How are you feeling? Tired? You’re not alone – research by the Mental Health Foundation found one third of Brits experience insomnia.
Apart from making you feel tired all day, evidence shows insomnia is linked to diabetes, coronary heart disease, depression, anxiety, lowered immunity and osteoporosis.
But what can you do if you have trouble falling asleep? Take our quiz below to work out what’s keeping you awake – answering A, B or C to each question – then discover your personal sleep-better plan.
Q1. Are you feeling stressed or worried at the moment?
- Not especially – everything feels under control
- I’m permanently stressed! It’s my default setting
- I’m dealing with something huge (like bereavement or redundancy) right now
Q2. Do you watch TV, or use a tablet or smartphone in bed?
- No. All my tech stays out of the bedroom
- Yep. I often fall asleep holding my e-reader
- Not really, although there is a TV in the bedroom
Q3. Are you a healthy weight for your height?
- I definitely need to shift a few pounds…
- Healthy-ish! I could be a bit fitter
- I’m bang on my BMI and exercise frequently
Q4. How old is your bed?
- Umm… when was Oasis in the charts?
- About six or seven years old, but I’ve got new pillows
- Only a couple of years old
Q5. Do you ever drink alcohol before going to bed?
- Only on birthdays and special occasions
- Just the odd drink or three during the week
- I have one nearly every night to wind down
Have you ruled out anything obvious, such as a partner snoring or noisy neighbours? If you can’t spot anything, it may be your sleep environment.
Try investing in a new bed – research by the Edinburgh Sleep Centre found swapping your uncomfortable old mattress for a new one could give you an extra 42 minutes sleep a night! You should get a new bed every 10 years. Also make sure your bedroom is cool (ideally 16-18°C), dark and quiet. Put up some blackout curtains to prevent light coming through, or switch to an eye mask and ear plugs.
Keep an eye on your weight too. A study in the journal Appetite found those who ate the most calories were more likely to only sleep for five to six hours a night, compared with those who ate the least but slept for nine hours or more.
Stress is a major sleep stealer; it releases the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These keep you awake to fight the ‘threat’ you’re facing, but prolonged stress means your levels of these hormones are too high to aid restful sleep.
It’s thought a lack of sleep also affects our ability to process emotions, so you may become more anxious about things that wouldn’t normally bother you. Talk to your GP about cognitive behavourial therapy (CBT) which can teach you techniques to deal with any negative thoughts that keep you awake at night. You can also try the herbal remedy valerian – one study found it can help reduce insomnia symptoms after 28 days.
It’s important to ban any gadgets from your bedroom too. Apart from the distraction, studies show the light waves emitted from TVs, tablets and smartphones upset our body clock, inhibiting the release of the hormone melatonin that triggers feelings of sleepiness.
If you’re going through some temporary stress, make sure you’re following some effective stress management techniques. While regular exercise definitely helps, working out too close to bedtime can raise your core body temperature; ideally it needs to cool down before a good night’s sleep.
Also avoid coping with stress by drinking too much – alcohol can put you straight into a deep sleep, but as it wears off you go into lighter sleep and may wake after just a few hours. We normally go through six to seven cycles of deep/light sleep a night, but alcohol can shorten this to just two cycles.
Although you may not be watching TV or using your lap-top, scientists say even the blinking standby lights on your gadgets could be disturbing your sleep. Still struggling? Try taking B vitamins – they help control the release of the amino acid tryptophan, which is essential for sleep, but can be depleted under stress.
Get more tips on getting a good night’s sleep in our specialist insomnia and sleep channel.
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies