By Ruth Doherty
We’ve all had to embrace a 'new normal' for the past few months and, for many, that includes working from home. What was once considered a luxury for a lucky few, is now part of our collective lifestyle.
Many people, however, weren't equipped for working from home and often retreat to the room with space that affords some semblance of peace and quiet – the bedroom. But what does this mean for our sleep quality?
Tempur Sleep Expert and chartered psychologist, Suzy Reading, says: 'It won’t come as a surprise that the best sleep environment is one reserved solely for sleep, however, the reality is currently far from this.
'There are so many temptations at an arm's distance that will keep us awake at night, such as streaming our favourite TV shows and movies, social media, messaging friends and family, checking or waiting on important emails, not to mention stress and anxiety disorders that are commonplace due to our busy, modern lifestyles and inevitably amplified by the current situation we all find ourselves in.'
According to the Mental Health Foundation, we are now sleeping 90 minutes less on average than we did less than 100 years ago, with factors such as increased work responsibilities, over-stimulation from phones and laptops, and poor diets causing more and more people to suffer with sleep problems.
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HOW TO GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP
Gerard Barnes, CEO of mental health treatment specialist Smart TMS suggests the restorative benefits of quality sleep are huge for our health and wellbeing.
'There are a range of factors that contribute to any mental health problem, and we can never put something like depression or chronic anxiety down to one single issue, but regularly getting good quality sleep is one of the single most potent ways to influence one’s mental health in a positive manner.
'Some people who experience a significant lack of sleep may suffer from a sleep disorder which likely requires specific treatment, but for the majority of us, our sleep quality could be dramatically improved by simply making some simple adjustments to our lifestyle and daily habits.'
With this in mind, here are 14 key tips that can be easily applied to start sleeping better.
1. SWITCHING OFF
'Our reliance on smartphones, tablets and laptops in today’s society has never been greater, and while this technology has a range of advantages, it can also have a devastating effect on our ability to sleep,' says Gerard.
'Blue light emitted by our screens disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle – switching off or leaving your electronic devices for half an hour or more before bed will help you to feel sleepy and allow you to drop off more effectively.'
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2. AVOID CAFFEINE AND ALCOHOL
Consuming caffeine before bed is of course not conducive to relaxing, but many may be surprised to find that alcohol actually disrupts your sleep. Gerard says: 'Whilst many people say they find it very easy to fall asleep following a few drinks, alcohol has been proven to reduce the amount of time spent in REM sleep – the stage of sleep responsible for the retention of memory, learning and mood regulation. Staying away from alcohol before bed will improve memory, prepare you to deal with your emotions and is essential for your overall development.'
3. CREATE A CALMING RETREAT
Choose tranquil colours for a tranquil, chic sleep retreat; warm, soft greys or earthy colours will have a calming effect. Remove clutter from your room for a relaxing space; the last thing you want is to feel stressed by a chaotic bedroom.
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4. ESTABLISH A SLEEPING ROUTINE
'Building a realistic and achievable daytime routine is one of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety, helping us to cope with change, form positive behaviours, and feel more in control of our lives. Our night time routines should be no different,' says Gerard. 'The benefits of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day for our mental health cannot be overstated – reduction of anxiety, improved energy levels and ability to cope with responsibilities are just some of the positive effects.'
5. KEEP ON MOVING
We may not always feel like it, but exercise is a fantastic sleep-booster. 'Doing regular exercise is one of the most beneficial and influential things we can do to help us sleep better,' says Gerard. 'Not only does exercise release a natural antidepressant in the form of endorphins, but the increased demand placed on our body makes the prospect of sleep far more attractive to our mind. Even just 30 minutes of exercise a day will help in the quest to achieve a better night of sleep.'
6. INVEST IN LINEN
Linen sheets are the perfect bedfellow for a good night's sleep, thanks to the fabric's breathable, temperature-regulating, moisture-absorbing capabilities. It's also bacteria-resistant, as well as being a far more sustainable choice than cotton.
Jo James, co- founder of Bedfolk, says: 'Linen is perfect as a year-round bedding material – it's a moisture-wicking fabric so keeps you cool in summer, but also works as a natural insulator to keep you warm and cosy in winter. What's more, linen is effortlessly stylish, hardwearing and airy. It washes like a dream, is best un-ironed, and gets softer with every wash. What’s not to love?'. Sleep easy.
7. WFH RULES
'We’re already a nation suffering from poor sleep and unfortunately, using our bedroom as a pop-up office only serves to hinder good sleep further,' says Suzy Reading.
'Our mind and body will naturally start to associate the bedroom with work-related stress and frustrations rather than the peaceful sanctuary of sleep it ought to be. There are, however, some simple hacks to ensure that, if you are working from home, your bedroom remains as serene as possible.
'Changing out of your pyjamas is a must – not just to help get into the work mindset, but to help you switch off at the end of the day when you inevitably change back into comfortable sleepwear.
'Make the bed in the morning to avoid the urge of climbing back into it at any point during the day and so it’s inviting again at bedtime. And if your desk is in the bedroom, it’s also important to eat all meals elsewhere, both to ensure you’re taking adequate breaks, and to prevent filling your sleep sanctuary with unpleasant odours come bedtime.'
8. GET SOME AIR
It’s important to take a mid-morning break, preferably with a quick walk outside. 'A dose of sunshine helps to boost the body’s natural circadian rhythms in preparation for sleep and mediates the effects of screen time, ' says Suzy. 'Mark the end of your day with some fresh air too. Getting outside for just 15 minutes will help you wind down and mentally close the workday. A walk is a great way to decompress, relax and enjoy some light exercise.
'You’ll not only feel brighter and more clear-headed, but you’ll also soak up a healthy dose of Vitamin D which is essential for many bodily functions, including supporting the immune system, strengthening bones and ensuring healthy muscles. You’ll notice the relaxation benefits of this post-work ritual almost immediately, boosting your mood generally, and your sleep quantity and quality come bedtime.'
9.THE POWER OF PLANTS
As well as looking pretty, plants in the bedroom can actually aid a better slumber. Our homes can be full of pollutants like mould, chemicals and allergens that can play havoc with your sleep, and many plants can remove them and purify the air.
Good plants to choose? Aloe vera releases oxygen and improves air quality; lavender has been found to increase 'deep sleep', which plays an important part in restoration; and peace lilies are known to clear chemicals from the air, and add moisture for a better sleeping environment.
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10. SCENT TO SLEEP
'Using a scent can help us delineate between time to be switched on and time to unwind, especially important if you’re working or studying from your bedroom,' says Suzy. 'Citrus or pine scent is ideal to keep us alert and focused during the day.
'At bedtime, swap for lavender or rose scent as these are well known for their sleep-inducing qualities. Add a few drops of essential oil to your bedding or spritz onto your pillow before bed. Every night you can enjoy breathing in the calming scent – you’ll find that you start to associate the scent with sleep too, making it easier to drift off and enjoy sweet dreams.'
11. AND BREATHE
If you’re finding it hard to get a good night's sleep, try some breathing exercises designed to promote rest and relaxation. Suzy says: 'While in bed, feel the sensation of your breathing, allowing it to be as smooth as spacious as possible. Ideally, the exhalation will be longer than the inhalation. Try the ‘candle breath’ technique, which is when you breathe in slowly through the nose, breathe out slowly through gently pursed lips as if you are blowing out a candle. Repeat for five minutes.'
12. TURN OFF THE TV
To get a good night's sleep, it's a great idea not to have a television in your room. But if you do insist on one, be strict with yourself and don't watch it late at night. Suzy says: 'Try to resist the temptation to watch television (or look at your phone or tablet) when in bed as technology is designed to stimulate your mind and keep you engaged; neither of which are conducive to a good night’s sleep. There’s a reason the Netflix CEO labelled sleep the streaming giant’s number one competitor.'
13. HIT THE RIGHT TEMPERATURE
The ideal bedroom temperature to get a good night's sleep is around 16 degrees, however it really is personal preference and you should adjust the temperature to suit. Suzy says: 'You should also consider if your duvet is too thick, if you find yourself getting too warm and throwing it off in the middle of the night, it’s worth investing in a lighter, lower tog duvet.'
14. SNOOZE-INDUCING PJs
Opt for loose-fitting cotton pyjamas that are lightweight and breathable, as this will keep you cool and help you get a good night's sleep. Nightwear made from man-made materials such as polyester contributes to increased body temperature, and can interrupt your sleep pattern.
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