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How to Sleep Like a Baby

Recently the clocks went back for daylight savings and as we all looked forward to an extra hour in bed, I thought we should talk about sleep mindset.

We all know sleep is good for us, but scientific research makes it clear that sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day.

In fact, one thing you might not know, is that you can never ‘sleep back’ that which you have lost. So, don’t kid yourself that you will ‘catch up on sleep,’ at the weekend!

We now have comprehensive evidence that sleep affects cognitive and physical performance in both the short and long term and can even increase longevity, reduce physical ailments and improve mental health stability.

Mentally, sleep impacts memory, helping create new memories and then cementing those new memories to prevent forgetting. It also enhances creativity and improves cognitive performance and concentration.

Physically, anything less than eight hours of sleep at night, leads to; a 10 to 30% drop in the ‘time to physical exhaustion’; impairments in speed, accuracy and muscle strength; and even reduces the effectiveness of your lungs. Short sleep also increases hunger and appetite and reduces impulse control in the brain leading to weight gain and overeating.

Even knowing all of this, and despite feeling exhausted much of the time, many of us still neglect to make sleep a priority. If you also experience anxiety, stress or depression, as one in six people do at present, you may find yourself worrying about poor sleep; which leads to poor sleep, which leads to worrying about sleep…and the terrible cycle continues.

Fortunately, there are things you can do to increase the likelihood of experiencing better quality sleep.

How can you improve your sleep?

  • Stick to the same sleep schedule every day: even at weekends.

  • Aim to sleep for 7 to 8 hours at night and a further 30 to 60 minute nap in the afternoon for maximum impact.

  • Avoid alcohol in the evenings. Contrary to popular belief, it actually increases wakefulness during the night and also supresses REM sleep (the most rejuvenating period of sleep).

  • Avoid nicotine and caffeine after 12pm.

  • Make time to relax and unwind before bed and withdraw from technology 1 hour before you intend to sleep.

  • Try creating a bedtime ritual, meditating or journaling to decrease mental clutter.

  • Avoid using sleep trackers – orthosomnia is a new disorder characterised by people becoming obsessed with and stressed about the sleep levels they observe on their personal devices. These devices are often inaccurate with poor validation data. However, people feel validated by their perceived lack of sleep and become increasingly anxious about achieving sleep ‘perfection’.

  • Try Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) if you suffer with sleeplessness due to pain, trauma or insomnia.

  • Support during the night - if you find yourself awake with difficult feelings or worries, the Samaritans are available 24/7 – call 116 123 (free from any phone).

Create an optimum sleep environment:

  • Create lowered, dim light in the rooms where you spend your evening. Candlelight is perfect.

  • Avoid harmful blue light from electronic devices: it’s like a shot of caffeine to your brain! Try using the automatic blue light filters on devices or invest in a pair of red tinted glasses to wear in the evening before bed – I know what you’re thinking; yes, they do look sexier than you can imagine!

  • Install blackout blinds to maintain complete darkness throughout the night.

  • Have the right sunlight exposure. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns, so try wake up with the sun or use a sun lamp in the morning.

  • Reduce the temperature of the room and open the windows for some fresh air. A bedroom temperature of 18.3˚C is ideal.

  • Remove visible clock-faces from view to prevent clock watching anxiety at night.

All the above can improve the quality and duration of your sleep, but to be successful you must change your how you think about sleep and develop a positive sleep mindset.

If you only choose to make one change, make it; going to sleep and waking up at the same time of day no matter what. It is perhaps the single most effective way of helping improve the quality and duration of your sleep.

Good luck and sweet dreams!

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