How to fix your sleep problems for a better life
Is every day one big yawn?
Tackling your sleep problems can improve your motivation, build your energy levels and give you a better life.
Most people feel better and function more efficiently when they get around 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep a night. How much sleep are you really getting? How much do you need? If you’re unsure because your sleep pattern varies on different days, keep a tally of the times you wake and sleep.
Are you a Lark, an Owl, a Meerkat or a Dormouse?
At times when your sleep pattern is not controlled by the need to get up for work or family demands, what is your normal sleep pattern?
- Larks wake up early naturally, and start yawning and rubbing their eyes by 9pm.
- Owls tend to get up late, then stay up until after 1am.
- Meerkats are light sleepers, snuggling up to sleep but constantly jerking awake at the smallest disturbance.
- Dormice find it hard to wake up at a normal time, then drop off for a daytime nap – or two – and still go to bed early whenever they can.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Lark or an Owl, as long as your lifestyle means that your sleep-and-work pattern matches your own preference. If you’re naturally an Owl, but you have to force yourself out of bed early to get to work on time, you’ll also need to make yourself get to bed earlier than you’d like, or you’ll end up ‘burning the candle at both ends’ – a recipe for sleep-deprivation. If you find you’re losing out on sleep at your most productive time of day (whether morning or evening) consider ways to move your work schedule closer to your preferred sleeping pattern, wherever possible.
Are you sleep-deprived?
Whether you suffer with insomnia or you work long hours, not having enough sleep time can cause stress and other health problems. If you’re a light sleeper who finds it difficult to get a solid night’s sleep, you may not be getting enough dreaming-time – REM sleep – which can help you to deal with stress during waking hours.
Lying awake for hours with thoughts whirling around in your head, thrashing around while you sleep or having vivid nightmares or confusing dreams which jerk you awake can be more than a sleep problem. This may also be an indicator that there are current problems you have to sort out, something that’s missing in your life or past experiences you need to find a way to come to terms with. If that’s the case, you probably know already what’s wrong.
If your problems are the kind that you can’t just ‘deal with’, and you don’t feel it’s possible to put them behind you to move on and give yourself a fresh start, you may find relaxation exercises or meditation helpful.
If you find it difficult to discuss your feelings, consider increasing the amount of practical opportunities for self-expression in your life, perhaps through art, music, dance, writing or some other form of creative activity.
If you have difficulty dropping off to sleep, or you need to go to bed before you actually feel tired, try having a ‘winding down’ time without watching television or catching up on office work during the last hour before you go to bed, cut out caffeinated drinks in the evening and have a bath rather than a shower to relax your muscles. A new pillow may help
Ensure your bedroom is as comfortable as possible, not too hot or cold, make sure you’re neither hungry nor stuffed with food and keep a notepad and pen by the bed to jot reminders so you don’t lie awake worrying about things you’ve forgotten.
Are you sleeping too much?
We all enjoy a lazy lie-in once in a while. But as a long-term sleep pattern, getting too much sleep saps your energy and leaves you feeling stale and lethargic.
Excess sleeping can be a symptom of depression, because you’re using sleep as an escape from the world rather than because you’re genuinely tired. It can be a vicious circle, because you feel guilty and angry with yourself for having wasted all that time in sleeping, so you end up with more bad feelings you want to block out.
Sleeping too much may also be caused by a health condition such as sleep apnoea – if your sleep isn’t restful enough, you may need more of it to keep yourself going.
Unless you’re working the night shift, or you know you’ll be wakened constantly during the night to feed the baby or care for a sick relative, most healthy adults don’t really need to sleep during the daytime.
So if you’ve developed the habit of taking an afternoon nap, or you tend to doze off in front on the television in the evenings, you could be affecting your sleep at night, as well as missing out on quality time with your family.
The closer you can get to a natural eight-hours-a-night sleep pattern, waking up in the morning and going to bed in the evening, the better you’re likely to feel, so if you’re sleeping too much because you suffer with depression, look at other ways to get some time to yourself without sleeping, perhaps by doing a solitary hobby sitting upright at a table, or going out for a walk alone.
In particular, try to include a variety of activities in your life apart from watching TV, using the computer or playing video games, as staring at a screen for lengthy periods can make you feel dopey and tired. Look for ways to build up the amount of exercise or physical activity in your day. Although you might feel tired at first, after a few days you’ll find this will give you more energy.
If you are on prescribed medication to cope with stress or depression, check to see if ‘drowsiness’ is one of the side-effects listed, but don’t use this as an excuse to sleep all day long. Check with your doctor to ensure that you are on the right dosage, or whether different medication would help you feel more alert.
When you actually feel tired, make a conscious decision as to whether you’re going to sleep or not and how much sleep you feel you need. Don’t let yourself doze off in a chair or crash out fully dressed – change into nightwear and go to bed, even if you only plan to sleep for a couple of hours.
Set your alarm – or a lot of alarms! – to wake you and before you drop off, make a serious mental commitment to getting up when your planned sleep time has finished. If you usually feel sleepy when you wake up, keep a wet face-cloth in a bowl by the bed and wash your face to feel more alert and prevent yourself dozing off again.
Whatever your sleep problems, it’s important to face them and find ways to control your sleeping. It’s the first step in any self-improvement plan, and a crucial part of making changes towards a better life.