As promised, here is my post on how to get a better night’s sleep ( a month later than I intended to post it, shhh…) The tips described here are all things that have either worked for me or things I have heard worked for others. One or a combination of these tips might work for you, or maybe none will. Everyone is different. This is mainly aimed at people with ASD or a sleep disorder, but most of these tips are pretty universal. At any rate; if this post helps at least one person, then my work is done.
- Reduce your screen time before bed
We are increasingly more and more attached to our phones and other devices. I’ve heard people describe their phone as “like an extra limb” to them. The pros and cons of technology is something I’ve discussed here on this site before. Like most people, I’ve found it hard to reduce screen time before bed, most of us feel a constant need to be online. It might feel like this is just helping you relax, but the bright light of the screen actually signals to parts of your brain to stay awake. Not looking at device screens for long periods of time before sleep does actually lead to a more restful sleep and the benefits can be clear to see even from the building. Ideally you should try stay away from devices around an hour before sleeping. Instead of reading online, consider reading a physical book instead before sleep. If you must use a device before bed, dim the screen to reduce the effects of the screen backlight, also many devices now have a nighttime feature which filters out blue light for night time reading.
2. Listen to something to help you get to sleep
As a kid, I used to listen to audiobooks to help me sleep, which I found really useful. This is something I’d definitely recommend to parents of young kids or really just anyone of any age. Listening to music can also help, though preferably something calming; bedtime probably isn’t the ideal time for death metal! A lot of people find it useful to listen to white noise to help them sleep, others prefer nature sounds like rain, birdsong, whale song etc, you’ll find loads of playlists of that type available fore free on YouTube and Spotify. At the moment, I, personally, have been listening to podcasts as I sleep (my favourites being The Cracked Podcast, Yo Is This Racist? and Professor Blastoff.) If this tip doesn’t help, it at least makes lying in bed awake more interesting! Listening to something calming or distracting before/in bed also can help with sensory overload.
3. Don’t eat too late at night
This is another trap I’ve often fallen into unfortunately. Sometimes routines can get messed up, it’s part of life, and you may end up eating dinner much later than you normally would. This is nothing to worry about if it happens on occasion but try not to eat close to bedtime on a regular basis. We’ve all been warned by our mothers not to eat cheese before bed to prevent nightmares, but we should have also be warned eating dinner close to bedtime prevents sleep! Food gives us energy so eating a large meal before bed can only keep you awake longer. However, a small snack is fine and sometimes can make it easier than sleeping on an empty stomach. Certain herbal teas are also great for aiding sleep.
4. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet is one of the most important factors in combating sleep problems and stress. When the mind is not at the peak of health, having a healthy body becomes more important than ever. We live in a world where highly processed, sugary foods are readily available, the body was not built to cope with this. The bulk, if not the entirety, of the diet should be from natural, unprocessed, plant-based foods. In my opinion, a balanced vegetarian/vegan diet is the healthiest a person can have, so of course that is what I would recommend. If you have problems, like I have had in the past, it may be that you’re not eating enough food to give you the energy you need, eating more wholegrain carbs can especially help with that issue, as well iron (spinach is great for this) and protein (beans, tofu, nuts, lentils, quinoa and chickpeas are all great sources of this, protein is also found to varying degrees in every vegetable.)
A lot of us see the word exercise and immediately think “Ugh, the effort of that…” or “I wish I could but I just don’t have the time.” I was just like this until a few months ago when I made the conscious decision to exercise at least once a day, whether it be running or just a taking out the dog for a walk, and it has had huge benefits for me. The human body wasn’t built to stay inside all day in schools, offices, on the sofa in front of the television; we evolved to move. Exercise obviously has lots of health benefits, including better sleep. Each person has different abilities and circumstances, adding a slight bit more exercise into your life, no matter how small, can have positive effects on your life. Exercising in the evenings, though not to close to bed time, can really aid restfulness and promote a better night’s sleep.
6. Learn about sleep cycles
The way in which our ancestors slept is completely different to how we sleep, the way we sleep changed with technological advancements such as artificial lighting. Up until the late 17th century, the common practice was to have a “first sleep” and “second sleep”, one would go to bed when it gets dark, sleep several hours, wake up for several hours and then fall back asleep. Obviously for the most part, it be impossible to revert to our natural sleep cycles, not without a fundamental change in society that I highly doubt we’ll see, but I find it very interesting to learn about. This TED Talk explains sleep cycles in a quick and engaging way, I recommend watching it if you have an interest in the topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/jessa_gamble_how_to_sleep?language=en
While most of us can’t fully return to our natural sleep cycle, an understanding of one’s own internal “clock” can be vital for solving issues with sleep. We often hear “Experts recommend eight hours of sleep a night” rattled off as absolute fact. This statement is a generalization, some people require more sleep than that, some require less. Many people don’t actually know how much sleep they need. That’s something I think it’s very important for a parent of a child with ASD to know, sometimes their lack of sleep may not necessarily be a problem, some people actually just can run just fine on less sleep. Sleep has different stages, there are 4-6 cycles in a good night’s sleep, ideally you’d want to wake up at the end of a cycle, waking up in the middle of sleep cycle can cause you to feel groggy when you awake. This is why you can sometimes sleep for a long time but still wake up feeling tired. A friend of mine showed me this website. it allows you to calculate the ideal time(s) for you to sleep, based off when you go to bed or when you want to wake up:
7. Examine the role of stress and anxiety in your life
Stress and anxiety have a huge effect on our sleeping patterns. Changes in sleep are often the first sign you notice when you, or someone else, is going through a period of anxiety or depression. Recognizing the role of stress and anxiety in your life is the first step to solving the problem, then you can begin to assess the causes of your stress and find solutions. Seeing a counselor or even just speaking with a friend or family member can really help with this. Many find it helpful to write down all their stresses just before going to bed, so they can sleep with a clearer mind. As a side note, I personally write a large portion of my work just before sleeping.
For many, it can be hard to wind down in the evening. In particular for those of us with ASD, the transition between wakefulness and sleep can be hard. I know from firsthand experience how frustrating it is when your body needs to sleep but your brain just won’t shut up! This is really a continuation of my last point, going to bed stressed, or even just while still feeling energetic, won’t help you sleep. Try doing something calming before bed to help you relax like taking a bath or shower, reading, listening to music or writing down your thoughts, as discussed above. Meditation is extremely beneficial before bed, though it takes practice to really get into it. It is my current aim to include meditation as part of my daily routine.
9.Speak with a medical professional
If trouble sleeping has become a major problem in your life, you should not hesitate to speak to a doctor. You may have a sleep disorder such as insomnia. Trouble sleeping can also be an indicator of a plethora of mental issues (as I discussed in my last post) and physical conditions. If the sleeping disorder is very serious, sleeping pills may help. If you don’t like taking medication, there are also plenty of natural remedies to research and explore, most of which are readily available at most chemists and health food stores.
One or none or a combination of these tips may work for you, different things work for different people. Generalization is a big issue when it comes to medical research and advice. I only speak from experience, my main hope from this blog is to get people thinking. I hope this article has been of some help, I’d be interested to hear any other solutions people have found for trouble sleeping in the comments below this post. Also, as always, suggestions for future posts are always welcome (post ’em here.)
Till next time, sweet dreams 🙂
© Tadhg Ó Ciardha, 2016