Programme: How to sleep better

2. Create a good sleep environment

Imagine you are trying to sleep on a plane during a long flight. You’re slumped in your seat, trying to find a comfortable sleeping position. You can hear people talking, the man in the next seat gets up to go to the toilet, another passenger has their window blind open and the light is shining straight into your eyes. Just as you drop off, the cabin crew come by to serve the meal. This - as you might have already guessed - is a less than ideal sleep environment.

Although these are not circumstances most people have to deal with on a daily basis, the same sleep factors apply: light, noise, food, body position and rhythm can all affect our sleep in a positive or negative way. We usually sleep at night time, but the sleep-process is part of a 24-hour cycle. We need to work on optimising our sleep environment both during the day and at night. 

When it comes to sleep, we are all unique; methods and advice for improving the sleep environment will vary from one person to the next. However, there are some general guidelines which can help the average poor-sleeper to sleep better. Here are some things to try:

  • Relax before bed: have a cup of tea, read a book or a magazine and have a warm shower. Avoid stimulating activities such as exercising, playing games or watching exciting films. 
  • Dim the lights and restrict screen time in the run-up to bedtime to maintain a natural day- and night-time rhythm.
  • Do not consume caffeine after 6pm and avoid alcohol. These can negatively influence your ability to both fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Make sure you are comfortable: choosing a mattress and pillow that suit your body type and sleeping position will help you to achieve a good night’s sleep. 
  • Distractions and stimuli: make sure that your bedroom is peaceful and your bed comfortable. Use your bed only for what it is intended: sleep and sex. Avoid using laptops, mobile phones and televisions in your bedroom. And don’t forget other disturbances: is the room too hot/cold? Is it messy or too light? Is it noisy or are you being disturbed by mosquitoes? If so, tidy up,open the window, get a mosquito net, install black-out blinds and invest in some good ear-plugs.
  • Do you find it difficult to fall asleep? Try getting up for a while and don’t go back to bed until you feel really tired. Listen to some relaxing music or a podcast or read a book or an article for up to 20 minutes (avoid anything too exciting). Lying in bed wide awake or staring at your alarm clock can be counterproductive and make you feel restless. 

There is a huge amount of information available about how to sleep better. This podcast by the Brain Foundation will help you to separate the fact from the fiction.

Reflect & connect

Answer these questions and share your answers with your online psychologist, your partner and/or a friend: 

1. How well is your bedroom set up for its intended purpose, i.e. sleeping?

2. Our sleep environment requirements may change as time goes by: perhaps you have young children, you have moved to a busy street or you have been experiencing back problems. Think carefully about whether your sleep environment is really suitable for your current circumstances.

3. Which areas could you improve upon? Think about light, noise, nutrition, sleeping position and rhythm. Can you take the first step today towards making some changes?

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