It’s becoming more and more clear that sleep is vitally important for almost every aspect of our physical and mental health. Having enough sleep has a direct and fast effect on our immune system, concentration, stress levels, mood, performance and how we feel and function. But knowing that is not helpful when we are lying awake desperate to get to sleep, with our mind racing and the knowledge that we have something important the next day that we really need to be on good form for!
So, the key is to:
- Understand the importance of sleep and therefore want to get the best we can
- Know the do and don’t rules that will help us get that best sleep
- Genuinely try to follow those rules
- Stop panicking on the occasions when following the rules doesn’t work – if we have something important the next day, such as an exam, adrenaline will carry us through and we can catch up later.
In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know:
Adults usually need 7-8 hours sleep and teenagers around 9. But many people can manage well on a bit less – and some people need a bit more. try not to be fixated on the number of hours. If you’re feeling tired during the day, simply try to get a bit more than you usually get and you’ll notice the difference.
Here are the main things to focus on:
- Decide what time you want to switch your might off to go to sleep and start your pre-bed routine at least an hour and ideally nearer two hours before that.
- At the start of that period, remove all daylight from your room. (This means using thick curtains or blackout blinds and also switching off all screens, because smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming machines and TVs all emit the same kind of light as daylight. It’s fine to leave your bedside light on and it’s fine to use a Kindle or other ebook reader as long as it’s not “backlit”.)
- Create a winding-down routine: 4-6 things you do in the same order every night, beginning with removing daylight, as above. Choose the things from the “DO” list that follows.
- If you struggle to get to sleep because you’re worrying about something, write it on a piece of paper and put it by your door. Now think about something else: choose a lovely thought, a fantasy, an exciting story about yourself, your dream scenario. Build it up in your mind. Fill in details. Enjoy it! Stop trying to get to sleep – just focus on your daydream fantasy.
- Eat a non-sugary snack if you’re hungry: a glass of milk, small sandwich, piece of cheese. Lettuce is said to help!
- Listen to slow/gentle music
- Do some stretches/yoga
- Tidy all your homework away and put things out ready for school/work in the morning
- If you’re worried about having too much to do tomorrow, make a list
- Have a bath or shower
- Meditation/mindfulness/relaxation audio
- Get into your sleeping clothes
- Read a book for pleasure
DON’T – these things can stop you sleeping if you do them in the two hours before bed
- Listen to loud/fast music
- Exercise (apart from gentle stretches)
- Sugary food or drinks
- Caffeine (eg in coffee, tea, cola, chocolate drinks)
- Watch TV/film/DVD – an exception would be that if your mind is overwhelmed with a big fear or worry, this could take your mind off that worry. However, it is also quite likely to wake you up (though personally I find TV sends me to sleep event hough it’s not in my bedroom!)
- Have your smartphone/internet on – it is likely to bring messages that will alert/excite you, not relax you. It’s far better not to have your phone even in your room. You don’t need the alarm function: you can buy an excellent cheap alarm clock that will do the job much better!
I have quite a few free resources to help, whatever your age
- Here is a video I made to answer a question from a school about how to sleep during exam stress
- Tips about Sleep of tips for sleep
- Here is a link to some strategies and science, specifically aimed at parents or teachers of teenagers but anyone can benefit from them
I hope that helps. But if it doesn’t help and you still can’t sleep, never panic – you’ll be fine! If the problem continues, see a doctor for advice and reassurance. (Persistent sleep problems can be associated with depression and anxiety and a doctor can help with that.) Sleeping tablets are usually not a good idea as they are very addictive, but under medical supervision they can be offered for a very short time. But the advice I give above should help you avoid that situation. Most sleep problems are short term and related to a temporary worry or stress or caused by people being on their phones/tablets etc.
Look after your health during the day, and especially the evening and sleep is highly likely to sort itself out.