More and more of us are complaining of insomnia and difficulty sleeping than ever before. It is recommended that we sleep for between seven and nine hours a night, but research shows that only one in three people are actually hitting those numbers. Our collective lack of sleep is leading to inflammation, weight-gain, lowered immunity and a whole host of health problems. So what can we do to get a better night’s sleep?
One thing, of course, is to take LYMA: our patented KSM-66® Ashwagandha is a sleep-supporting powerhouse, derived from completely natural sources and has powerful sleep-inducing potential. But there are many other ways you can improve your sleep hygiene to partner up with our panacea of a product.
Dr Lindsay Browning is a chartered psychologist, neuroscientist, author of Navigating Sleeplessness and sleep expert. She also runs a private sleep clinic, Trouble Sleeping. We spoke to her about the ways to step up your sleep hygiene, from changing what you're drinking to the way your bed is set up.
One of the main issues people have had with their sleep during this Covid crisis has been caused by the significant changes to people’s daytime routines we have experienced. What we do during the daytime had an effect on our sleep at night, and many of the changes we have made over the past couple of years have had a negative effect on our sleep. If you have been working from home and spending all day indoors, this is likely to be detrimental to your sleep because we need sunlight exposure during the day to help us sleep well at night.
Also, people may have let their gym memberships lapse and not be exercising as much as they were pre-pandemic. Increasing physical exercise is beneficial for deep sleep, so it’s a great idea to start incorporating exercise into your daily routine. Furthermore, the stress and anxiety the pandemic has caused has affected people sleep because it’s hard to sleep when we are anxious. It is a good idea to address your anxiety levels and find ways to relax during the day to help you be better able to sleep at night.
What is 'sleep hygiene'?
Sleep hygiene generally means basic good behaviours that can help to improve sleep at night. General good sleep hygiene advice includes things such as reducing caffeine near to bedtime, using your bed for sleep and sex only, plus having a wind down time before bed. Making some small changes like these can improve a short term sleeping problem, or improve the quality of someone’s sleep. Good sleep hygiene is explained in detail in my book, Navigating Sleeplessness. However, no amount of good sleep hygiene alone will overcome chronic insomnia – that is when someone’s sleep has become a significant problem affecting their quality of life. In these cases, CBT-I (cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia) is more appropriate, rather than simply practicing good sleep hygiene.
Hydrating at bedtime
If you go to bed thirsty or you awake during the night and you are dehydrated then you will find it hard to sleep. However, if you drink large quantities of water before going to bed then of course you will wake up desperate for the toilet.
As we age, we tend to wake up once per night to go to the toilet, and this is often nothing to worry about. As long as you get back to sleep relatively quickly it isn’t a problem. You should speak to your GP, however, if you are going to the toilet more frequently than that during the night or if you need to urinate in the daytime more frequently than you used to.
Warm drinks before bed
A hot milky drink before bed is an excellent plan because the warm drink helps to promote sleep and also milk contains tryptophan which is a precursor of melatonin.
If you drink caffeine near to bed time that will disrupt sleep because you will be too alert and not feel sleepy enough to go to sleep.
It is worth remembering that it is not only tea and coffee that contain caffeine, but also so does chocolate. A hot chocolate before bed it’s not a great plan to induce sleep as the caffeine will interfere with sleep.
Also, Coke also contains caffeine so should also be avoided near bedtime. Any relaxing non-caffeinated warm drinks before bed can be helpful to improve relaxation and sleep.
When should we stop eating before bed?
Spicy and fatty foods should be avoided near to bedtime because they can cause indigestion making sleep harder. Foods that are high in tryptophan are beneficial before sleep - these include foods such as milk, chicken, turkey, salmon and nuts.
You should try to avoid eating your main evening meal too near to bedtime, but a small snack before bed can be helpful to give you slow release energy through the night.
Exercise and sleep
Typically, evening exercise can raise our body temperature and our heart rate making the sleep more difficult soon after exercise and so should be avoided if sleep is a problem.
However, if you are professional athlete or are extremely fit then you may find that your ability to cool down after a workout is much more efficient than a typical person, and therefore exercising near to bedtime may be less of an issue for you.
The truth about avoiding screens
Generally, the advice to avoid screens before bed is for two main reasons. Firstly, the bright light from LED devices can disrupt our ability to produce melatonin because our body sees the bright light and thinks that it is still daytime. In order to minimise this problem you can enable “night mode” on your phone or tablet which will reduce the blue light frequency which is most detrimental to sleep.
Secondly, when we use screens near to bedtime it can cause us to be so distracted by scrolling though social media that we forget to go to bed. Also, when using phones before bed we may see work emails come in or receive upsetting texts from friends which can cause us to become increasingly stressed or anxious, which then in turn will disrupt our sleep. Wearing blue light goggles in the evening can help to reduce the blue light issue but it will not stop with the second problem.
How to set up your bed
You should choose your mattress based on your sleeping style and weight. Generally speaking, a heavier person will need a firmer mattress compared to a lighter person. The number of pillows you choose will also depend on your sleeping style. You should sleep so that your spine and neck remain in a neutral position during the night. Back sleepers may need fewer pillows than a side sleeper to keep their head at the right angle through the night. It is a good idea to choose a mattress and pillows by physically trying them out in a shop, so that you can get the right comfort level for your body shape and sleeping style.
How to set up your bedside table
If you have a calm and clutter-free bedroom that will help with sleep because you are not bombarded with stimuli as you try to fall asleep. Using a bedside soft-light lamp will give dim lighting which will help with sleep as opposed to using a bright overhead light in the bedroom.
Good sleep rituals to adopt
The more you try to improve your sleep and the more anxious and concerned you get about your sleep the more stressed you will become, and paradoxically the worse you will sleep. If you have tried introducing a relaxing down-time before bed, using mindfulness or meditation, reading a book before bed and avoiding caffeine near to bedtime but are still struggling to sleep it may be time to speak to a sleep professional or your GP to see if sleep therapy (like CBT-I) would be beneficial.
Is it a good idea to track sleep data?
Sometimes tracking your sleep data can show up an issue that you were previously unaware of, such as sleep apnoea. Also, tracking your sleep can help encourage you to prioritise your sleep if you are going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep each night. However, when people start to struggle to sleep and decide to use sleep data to reinforce their belief that their sleep is very poor this can simply perpetuate the sleep problem - making the person more and more anxious about their sleep. There is something called orthosomnia, which is insomnia brought on by the obsession with trying to get the perfect night’s sleep - fuelled by sleep tracking data.
How to improve an already good night's sleep
The three main pillars of good health are nutrition, exercise and sleep. If you’re sleeping sufficiently - and for a working age adult that would be ideally mean getting between seven and nine hours sleep per night - then it is a good idea to make sure that you are also taking your nutrition and exercise seriously. In this way you can maximise living a healthy and happy life.
Originally published Sep 16, 2020.
Updated Dec 8, 2021.
Written by David Levesley.