Mental wellbeing for young people

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5 things you could do RIGHT NOW to improve your sleep

Kate Middleton photo Kate Middleton · 28 Jun, 2020

Not being able to sleep sucks! Is there ANYTHING worse than lying awake in the small hours watching your clock ticking? It feels like EVERYONE BUT YOU is sleeping.

Not being able to sleep sucks! Is there ANYTHING worse than lying awake in the small hours watching your clock ticking? It feels like EVERYONE BUT YOU is sleeping.

But actually, having spells of finding it tough to drop off, or waking up early or in the middle of the night isn’t unusual. And it can particularly happen when you’re a teenager as all the changes going on in your body and brain mess with your hormone levels meaning your sleep wake cycle can get a bit mashed.

So if you hit a sleepless spell - what can you do? Here’s 5 top tips …

1 - Get more exercise

This may sound weird, but the best way to improve sleep is often about things you do in the DAY not in the NIGHT! Taking regular exercise is about more than just tiring yourself out - its about have a good sleep/wake cycle with activity in the day and rest at night.

Did you know as well that exercise releases endorphins - 'feel-good' hormones which help us to relax and can help you switch off at the end of the day?

So - these days many of us just don’t move that much in the day - especially right now (THANKYOU Lockdown!) - so think about something you can do to get yourself up and moving!

Plus if you do feel a bit snoozy after a bad night it’ll wake you up for the day!

2 - Stop using your phone before bed

Did you know you have cells right at the back of your eye which are directly linked to the bit of your brain that controls your sleep wake cycle? Seriously - those cells in your brain literally tick and keep track of time - and control the level of hormones in your blood which make you feels sleepy or perky at the right times of day.

Now the issue is that blue light from backlit devices like your phone hits these cells and basically confuses them, pressing a kind of reset as they think it must be earlier in the day than they thought. This means it takes you longer to get to sleep.

The other thing about using your phone in bed is that your brain associates your phone with loadsa stuff which need you to be AWAKE - chat, work stuff, watching shows etc. So if your phone is near you your brain is always gonna be half staying alert just in case. So the BEST thing you can do is not just stop using it (if you’re prone to finding it hard to drop off, scientists recommend you stop using devices at least half an hour before you head to be by the way) but actually leave it somewhere else when you go to bed. Out of sight, out of mind - literally!

So step away from the phone - and see what difference it makes!

3 - STOP MONITORING your sleep.

Devices which monitor your sleep are tempting to use especially if you struggle with sleep. But the thing with sleep is that it is oddly hard to sleep when you are trying to - and when you are thinking abut it. Best thing is NOT to think about it … and the evidence is that sleep monitoring apps increase your awareness and tendency to worry about your sleep - meaning you sleep worse the minute you start using them.

PLUS - we also know that if you THINK you slept badly you feel worse the next day: Let's say your app TELLS you you had a rough night even though it wasn’t actually that bad. You will feel rubbish even though there’s not any real reason for that! And as most devices don’t measure very well and tend to tell you you slept worse than you really did, they are much more likely to make you feel rough than help at all.

Think about giving the monitoring a rest.

4 - Get up

Whaaat? Yeah now we’re talkin crazy - I mean you definitely won’t fall asleep if you’re not in bed, right?! Actually though all experts say this is an important rule: do not remain in bed tossing and turning if you can’t sleep. All that does is wind you up - meaning you won’t sleep, AND your mind starts to associate bed with stress not sleep - and that’s not gonna help either.

So if you really can’t sleep get up for a short time and do something calming and restful instead. Or if you really can’t then do something in bed that distracts you and is relaxing - listen to an audio book, say. Then when you feel sleepy again go back to sleep.

5 - Breathe

When we get stressed loads of stuff changes in our body - but one thing is that our mind is switched ON! Changing our breathing helps drop stress levels and restore calm - meaning your mind can relax and switch off and you can get some shut eye!

So any deep breathing technique can help - but an approach called 4/7/8 breathing in particular has been found to be hugely beneficial in helping people get to sleep.

Basically its about how long you spend in each of the three ‘zones’ of breathing. Didn’t know there were three? ONE is breathing in (do this for a count of 4), TWO is holding the breath in your lungs (this means gas exchange and stuff can take place - do this for a count of 7) and THREE is breathing out - SLOWLY (over a count of 8 - when you breathe OUT it switches off your stress response so you want to stretch this bit out).


Too much time online?

Too much time online?