We know the feeling, you drift off to sleep without a hitch and then inexplicably wake up in the middle of the night and lay awake for hours. Here we round up 10 tricks to try before bed, to get a better night’s sleep, and 10 things to try in the depths of night to help you drop back off, if you do wake up or experience sleep problems.
We’ve also spoken to Silentnight’s sleep expert, Nerina Ramlakhan who shares her sleep tips with us and explains how to get more sleep. So forget counting sheep, these simple lifestyle changes could help make your sleep problems a thing of the past.
Things to try in the middle of the night
1. Try some relaxation techniques
If you have trouble switching off once you’ve woken up, try some easy breathing techniques to help you calm back down again. The 4-7-8 method, pioneered by US sleep expert Andrew Weil, is said to work for many in just 60 seconds.
• Exhale completely through your mouth.
• Inhale through your nose and count to 4.
• Hold your breath and count to 7.
• Exhale through your mouth and count to 8.
• Repeat the cycle 3 times.
2. Go and get a drink of water
Sometimes we feel reluctant to get up out of bed because we think it will wake us up further, but if you haven’t drifted back off after about 20 minutes, a change of scenery could help. Get up, have a drink, go to the toilet and sit quietly in a low-lit room to do something relaxing, like reading or doing a crossword, until you feel sleepy again.
3. Listen to the soothing sounds of Andrew Johnson
Team goodtoknow swear by Andrew Johnson’s Deep Sleep app. His calming, Scottish voice talks you into a state of relaxation, helping you to clear your head and putting you in the right mindset to fall asleep. It’s worked for all of us at one time or another!
4. Put the phone away
OK, aside from the above, one of the worst things you can do to help yourself get back to sleep again is to start looking at your smartphone — particularly social media sites. Chances are your mind is already racing, so adding in extra thoughts about what friends and family have been up to is a bad move. As tempting as it might be to hashtag insomnia, it’s just making the problem a whole lot worse.
Nerina says: ‘Turn your phone off, and never, ever, sleep with your phone under your pillow!’
5. Turn off the electric blanket
Studies suggest that while your ‘leccy blanket might seem like your best friend in the depths of winter, it could actually be disrupting your sleep. You’re more likely to sleep better when you’re a bit chilly than when you’re too hot, so you’re best off layering up with a couple of regular blankets than turning up the heat too much. The same goes for having the central heating on too high — opt for a hot water bottle instead.
6. Make a list
If you’re wide awake and keep running over things that you ‘mustn’t forget’ the following day, jot them down instead.
Sometimes the best ideas come to us in the middle of the night, but rather than fretting that if you drop back off to sleep you might forget them again, be prepared.
Keep a notepad and pen by your bed and empty your brain onto it if you wake up with your mind racing. Imagine your thoughts flowing out on to the paper, leaving your mind clear to drift back off to sleep.
7. Pop a pill
There are lots of herbal sleep remedies that can aid an uninterrupted night’s sleep. Most are recommended to take before bed, but if you’re lying staring at the ceiling at 3am, the mere action of taking something that promises to help you sleep might be enough to help you drift off — a bit of a placebo effect maybe, but if it does the job… Ask in the health food shop or at the local chemist for recommendations.
8. Go to your happy place
If you find that negative thoughts or anxiety are keeping you awake at night, then think ahead. In the daytime, think of something that never fails to make you feel happy. Perhaps a favourite quiet place, the smile of your children or a lovely memory of days gone by.
When you wake up in the night, focus on these happy, calming thoughts. You could even go as far as to create a ‘mantra’ or phrase that you repeat slowly in your head to help relax you. Something like: ‘Life is good, I love my family and they love me’.
9. Lay off the booze
This isn’t something that you can undo at silly o’clock but it’s proven that drinking alcohol before bed can lead to a disrupted sleep. Tomorrow, try giving that evening glass of wine a miss, avoid caffeine after 4pm and see if you sleep any better.
10. Hide the clock
If you have a clock or your phone within easy glance or reach of your bed, cover it up with something. When you can’t sleep, there’s nothing worse than watching time tick away, thinking: ‘Even if I fall asleep right now, it’s only four… three… two… hours before I have to get up.’ Take the pressure off yourself, if you do wake up, resist the temptation to check the time and try one of the techniques mentioned above instead.
Nerina says: ‘One of the worst things you can do is to keep checking the time. Clock watching will only aggitate you as you’ll feel annoyed that you’re not falling asleep. And you shouldn’t calculate how long you’ve got left in bed either, as this will only work you up more.’
Things to try during the day
1. Go to the loo before bed
If you think you may suffer from Nocturia (needing to wee in the night), or occasionally find you’re going to the toilet during the night, try to avoid drinking lots of fluids before bedtime, and always have a wee before you snuggle down. If you find you get thirsty, keep a glass of water next to you at night so you can have a sip but without you then needing to get up during the night.
2. Use lavender & eucalyptus
Lavender oil has long been used to treat insomnia, it’s a calm and relaxing scent that helps your body to wind down. Put lavender into a diffuser, or put a couple of drops of oil onto your pillow before bedtime.
Nerina says: ‘As a person who has suffered with sleep problems myself, I always make sure I’ve got some lavender or eucalyptus oil in my bedroom, it really helps to relax you into sleep’.
3. Take some time to wind down
Lots of women make the mistake of getting straight into bed before they’ve wound down from the day’s activities.
Nerina says: ‘If your brain is wired from the busy day you’ve had, you’ll find it difficult to switch-off. You need to start to wind down between around 90 minutes before bed. Talk to someone about your day, particulary if anything’s annoyed you, to get it off your chest. And if you’re thinking of all the things you’ve got to do tomorrow, write a list, so that you can relax, knowing you’re organised for the next day.’
4. Exercise regularly
Try to exercise for at least 20-30 minutes per day, but don’t do it too close to bedtime as it will stimulate your body and make you more awake. Exercising in the mornings or afternoons is best.
Nerina says: ‘Exercising regularly is great to help you sleep better at night. Try to keep active during the day, or go to the gym. Exercising will produce melatonin and help you to sleep. Don’t over-rest during the day, as although you might feel tired, you’ll find it difficult to fall asleep.’
5. Keep hydrated
Drink plenty of water during the day to keep your body hydrated. Keep a glass of water by your bed if you wake up feeling thirsty.
Nerina says: ‘It’s so important to keep hydrated. When we’re dehydrated we wake up more in the night.’
6. Limit your caffeine
Whilst you may love your coffee and cuppa’s, they could be affecting your sleep. Caffeine blocks a chemical in the brain that’s associated with sleep, and so drinking lots of caffeine will make you feel more awake. Cut back on the amount you drink, or switch to a decaffeinated version.
Nerina says: ‘Cut back on your caffeine intake. You shouldn’t have any caffeine after 3pm, and no more than 2-3 cups per day.’
7. No snacks before bed
Whilst it’s nice to cosy down in the evenings with some comforting snacks, this won’t help you sleep. Swap sweet snacks for healthy alternatives, as the sugar will raise your blood sugar and could delay your sleep or make it hard for you to stay asleep. Making sure you’re not going to bed on a stomach full of heavy carbs will help too. Try to eat earlier in the evening, or make sure your dinner is healthy, and not too stodgy.
8. Fresh air
As tempting as it is to batten down the hatches and stay inside in the warm, make sure you get some fresh air during the day. Even if it’s just popping to the shops. Seeing as much day light as possible will help your mind distinguish between night and day helping you to get a good night’s sleep.
9. Hot bath and warm drinks
Getting into bed with cold feet is horrible, and you’re unlikley to nod off before they warm up, which could take a while. Make sure you’re nice and toastie, head to toe, with a bath which will relax tense muscles. Warm yourself up on the inside too with a warm drink but try to avoid cafinated options.
10. Be in bed by ten
According to Chinese medicine, the immune system is replenished at around 11 o’clock at night, and it’s best to be asleep when this happens. If you don’t feel tired before this, then don’t pressure yourself to fall asleep, read a book and dim the lights to relax.
Narina says: ‘Don’t try to fall asleep before you’re ready, you’ll only put pressure on yourself to fall asleep and feel frustrated when it doesn’t happen. It’s important to let go of worrying about sleep, and to let it happen naturally.’