How Many Hours?
It is important to get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night.
A lack of sleep can worsen anxiety, depression and concentration. It has been found to increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
Getting in to a routine will promote a healthy sleep cycle that will reduce the risk of insomnia. Go to sleep at the same time every night if you can, to regulate your body clock located in the hypothalamus. It’s quite possible to have symptoms of ‘jet lag’ without leaving the country!
If you are having difficulty switching off and getting to sleep here are some easy tips to try before bed:
- Have a warm bath or shower to relax your muscles that might have been under tension from work posture or exercise.
- Put on clean sheets and spray some lavender to create a relaxing atmosphere.
- Have a chamomile tea to aid digestion. It has a calming effect that can help you fall asleep.
- Avoid working in your bedroom so that your brain associates that room with sleep, not work.
- Note down final thoughts for the day on a piece of paper so that your mind can switch off.
- Set your alarm (always important)!
- Go for a walk after dinner, practice yoga or do some gentle stretching to help tire you out and reduce tension in the body that might prevent deep sleeping.
- Read a book if you need time to wind down, but avoid looking at your phone or watching television as it over-stimulates the brain.
- Listen to music or a guided meditation (without headphones to avoid risk of falling asleep with them around your neck).
- Focus on how your body is feeling rather than listening to your thoughts. Progressive muscle relaxation is an easy mindfulness practice that involves relaxing every muscle in your body starting at the feet and working up to the head and face.
- Breathing exercises also help to calm the nervous system down and encourage parasympathetic outflow, responsible for ‘rest and digest’ body functions.
The position you sleep in is just as important as the posture you adopt during the day. Try to keep your body, in particular your spine, as neutral as possible.
A mattress that is too hard or too soft will cause your spine to dip down or arch up. Ask someone to take a picture of your spine when you are lying on your side, and make sure that your spine is straight. It is better to buy a cheaper mattress that allows your spine to rest in neutral and replace it as needed, rather than an extremely expensive ‘orthopaedic’ one that might not suit your spine as it changes shape over the years.
Pillows are important too; they come in all shapes and sizes so its impossible to say if one, two, three or four are required! Again it’s about making sure your spine is neutral and your neck is not curving up or dropping down. The pillow(s) should be exactly the distance between the edge of your shoulder and your ear when your head is straight. Look at a picture of yourself and see if your head is in line with your spine, or too far up or down.
Pillow placement is a simple way of significantly improving your sleep.
Sleeping on your back (supine)
Make sure your spine isn’t dipping in to a mattress that is too soft. Place a pillow under your knees to support the arch in the lumbar spine (low back). Use a small pillow to support your head, not a huge mountain of pillows that will push your neck up and flex your spine.
Sleeping on your front (prone)
Place a pillow under your tummy to support the low back and prevent it from dipping down towards the bed. A soft mattress that causes a great deal of arching will strain the lumbar spine and predispose injury. Turn your head to alternate sides each evening to prevent favouring one side.
Sleeping on your side
If you have pain on one side of your body avoid lying on it. Sometimes patients find it more comfortable to lie on their non-dominant side as it is less sensitive. Arrange the pillows under your head as discussed to maintain a neutral spine. You might also like to place a pillow between your knees to align the pelvis, and prevent the thigh dropping down on to the lower knee.
Start the day with some gentle stretching and a detoxing glass of lemon water. Inflammation is generally worse in the morning because we are relatively still during the night. Gently moving around and stretching will improve circulation and flush away inflammatory products.
Avoid looking at your emails for 20 minutes as our levels of cortisol (‘the stress hormone’) are highest at this time. Set your alarm so that you have enough time in the morning and don’t have to rush around.
Eat breakfast like a king! A balanced breakfast will kickstart your metabolism and wake up every cell in your body. Your body has effectively been fasting throughout the night, so try to eat as early as possible.