The popular myth of adults needing 8 hours sleep a night has a lot of logic to it. With around 1 in 10 people in the UK suffering from insomnia and more than 10 million prescriptions for sleeping tablets written out every year – Britain has a sleep problem.
The human body functions according to a circadian rhythm, thought to be controlled by a biological clock located in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. There are several distinct disorders of our circadian rhythm which can affect our sleep patterns and therefore control how we function during the day, including jet lag and shift work.
Despite sleeping pills providing a short term solution it is definitely worth seeking more permanent methods to help you get to sleep.
Create a Sleep Friendly Environment
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim from 9 Harley Street recommends making your bedroom a calm and tranquil space;
“Tiny tweaks such as opening your bedroom window a few hours before you sleep and keeping your room on the cooler side can make huge difference to your quality of sleep. Additionally light hugely impacts on sleep patterns and the darker you keep your bedroom, the better you’ll sleep. Cover electrical displays, use heavy curtains or shades to block light from windows, or try a sleep mask to cover your eyes.”
Set Your Body Clock
- Set a regular bedtime. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late. If you want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making the change in small daily increments, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
- Wake up at the same time every day.If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime. As with your bedtime, try to maintain your regular ‘wake-time’ even on weekends.
Alter Eating Habits
- Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening avoiding heavy, rich foods within two-hours of bed time. Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and could keep you up. Also, be careful when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.
- Steer clear of alcohol before bed. It’s a huge misconception thinking that a nightcap will help you sleep better. While it may make you fall asleep faster, alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up later in the night.
- Swap your night cap for a warm glass of milk- it’s not just an old wives’ tale. Dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps increase the production of the sleep inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin.
Make The Most Of Daylight
- Try to expose yourself to sunlight and fresh air during the day as much as you can. Go outside during your lunch break, try to exercise outside and walk your dog during the day instead of at night.
- Exercise regularly –activity helps the body and mind stay healthy and balanced. However, be sure to avoid vigorous exercise right before bedtime.
- Napping can disrupt your normal sleep levels. If you nap regularly, it may be worth skipping this and seeing if your regular sleep patterns improve.
Dr Irshaad Ebrahim obtained his medical degree from the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, South Africa. After completing a research fellowship in Canada, he trained in Psychiatry at University College, London and Guy’s King’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals. He has postgraduate qualifications in Family Therapy, Neuropharmacology and the Neuropsychiatry of Sleep and Memory disorders. He was appointed as a substantive Consultant Neuropsychiatrist in Sleep Disorders in 2002 at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London. His research interests include studying the role of the brain peptide Hypocretin (Orexin) in Narcolepsy, Excessive Sleepiness, Memory and Neurological Disorders. In addition ,he leads an active clinical research programme for new treatments for Insomnia, Depression and Anxiety Disorders. He is the Medical Director of The London Sleep Centre. To arrange a consultation with Dr Ebrahim contact 9 Harley Street on 020 7079 2100 or go to www.9harleystreet.com.