Sleep well to live well

Sleep is an important function for our bodies, having physical, mental, and psychosocial benefits. Sleep helps to maintain a healthy balance of hormones, supports the immune system, and repairs your blood vessels. Sleep enables your brain to process the day you have had and embed memories.  Whilst a lack of sleep has a detrimental effect on your concentration, problem-solving skills, anxiety levels, and your ability to control emotions.

Here we explain how your sleep cycle works and offer suggestions for getting a good night’s sleep, whether you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep, or waking too early in the morning.

Not every strategy will work for everyone – look for one that feels right for you.

What problems could you have with sleeping?

  • Sleeping too much or not enough
  • Not feeling refreshed after sleep
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Broken sleep
  • Waking due to symptoms
  • Waking for toileting

How much sleep do you need?

Different people need different amounts of sleep. This will vary according to your age, previous occupations, and a genetic predisposition. Are you an owl or a lark?

Owls Larks
  • Do you need to sleep until 11am to wake up feeling bright and alert?
  • Do you have trouble falling asleep before midnight?
  • Do you fall asleep quickly if you go to bed at 1am?
  • Do you wake up bright and alert by 6am?
  • Do you fall asleep easily if you go to bed at 9pm?
  • Do you find it hard to stay up until midnight?

You can’t train yourself to be a lark if you’re an owl, and vice versa. It is a genetic predisposition. However, you can try coping strategies to deal with the effects of going against your natural body clock. It is important to remember to not get hung up on sleep quantity, but focus on sleep quality.

Sleep Cycles

Everyone has the same sleep cycle which lasts approximately 1.5 hours.  There are periods of time when you are more awake compared to others. A full night’s sleep will include 5-6 cycles, whilst a disturbed, restless night will have fewer. 

7 Tips for managing your sleep

  1. Establish a daily routine

  • Try to take regular exercise every day, within the limits of what you can do. Go for a walk or do some simple stretches. Any activity can help by tiring your body.
  • Daytime naps can be helpful for some. Try limiting yourself to one rest or sleep each day to see if it helps. Alternatively, limit the length of your naps.
  • Keep a regular bedtime routine. Try to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time every morning (regardless of how much sleep you had the night before).
  • Spend time outside everyday as this builds up the supply of melatonin in your body, which is the hormone that helps you sleep.
  1. Prepare for sleep

  • Wind down the hour before bed.
  • Some people find that it helps to have a break of at least half an hour between reading or watching TV and going to bed, so that their mind quietens down before they sleep. Other people find that reading takes their minds off their worries and helps them to relax. Listening to soothing music may also help.
  • Relax in a warm bath. Do not have the water too hot. Adding a few drops of aromatherapy oils can enhance your relaxation. Lavender or chamomile are soothing.
  • Spend half an hour doing the same things in the same order each night. This helps the body learn to expect sleep and to prepare for it. It is important that the last thing you do in the routine is quiet and relaxing. This is a wind down time. 
  1. Create an appropriate sleeping environment

  • Sleep in a well-ventilated room on a firm bed using supportive pillows as required. Try and keep your bed for sleep only, so that you identify it with sleeping.
  • Eliminate noise, where you can, to ensure a quiet environment.
  • Reduce light in the bedroom by avoiding illuminated clocks or using blackout blinds. Only go to bed when you are sleepy. Your body learns to make associations all the time. Build up the associations between bed and sleep, NOT bed and other activities, such as bed and stressing about not sleeping, or bed and pain.

  1. Adhere to good sleep hygiene

  • Diet
    • Avoid heavy, fatty, or sugary foods before bed.
    • Avoid caffeine, coffee, coke, and chocolate 4 hours before bed.
    • Drink some milk before bed (it is sleep promoting).
  • Exercise
    • Even low levels of exercise are beneficial to sleep.
    • Don't exercise within two hours of bed as it will increase the heart rate and body temperature making it harder to sleep.
  • Do not toss or turn in bed feeling frustrated about being awake. If it has been more than 20 mins and you have not fallen asleep, get out of bed and do a quiet (non-stimulating) activity, until you feel sleepy and try again.
  1. Manage your worrying or racing thoughts

  • Watching the clock whilst trying to get to sleep can increase anxiety levels. Consider removing the clock from your bedroom. If you need an alarm to wake you, turn the clock around so you can’t see the time.
  • When you can’t sleep, it can also be helpful to remember that fighting against it can make things worse. Accepting you have some sleep difficulties will reduce the distress that you may otherwise feel.
  • Racing thoughts that keep churning around in your head may keep you awake. This often happens at times of high stress. Try to refocus the brain’s attention on the here and now. As we refocus our attention, the brain lets go of other thoughts and our body starts to relax. 
  • You may find writing down your difficult thoughts and assuring yourself that you will address them in the morning can help with managing them. Often our thoughts chase themselves in circles and writing helps to clarify and structure our thinking processes which can help to come up with solutions to our problems.
  • Relaxation and mindfulness are two exercises that can help manage those anxious or racing thoughts. Watch our video on relaxation.
  1. Keep a sleep diary

  • If you continue to have problems sleeping, it might be worth keeping a sleep diary. Record when you are going to bed, falling asleep, waking in the night and the reasons, and when you wake in the morning. Once you have recorded a few days have a look to see if there are any patterns. Bring this sleep diary with you if you have an appointment as your clinician may find it helpful to go through with you.

If you need more support please speak to your Mountbatten Nurse or Health Professional, or contact the Mountbatten Coordination Centre.