to suit you, or use this example:

  1. Drink a hot drink
  2. Read for 10 minutes
  3. Brush your teeth
  4. Wash and moisturise your face
  5. Climb into bed with another 10 minutes of reading

When you establish a routine, your body has the opportunity to wind down and it is mentally signalled that this is sleep time.

4. Meditate

Meditation is a difficult skill so don’t be hard on yourself when practising. If you try and focus on having a clear mind and tell yourself off every time a thought wanders in then you will focus on failure.

While there are apps and online resources that can give you a guided walkthrough mediation, this might end up with you staring into the blue light near to bedtime.

For those new to mediation, I find the perfect holiday head video is an easier technique. Get yourself ready and in bed, comfortable and eyes closed. Think about where you would like to go on holiday. Think about where you would like to stay and imagine, like a soap opera, the step by step of what would happen. What is the weather like, what are you wearing, what do you eat, how does it taste, how are you ordering, what words do you use?

This storytelling technique can be used with a number of different calming imaginary scenarios. Even if you don’t manage to fall asleep quickly, it can give you enough downtime to at least feel relaxed the morning after.

Person relaxing before sleeping

5. Get up and breathe

There are two parts to this. Firstly, the consensus is that if you really can’t get back to sleep you should get up, and the second part is that physical activity and breathing is linked to healthy sleeping. There are a great deal of breathing meditation techniques that are worth trying, but I like the move and breathe as it focuses the mind.

While moving (generally walking), breathe in sharply through your nose four times in quick succession. Blow out through your mouth 4 times. It is not unusual to feel lightheaded or nasal sensations when trying this for the first time. Continue this breathing pattern and try and match the breath to the pace of your walking (one breath for each step).

Now, in time with the breath, tap your thumb to your first finger, and then middle, then third, then pinkie. Continue this walking, breathing and tapping pattern for 4-5 minutes. As you lay back down, try to focus on your breathing, and hold the breath before breathing out (if it is safe for you to do so).

6. Experiment

You might be surprised at the little changes that can help you sleep. Is your room too dark, too hot, or too quiet? Try an eye mask, sleeping with just a sheet, or using a white noise machine. What have you got to lose?

By Miranda Asher