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Insomnia 101: Your step-by-step guide to falling asleep

From memory foam mattresses to wind-down routines, we look at some of the best ways to tackle that enemy of health and well being - insomnia.
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Insomnia

In need of an early night? Check. Feeling desperately exhausted after a long day at work? Check. Head hurting, eyes sore, yawns coming thick and fast… Check, check and check. It’s a complete mystery then, that we find ourselves wide awake and unable to sleep the minute we get tucked up in bed. Instead of drifting off into a peaceful and much needed slumber, our minds start to run riot, our legs grow restless, and our exhaustion quickly builds to a disastrous crescendo.

As night slowly gives way to the early morning light and the chattering of birds, we slip into that familiar old insomniac state of mind. Unable to focus on anything other than how little sleep we’ll get before the alarm sounds, we gradually lose our ability to think rationally, with even the most minor problems blowing up out of all proportion. The soundly-snoozing partner next to us becomes almost intolerable – a mocking reminder of what we, ourselves, cannot achieve.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. In fact, recent reports show that almost a third of adults suffer from a poor night’s sleep regularly, with over half the population saying that stress or worry keeps them awake at night (source). But don’t worry, there are things you can do to help you break the insomnia cycle, and most of them are easier than you think. From memory foam mattresses to being mindful of mobiles, there’s an array of solutions to consider.

Mother and child

The routine factor

This one seems obvious when we’re looking after our own kids, but many of us fail to establish a night-time routine as adults. But just like children, our bodies crave – and need – consistency (source). Getting up at the same time every day helps us to establish a regular body clock that means we’re less tired waking up early for work, and more likely to sleep well at night. Likewise, with a clear and consistent bed time routine, our bodies will start to recognise signals that say it’s almost time to sleep. The NHS recommends giving ourselves at least an hour to relax before bed (source) – so it’s important to find the thing that helps you do that. It may be settling down to watch a drama on TV, reading a book or have a long bath. But whatever it is, once it becomes habit, your body will start to unwind when it gets to that time every night – and your body will start gearing up for sleep.

Beating back pain with the right mattress

Many of us don’t realise that we’re being woken up in the night due to tired and restless muscles caused by unsuitable mattresses. Likewise, feeling uncomfortable in bed can act as a real hindrance to nodding off, leading us to miss that important window of opportunity when our body is ready to fall asleep. So, if you often find yourself awake for no reason, or spend half an hour shuffling frantically in bed (and annoying your other half in the process) before going to sleep, it’s probably worth reassessing your sleeping setup. Memory foam mattresses can go a long way towards alleviating the pressure on your joints, and the strain on your muscles. They’re designed to mould to your body’s shape, which causes a ‘weightless’ feeling and stops you from feeling the need to change position so often.

But that’s not to say they’re for everyone. When it comes to choosing a mattress, everyone has their own unique comfort needs – meaning there’s far from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Latex mattresses, for example, are made from all natural latex rubber and have become an increasingly popular alternative to traditional sprung mattresses. They conform to your body’s shape in the same way as memory foam, but have more elasticity and bounce which some people find more comfortable. Whatever you choose, be sure to do your research first and you’ll be on your way to a better, more comfortable night’s sleep in no time.

Switching off

You’re bound to have heard the whole ‘no blue light before bed’ mantra by now. But switching off from technology on an evening is about more than just avoiding that pesky, stimulating light. In fact, many phones now offer a ‘night shift’ mode which changes the light on their screen to soft yellow instead of blue - meaning that yes, technically you could use them right before bed. Only, it doesn’t really work that way.

Flicking through emails or social media sites in the run up to sleep still means your mind is going to be far more active than it should by prior to drifting off. By doing so, you’re opening up a fresh sequence of dialogue in your brain that won’t be easily quietened - ‘Will I meet my deadline tomorrow?’… ‘Should I reply to my friends Facebook message now or is it too late?’… ‘Will I make it to that Christening next Saturday or should I cancel?’ You’re essentially amping up your brain’s thought process when you should be doing the exact opposite, and dialling it down.

Lights out

The most important environmental feature of your bedroom conducive to a good night’s sleep is probably darkness, as this promotes the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. And if you’re a ‘one-leg-in, one-leg-out’ kind of sleeper, the chances are that your room’s too warm which could also disrupt your ability to drift off. The optimal temperature for your bedroom should be between 16-18 degrees Celsius. This is because it’s essential for our bodies to cool down for the ‘sleep mechanism’ to switch on.

Most of us will experience insomnia at some point during our lives, but the important thing is to make sure it’s not happening so often that it’s affecting your quality of life. If the above factors don’t help you to sleep with ease most nights, don’t be afraid to pop to your GP to discuss further options. Whatever it is that’s keeping you up at night, just remember you’re not alone - and the solution may be simpler than you think.

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