There’s nothing more frustrating than rolling around in bed trying to get to sleep.
You lie there consciously aware that you’re not asleep, then you try closing your eyes and telling yourself not to think about the fact that you can’t sleep but you can’t stop thinking about the fact that you can’t sleep and it makes sleeping even harder and argghhh now I won’t be sleeping tonight, either. Great.
But this needn’t be the case! There are several reasons you might not be able to get to sleep, but being able to doze off has more to do with your environment than you might realise. If you’re struggling to float away to dreamland, it may be because of your bedroom. If you haven’t created a comfortable, relaxing environment to sleep in, you could be making it harder on yourself. Try these tactics and you should be nodding off in no time!
The temperature in your room can affect your night’s sleep. If it’s too warm, you will sweat as your body attempts to cool down. Sweating cools you down in two ways – the moisture lowers your body temperature and, when the sweat evaporates, it takes some heat with it. This means that the humidity in the air affects your ability to cool down because, if the air is already saturated, the sweat won’t evaporate. With no evaporation, you’ll sweat even more. Not only does this lead to a restless night, but you could also wake up clammy, in a bed soaked in sweat.
At the other end of the temperature spectrum, having a room that’s too cold will make your body attempt to warm itself in your sleep. Your muscles will contract and expand (causing a shiver) which will mean you’re moving around a lot more. Even though all of this happens while you are unconscious, it will nonetheless cause your sleep to be uncomfortable and restless.
A study by the National Sleep Foundation in America found that 93% of Americans rated a comfortable mattress as important to a good night’s sleep, with 91% saying a comfortable pillow and 86% saying comfortable sheets are important. It’s pretty obvious that the bed you sleep in has an effect on your ability to sleep. But, contrary to what you may have been told by a smug friend, a firm mattress isn’t necessarily better for your night’s sleep. It’s more about what works for you, personally: if you’re waking up aching then your bedding might not be suitable for you. Your best bet is to use breathable bedding materials so you don’t get too warm at night. Remember to change your bedding regularly, too; it’s much easier to get comfortable in clean sheets in a made up bed meaning you’re more likely to get a good night’s sleep.
You’ve probably heard hysterical-sounding technophobes talking about how you shouldn’t look at your phone in bed because it’ll give you cancer or ruin your sleep or you’ll get square eyes or something. What you may not realise is, they have a point. Only one, of course: mobile phones can affect your sleep. The blue light emitted by most screens, including TVs, computers and, essentially, phones, is a similar colour temperature to the sun, which is also blue. Your body reacts to light in order to establish a time at which to fall asleep. If you’re lying in bed shining a blue light into your eyes (although it’s not just eyes that detect light), your body could mistake it for sunlight and it might tamper with your circadian clock, making it more difficult to get to sleep.
Anyone with an iPhone that’s updated beyond iOS9.3 might have noticed the inclusion of the Night Shift mode. This changes the screen background light from a blue tint to an orange one, a much more comfortable colour for nighttime that won’t keep you awake all night.
It’s not often associated, but your sense of smell can have an impact on your ability to get to sleep and the quality of your night’s snooze too. For instance, lavender is thought to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, which can be helpful to drift off. Research shows that young children who have bathed in water with lavender oil have much better sleep cycles, so why wouldn’t it work for you too?
Of course, it’s not all about lavender. You might not like lavender, in which case it won’t help your sleep (lavender is not an insomnia cure, it’s a relaxant). You might prefer a different scent or no smell at all – make sure your bedroom has the whiff of somewhere you can get comfortable.
When you’re sleeping your body can still hear sounds, you just don’t consciously react to them. Your sleeping body might, however. Noises can make you wake up or reposition yourself in your sleep, without you noticing. They can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure or shift you between stages of sleep. Generally, noises can lead to an uncomfortable night’s sleep.
Many people use white noise to help them sleep (here’re 10 hours of white noise, just for you) because of its ability to reduce the impact of other noises that might usually wake you up. A constant noise that doesn’t change in pitch or volume can work its way into the ambience easily, reducing the sound difference between background noise and something loud, such as a slammed door. You could source white noise from videos (like the one above) or create your own with a fan or air conditioner.
Last, but far from least, is light. Our retinas detect sunlight and transmit this information to our large, handsome brains. This information is used to regulate a rough, 24-hour pattern for your sleep habits. Less sunlight – like near the end of the day – will trigger a reaction in our brains to prepare us for sleep. A hormone known as melatonin is released that helps your body feel drowsy and your body temperature drop; you start to feel less alert and more susceptible to falling asleep. In the morning the sunlight comes in and gradually builds up a different hormone, cortisol, to make us feel alert and ready for the day (although I can’t say I’ve noticed it on a Monday morning).
Light comes from all over your home, both inside and out, so blocking it all can be a hassle, but if you’re struggling to sleep it could be your solution. Start with making sure your bedside lamp is a low-watt bulb (preferably incandescent) to make sure you have a dimly lit bedroom when you’re trying to sleep. Check any other areas of the house where light might come from, such as windows next to street lamps or even power buttons on electronics, and try to block the light. The darker you make your room, the easier it’ll be to drift off.
Those are our top tips for getting a decent night’s sleep that’ll hopefully help you to nod off! Now if you would excuse me, I’m off for a kip! Just got to make sure I don’t think about how someone falls asleep because if I do that I’ll start thinking too much and… darn it! Time to get the lavender.