Weather it’s tossing and turning, too much on your mind or too much coffee – when we don’t get enough sleep, it can contribute to a range of problems including depression and anxiety. But it can sometimes feel hard to achieve amid the pressures of daily life. To help, we have sat down with our consultant psychologist Dr Ria and he has given us his top tips for ensuring a good night’s sleep.
- Why do some people find it difficult to sleep unless they’re in a certain position, or sleeping on a certain side of their body, or facing a wall?
“As with anything we physically and mentally do, our body gets used to certain habits, and this is no different when we sleep. If you are used to sleeping on a certain side, your brain tells you this is the comfiest position for you to sleep and this will become a natural process.
“Similarly, some people may sleep on their back or curl up with their pillow, and it’s the same process. Once your body becomes used to sleeping in a certain position, your brain will tell you this is the correct way for you to get to sleep, and your body will react.
“This is why if you are sharing a bed with your partner you may struggle to get to sleep, as your brain is telling you which position to lie in, but that position may not be available whilst sharing the space with someone else.
- Is it possible to unlearn these habits so you can fall asleep more easily?
“It is possible to work around conditioning and deconditioning of the brain, if there is a clear indication that certain behaviours might be counterproductive over time.
“In general, there is nothing wrong with sleeping in a preferred position, however over time this may cause aches or postural discomfort. When this is the case, it is fundamental to adopt a more holistic approach, where we look at sleep difficulties from various perspectives.
“The aim is firstly to identify possible triggers which are causing sleep difficulty and work towards more functional strategies, in order to facilitate waking up feeling refreshed.
“It is not just about the number of hours a person spends resting horizontally in bed, it’s important we consider the quality of sleep, as this is when we will reach deeper phases of sleep.
“To promote good sleep hygiene, we encourage maintaining a good sleep routine which includes going to bed at the same time each night, purchasing quality bed equipment such as a good mattress and limiting how much we drink after 6pm at night.
- What can a person do if they are struggling to fall asleep?
Avoid sleeping during the day – “My first recommendation would be to avoid sleeping during the day. A nap should strictly last no longer than 30 minutes, as this may affect your sleeping routine and conflict with your quality of sleep at night.
De-clutter your room – “Ensuring you have a non-cluttered, clean and spacious bedroom space is essential for a good night’s sleep. From a sleep clinic point of view, it’s recommended you limit access to smart devices at least 60 minutes before going to sleep, as these devices have backlights which keep our brain alert instead of supporting our neuro system to follow a natural curve towards sleep.
Control caffeine intake – “We’re not recommending you completely cut caffeine out of your diet but controlling your intake of caffeine is key for a good night’s sleep. I would recommend you limit your daily intake of caffeine and refrain from drinking caffeine after 6pm at night. Instead try sipping a natural caffeine free infusion – white and green tea or matcha can be ideal substitutes to regular coffee.
Reflect on dreams – “Discussing your dreams or recurring disturbing nightmares with a professional can be helpful, as distressing dreams can have an emotional impact on the brain and a negative influence on sleep.
“Sleeping well is essential in terms of emotional, cognitive and physical optimum functioning, therefore in cases of those who have persistent difficultly maintaining a good sleep regimen, it is key they seek specialist advice and tailored support.
- Is it possible to train yourself to sleep differently? For instance, I cannot sleep on my left side, and have only been able to sleep on my right side while facing a wall.
“We are very fluid as human beings, and it is certainly possible to try to move things around and follow new sleep habits.
“For example, if you sleep in a new bed or you are sleeping in a hotel bed, you may not get a great sleep on the first or second night, however your brain will naturally adapt to the new environment and allow you to fall asleep.
For more advice book an appointment with Dr Ria here.