The effects of sleep deprivation are well documented, with symptoms including cognitive slowness and irritability. When deprivation becomes chronic, however, more serious side effects such as high blood pressure and visual problems may arise. Sleep issues affect a third of Britons in the UK, but these numbers have grown sharply in the past year. In fact, the number of adults suffering sleep loss rose from one in six to one in four. According to sleep coach Nicky Blakeman, three common mistakes people make before going to bed may be preventing them from dozing off effortlessly.
Worry can cause an array of psychological problems, but it can also make it harder to fall and stay asleep through the night.
In fact, a large number of studies have revealed that worry is one of the main precursors of sleeplessness.
Surveys carried out over the past few years have found worry related-sleep problems were particularly pronounced among mothers.
Nicky Blakeman suggests that this could be fixed by efficiently managing stressors that arise during the day.
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She explained: “The problem many people have is they don’t deal with their anxious thoughts during the day, so they’re left to deal with them at bedtime when our minds are at their least rational.”
A body of research has found that writing to-do lists could help offload stressful thoughts from one’s conscience, helping them doze off more quickly.
“You’re much better at problem-solving in the daytime than when you’re lying in bed at night so come up with a plan during the day,” added Blakeman.
“Consider the worst-case scenario and come up with a list of options you can refer back to when you start worrying at night – tackle your negative thoughts in the daytime and they will be much easier to manage at night.”
According to Blakeman, another issue at play with sleep difficulty is focussing too hard on falling asleep.
She explained: “When they first start to struggle, they increase their focus on sleep and the more you try to sleep, the harder it is, creating a vicious cycle.
“Try not to focus too much on the number of hours of sleep you get – it’s more productive to focus on your pattern of sleep.
“If you have a bad night’s sleep or a really late night, it can be tempting to try and ‘catch up’ on the hours you missed by lying in or having a nap during the day.
“However, this only disrupts your sleeping pattern, making it harder to get to sleep the next night.”
Focussing on sleep hygiene may also make it more difficult to cultivate relaxation, as the one-for-all approach of “standard” sleep guidelines may not be conducive to every individual.
Blakeman suggested it may be more productive to veer away from these guidelines to address the habits in your daily routine disrupting your sleep patterns.
Common sleep hygiene advice includes everything from avoiding caffeine and blue screens to having a warm bath before retiring to bed.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make when they are struggling to get sleep is focussing only on sleep hygiene or ‘standard’ sleep advice,” said Blakeman. “If you can’t sleep, most of the advice is to cut out blue light, create a restful environment and take a bath before bed etc.
“While these sorts of tips can help, they won’t always cut it if you’ve got a sleep problem.
“There are other areas you need to consider which can keep you awake at night, such as the first two mistakes listed above, alongside medical issues and a lack of minerals.”