Summer time is here at last and whilst most of us look forward to those extra hours of daylight, all too many people find they play havoc with sleep routines, causing irritability and tiredness the next day.
The long, warm, evenings make it especially hard for young children to fall asleep and morning sunshine can start pouring into bedrooms as early as 4.30am. Add in the seasonal problems of allergies such as hayfever, insect bites and skin irritations caused by overheating and it’s easy to see why so many of us are walking around with bags under the eyes.
Holidays away from home, with or without jet lag, can also interrupt usual sleep patterns and make it harder to establish regular bedtime routines – especially for kids.
Top Tips to re-establish natural sleeping patterns.
1. Check your physical environment. Are your curtains ineffective in keeping the room dark? Make sure you’re using lightweight bed covers and invest in good quality cotton sheets to reduce overheating. Keep the room well-ventilated and face your clock to the wall – so you can’t see the time.
2. Never use your laptop to check emails and social media sites from bed – your body needs to get the message that bed is for sleeping in only. Avoid having items like mobile phones and iPods recharging near your bed too, for the electro-magnetic field created by these will stimulate your mind and keep you awake.
3. Don’t be tempted to take snoozes, rests and naps during the day to make up for lost sleep or you’ll be training yourself to wake up after the first stage of sleep – precisely what you’ll be wanting to avoid at night time.
4. Don’t let your children get into the habit of falling asleep on the sofa in front of the TV and then carrying them upstairs. They’ll find it increasingly difficult to get into the habit of falling asleep by themselves. Create a bedtime routine with a warm bath and a good book – it will save you time in the long run.
5. Beware the arousing effects of caffeine (even in coffee-flavoured desserts and ice-creams), fizzy drinks, sweets, alcohol, red meat and cheese. Whilst alcohol may make falling asleep easier, your body is simply slipping into unconsciousness – once the alcohol has been metabolized, you’ll find yourself waking up and this will be in the middle of the night.
6. Exercising in the fresh air is good for encouraging deep, restful sleep at night but it’s best to stick to morning and afternoons. Exercising in the evenings can over-stimulate the mind and body.
7. Write your worries down – too often the first opportunity to think about our worries is at the end of the day, when our minds are starting to slow down. Write each worry down on a piece of paper and put into a “worry box”. Psychological studies show that this works by tricking your mind into thinking that the worry has been dealt with. You can open your box once a week and look back to see how many of those ‘worries’ actually went away naturally.
8. Consider learning visualization or relaxation techniques such as self-hypnosis. Listening to meditation CDs and relaxing music as you’re preparing to go to bed can also be useful in preparing your body for deep, restful sleep.
Alicia Eaton is a Behavioural and Emotional Wellbeing Specialist with a practice in London’s Harley Street. You can read more advice about dealing with sleep issues in her book “Fix Your Life with NLP”.
And if you’re a parent looking for extra help, children’s sleep issues feature in her book “Words that Work – How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything”.