by Liberty Stembridge, Lifestyle Columnist
Published in Lifestyle on 17th May, 2019
Insomnia is a rising problem amongst western countries in particular. Stress-filled lifestyles, rising obesity rates and excessive screen usage can all contribute to this problem, as more and more people are finding themselves waking up feeling exhausted and eventually, burning out.
In fact, as many as 1 in 3 people suffer from Insomnia (aka the inability to sleep or stay asleep) and even more suffer with disturbed sleep. Although sleep problems can be caused by mental or physical illness, such as PTSD or Chronic Pain Disorder, many are simply due to poor lifestyle.
If you're finding yourself constantly tired throughout the day, not getting as much sleep as you'd like or not feeling well rested even after a good night's sleep, here are the top scientifically validated hacks to better your sleep.
The first step to improving your sleep is understanding your sleep. By tracking your sleep you can gain a much better insight into what is going on in your brain and how you can adjust your lifestyle to either worsen or improve your sleep.
With the advent of fitbits and the apple watch, tracking your sleep has never been easier. With apps like Pillow or SleepWatch, you can now start tracking your sleep at the press of a button.
These apps record your heartbeat, movement and sometimes even the sounds that you make during your sleep to calculate exactly what is going on in your brain.
Of course, they aren't going to be 100% accurate, but many of them can give you estimates as the amount of REM, deep sleep and light sleep that you're getting, and judge your overall sleep quality.
Alongside these readings you can keep your own sleep diary, recording what you did that day and that evening, and then what your sleep was like.
This, alongside the recordings from the sleep app, can help you to judge what it is in your lifestyle that is affecting your sleep, whether it's watching TV before bed, eating sugar, having a stressful day at work or consuming caffeine.
Although it might sound pretty boring, having a sleep routine can really help you to create good habits and start sleeping better. When you get into the habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, you'll soon find that your body naturally begins to feel tired at those times.
Although it might conflict with having a fun social life, our brains really do thrive on routine, so it's worth giving it a go.
Cutting out caffeine, especially before bed, is a really important step if you want to make sure your brain is ready to go to sleep when you want it to.
You probably already know it's a bad idea to drink coffee before going to bed, but plenty of other drinks contain hidden caffeine, such as breakfast tea, green tea, earl grey tea and diet coke. Try instead to stick to water during the afternoon and evenings.
Sugar is another common cause of sleeplessness, as well as many other health issues. Sugar naturally excites the body and is even slightly addictive, which is what leads to the "sugar rush" you feel when you eat a donut.
Consuming sugar in the afternoon and evenings, particularly processed sugar, can lead to difficulty falling asleep. Stay away from culprits such as soda, fruit juice or hot chocolate and instead opt for herbal teas or water. As much as it may pain you to do so, it's also probably a good idea to cut out dessert as well.
For many suffering from insomnia, a small drink before bed helps them to get to sleep quicker and easier, in fact, alcohol has been a traditional remedy for sleeplessness for hundreds of years now, because of the drowsiness it can cause.
Although it may seem like a good option if you're having trouble getting to sleep, alcohol probably won't help your sleep as much as you think, and may even reduce the quality of your sleep quite substantially.
Studies have shown that alcohol consumption reduces the amount of REM sleep you get, which is when the brain does most of its dreaming and other work during the night.
A reduction in REM sleep means that you may well wake up the next day feeling more tired and drained, simply because your brain hasn't had enough time to catch up on all the things it needs to do. Over time this can have a huge knock on effect on your quality of life.
Although the traditional alcoholic treatment has been debunked, there are still many other supplements that have been around for a while and used to treat sleeplessness.
Melatonin is a common treatment that has been proven to help improve insomnia. It's actually a hormone naturally produced by our bodies that helps to tell the brain when we should be awake and when we shouldn't.
A lack of melatonin can lead to sleep dysregulation and insomnia, so supplementing with melatonin pills can help to improve your sleep.
Although you may not realise it at first, your environment can have a huge impact on your ability to get to sleep. Many people find it harder to sleep in messy rooms, if they have a lot of distractions, or if there are reminders of work they need to do left around.
Creating a nice, relaxing environment to sleep in can really help to improve your quality of sleep. Creating a 10 minute wind-down routine to get ready for bed can do the world of good in some cases.
Make the effort to tidy your bedroom a bit, putting away clothes, tidying your desk and returning items to their proper place. Then make your bed, and get into some comfy clothes.
These small steps can make a big difference in the long run, rather than just collapsing into a dirty pile of duvet and old clothes.
Ideally, you want to be in an environment that's as relaxing and comfortable as possible. This could mean investing in some ambient lighting, getting a diffuser, playing relaxing music or lighting a few candles. Whatever floats your boat and relaxes you.
It's also important to note that you should be trying to minimise any distractions or stressors as much as possible. Remove your laptop from the room, get rid of any reminders of work or school and at the very least turn your phone onto do not disturb mode and leave it that way.
Meditation is an excellent practice for anyone who struggles with restless sleep or insomnia. Studies from Harvard University found that daily practice of mindfulness meditation can help to fight insomnia and improve sleep quality, even as little as 10 minutes a day.