If you’ve been finding it difficult to fall or stay asleep recently, you might have also noticed changes to your mood and productivity levels. Various factors, including stress, light, noise, and vivid dreams can disrupt sleep quality and cause us to feel tired the next day.
Although sleep issues can be frustrating and difficult to deal with, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Statistics show that 36% of UK adults struggle to get to sleep at least once a week.
However, the good news is that there are things you can do to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep. We’ll cover some of these below.
Why am I struggling to sleep?
Everyone has different sleep cycles and lifestyle factors that might affect how they sleep.
However, a common culprit for disrupted sleep patterns is stress and anxiety. Having a lot on your mind can lead to racing thoughts, restlessness, and an inability to relax enough to either fall asleep or stay asleep.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, you might also find that while you’re able to fall asleep, you have long, intense dreams and wake up still feeling tired.
The question of why we dream is still largely unanswered, but one common theory is that dreams are the body’s way of trying to work through difficult or complicated experiences or emotions.
So, if you’re feeling particularly worried or anxious, these fears can manifest into disturbing or unsettling dreams – some of which may be recurring. Research shows that the reason we may wake up feeling tired when this happens is that during the dream phase of sleep (also known as REM sleep), our stress hormones remain elevated.
These stress hormones (for example, cortisol) are involved in the fight or flight response that we experience when we’re afraid and make it difficult to rest and relax.
The new trend of working from home also means that, in some cases, the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred.
Some of us might have entered a new state of alertness at home, making it more difficult to relax and switch off when we need to. You might also find that you’re doing less physical activity throughout the day (for example, by not commuting) and as a result simply aren’t tired enough to get to sleep at night.
8 tips for a better night's sleep
Now that we’ve covered some of the reasons why you might be struggling to get a good night’s sleep, here are some tips that might help…
1. Create a daily routine
Routines are important for maintaining your circadian rhythm (your body’s internal clock), which is responsible for keeping things like your sleep cycle, eating patterns, and hormone production in check.
Sticking to the same sleeping and waking time each day can help to keep your circadian rhythm on track and make falling and staying asleep easier.
Winding down before bed and creating a nighttime routine can also go a long way in promoting good quality sleep. This can include things like limiting exposure to blue light and reading or journaling before bed. Over time, your body will learn to associate these activities with rest and relaxation.
For more help, we’ve put together some tips on how to create the perfect bedroom for sleep that you might find useful.
2. Switch off all electronic devices 30 minutes before bed
Electronic devices like smartphones, TVs, and laptops emit blue light. Blue light has a short wavelength that stimulates sensors in the eyes to send signals to your brain. These signals suppress the natural production of melatonin – the hormone that helps you to feel sleepy.
During the day, blue light helpful because it keeps us alert and boosts mood and reaction times. Sunlight is the strongest producer of blue light, which is why we usually feel more productive during the day, and sleepier once it gets dark in the evenings. However, exposure to too much artificial blue light at the wrong times of the day can play havoc with your body clock.
For this reason, it’s a good idea to switch all electronic devices off at least 30 minutes before your head hits the pillow, to give your melatonin levels a chance to rise. If you can’t do this, it’s worth looking into your device settings as many gadgets now have a blue light filter which can decrease the amount of blue light emitted by screens.
The other advantage of emitting less blue light is that it can help make your phone less addictive (even during the day) as many of us are subconsciously drawn to the blue light.
You can find out more information about this in our article; Everything you need to know about melatonin and the circadian rhythm.
3. Try to move your body every day
Exercise can be beneficial for sleep in a few ways. Firstly, when we’re physically tired, we’ll often fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep for longer.
Exercise also increases the production of endorphins (hormones that make us feel happy), which can boost our mood and reduce stress. It’s generally much easier to sleep if you aren’t contending with high levels of stress hormones (such as cortisol and adrenaline) at bedtime.
Additionally, any sort of exercise that raises your body temperature can contribute to a better night’s sleep (if done at the right time). This includes activities like brisk walking, aerobic workouts, and even giving your kitchen floor a good scrub.
A good workout can keep your body temperature raised for about four to five hours. After this, your core temperature starts decreasing and you may feel sleepy as a result. So, doing an afternoon workout each day could help you feel sleepier in the evenings before bed.
Generally speaking, it’s better to avoid an evening workout, as you’ll be heating up your body temperature very close to the time when you should be starting to cool down in preparation for sleep. However, if you find that the evening is the only time you can work out, try having a cool shower afterwards to help bring your body temperature back down faster.
4. Set yourself 'worry time' and make an effort to stick to it
In our busy lives, many of us may be dealing with things that cause us to worry. However, it can help to take charge of that worry by limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to think about it.
It can be tricky to stop worrying altogether, especially if it’s unclear when or how a problem will resolve itself. But, by setting yourself allocated daily ‘worry time’, you can start to control how much of your day is affected by these thoughts and hopefully lessen your burden by the time you reach your bed.
Try to set yourself two 15-minute worry slots each day (for example, one in the morning and one before bed), where you can set out all of your worries and/or anxieties. Some people find that it helps to write their worries down. You can use this time to acknowledge anything that’s bothering you, before identifying which of these worries you can control and which you can’t.
It’s important that outside of worry time, you’re able to put any worries that you can’t control out of your mind and focus only on the things that you can control. When the time’s up, close your journal. Or, if you haven’t used a journal, imagine yourself putting a lid on your worries and placing them on a shelf, somewhere high up where you can no longer see them.
If you find any worries sneaking back in after this point, picture yourself forcing that lid back down and remind yourself that you can get them out during your next worry slot.
Having a worry slot in the evening can be particularly useful because our worries often return when we’re trying to fall asleep. So, an evening worry slot can offer a chance to offload before bed.
It’s unreasonable to expect that we can just banish all worries altogether, however, by using this allocated worry time, hopefully you’ll be able to start controlling when and how you worry.
5. Get some fresh air and sunlight every day
Research shows that sunlight plays an important role in making sure that our circadian rhythm is working well. This is because sensors in our eyes detect light and dark in our environments and adjust our body clock accordingly.
For this reason, it can be difficult to spend all day in a dark room and then expect your body to instinctively know when it’s time to sleep and wake up.
Even if you’re not able to get outside as much as you’d like, it can still be helpful to open your curtains or blinds and spend more time in the lighter rooms of your home. This will help to give your body clearer signals about when it’s time to wake and sleep.
Scientists also say that sleeping with a window open can help you to sleep more deeply and for longer, by lowering carbon dioxide levels in the room. This can also prevent us from becoming too warm, as we tend to sleep better when our core temperature is able to drop by a degree or two at night. Though opening a window at night might not always be appealing (or possible) at certain times of the year.
6. Try not to work or exercise in the same room that you sleep in
If you do the majority of your daily tasks at home, it can be helpful to create some boundaries so that you don’t begin to associate your sleep space with work. Otherwise, this can make relaxing in that space difficult at bedtime.
Try to make sure that you’re doing activities such as work and exercise away from your bedroom if you can, as this will help your brain to maintain the association of your bed and your bedroom with sleep. Although, again, we do appreciate that this isn’t always possible with limited space.
You can read more about this, as well as other tips on how to keep your home and work life separate in our article; How can I achieve a healthy work-life balance?
7. Consider listening to some guided sleep meditation
If the reason that you’re struggling to sleep at night is that you’ve got a lot on your mind and your thoughts are racing when your head hits the pillow, you could try listening to a guided sleep meditation.
During guided meditation, a soothing voice will often help you bring your mind to the present moment by focusing on your breathing and visualising somewhere you feel relaxed; for example, on a beach, where you can focus on the waves rolling in.
Guided sleep meditation may not work for everyone and you might need to experiment with different types to see which works best for you. For example, some people have a preference over the voice leading the meditation and the types of visualisation you’ll be asked to do.
8. Keep an eye on your caffeine intake
While you don’t necessarily need to cut caffeine out altogether to get a good night’s sleep, it’s still important to be aware of how much you’re consuming, and to avoid it too close to bedtime.
It might help to give yourself a cut-off point. For example, you could test a rule of no caffeine after 4pm to see whether this makes a difference to your sleep quality.
Everyone’s different and some people are affected by caffeine more than others, so it’s best to explore what works for you.
We hope that some of the tips in this article will help you to get a better night’s sleep. If you’re currently not sleeping as well as usual and it’s having an impact on your productivity, don’t beat yourself up about it. Be kind to yourself and do what you can.
Different approaches work for different people, so hopefully after some patient trial and error, you’ll soon be back on track to having a good night’s sleep.
For more tips on how to improve your sleep quality, head over to the sleep and fatigue section of our website. Here you’ll find information on everything from insomnia to finding the perfect pillow and mattress for you.
What helps you sleep? Can you recommend any other tips for a better night’s sleep? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.