Sleep plays a vital role in our health and wellbeing – affecting both our physical and mental health. It’s just as important as eating well and exercising regularly.
Some critical functions are carried out in our body whilst we sleep. Our memories are formed and our hormones are regulated. We also undergo a process of restoration and rejuvenation.
Sleep helps to maintain our weight and control the number of calories we eat. I know if I’m tired my body craves carbs for the extra energy.
It improves our concentration and productivity as well as supporting our immune system. It reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes, dementia and Type 2 diabetes.
It's important for our mental health and reduces the risk of depression.
Adults need between 7 and 9 hours of restful sleep a night. Generally, we’re not sleeping as well now as we’ve done in the past and our sleep is also poorer quality. Add to that the stress and upset of a breakup and the thought of a restful night’s sleep seems beyond our reach.
I’ve never been a good sleeper, but throw my divorce into the mix and my sleep was a disaster! I’d stay up as late as possible to make sure I was exhausted so there was a chance I’d fall asleep. I dreaded going to bed and tossing and turning all night. Most nights I’d eventually fall asleep after reading, but I’d be awake again after a couple of hours.
I’d regularly be up for 2 – 3 hours during the night either reading downstairs or watching TV. Eventually I'd go back to bed and sleep, but when the alarm went off, I’d be in a deep sleep and couldn’t get up. I’d hit the snooze button continually and often be late for work.
With no motivation and excitement for anything in my life, there was no incentive to get out of bed.
I never woke up feeling refreshed and I’d use caffeine to get me through the day. I was so exhausted I actually don’t know how I functioned. The lack of sleep undoubtedly didn’t help my mental health.
Here are 9 Tips to help improve your sleep:
1. Have a regular time for going to bed and getting up: Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, is one of the most important strategies for sleeping better. It helps you to feel so much more refreshed and energised than if you sleep the same number of hours but at different times each day. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should be able to wake up without an alarm clock. Try and keep to the same routine at weekends as well. Even varying it by an hour will leave you with that jet lagged feeling
2. Have a wind down routine: Stop using any screens ideally an hour before bed. The blue light from the screens hinders the production of melatonin which is the sleep regulating hormone. Taking a warm bath just before bed can help you get to sleep. When you cool down from getting out the bath your body thinks you’ve gone from daytime to night-time - so you’re more likely to want to sleep.
3. Review your sleep environment: Your bedroom can have a huge impact on your sleep. Make sure your bed’s comfortable and the room temperature is cool enough. The ideal temperature is 18ºC. Block out any light or noise, even if that means wearing ear plugs. Keep your room tidy and get rid of any clutter so that it’s a calm and relaxing place to be. Using aromatherapy oils such as lavender can also help if you have them in the room or spray them on your pillow.
4. Get exposure to natural day light: You’ll really benefit if you can get outside first thing as this will help you to wake up. Try and spend time outside during the day and make sure your workspace is as light as possible.
5. Exercise during the day: People who exercise regularly sleep better and the more vigorous the exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. It can take several months before you feel all the benefits so give it time if you’re starting a new routine. Exercise at least 3 hours before bed otherwise it can interfere with your sleep. More relaxing exercises such as yoga are better in the evenings.
6. Avoid caffeine and Alcohol: especially close to bedtime. Caffeine can affect your sleep up to 10 hours before bedtime. Eating lots of refined carbs can also cause interruptions in sleep.
7. Improve your gut health: Neurotransmitters linked to sleep – Serotonin and GABA - are produced by our gut microbiome, as well as melatonin. Eating prebiotic foods or taking a prebiotic supplement can help.
8. Keep a notepad by your bed: If you wake during the night feeling anxious or thinking about what needs to get done the next day etc, write it down on a pad so you can come back to it in the morning. You should then be able to forget about it and go back to sleep.
9. Learn how to get back to sleep: If you’re still awake after 15 minutes then get up and do something gently stimulating such as reading. Don’t use your screens or watch tv. Meditation and breathing exercises can also be really helpful.
Sleep is critical for our emotional and physical well-being. If you go to bed thinking you won’t sleep, then that’s what will happen. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Going through a breakup is a traumatic time for most people so it’s no surprise our sleep is affected. By following the tips above, you may start to improve your sleep. Above all, remember to be kind to yourself. Rest when you can and take care of yourself.
I’m running a free workshop – Heartbreak to Happiness where I’ll give you some tips to help you to move on after your breakup by letting go of the past and taking back control of your life. It's on 30th July at 7.30pm.
You can sign up here: www.sarah-woodward.com/Heartbreak-to-Happiness