For better sleep, clear your mind

Sleep is essential for both physical and mental wellbeing. But many people find it difficult to get a good night’s sleep every night – indeed, according to the NHS, insomnia affects around one in every three people in the UK, and is particularly common in elderly people.

“Sleep is our body’s chance to rest physically and to mentally process the events of the day,” says Rebecca McCann, psychotherapist at Hertfordshire Therapy Centre.

“The two stages of sleep – REM and non-REM – each have an equally important role to play, and when we don’t get enough of each we wake up as drained as when we went to sleep. Our bodies and minds need to rest and recuperate in order to function to the best of their ability. Our minds need to shut down, backup and restore. Good quality, restorative sleep does just this, and promotes positive emotional, mental and physical health.”

Jonathan Warren, director at online bed specialists Time4Sleep, agrees that getting a good night’s sleep is essential. “Studies show that lack of sleep and disturbed sleep can have a profound effect on our health, and sleep problems [can be] a telltale sign of declining mental health.”

One of the things that can stop you getting to sleep or staying asleep for long enough to feel refreshed in the morning is having something on your mind that you can’t stop thinking about. So here are five tips compiled by the experts at Time4Sleep to help you clear your mind and feel more relaxed at bedtime:

1. Ditch technology   Laptops, tablets, smartphones, TVs… All of these things emit high levels of blue light rays. Turning these screens off at least one hour before bedtime can have a profound effect on sleep quality.

2. Start to unwind   Perceptual activities such as washing the dishes, preparing lunch for the next day, taking the dog for a walk or listening to music are all ways of unwinding in the evening. Too much thinking before bed can result in an overactive mind, eventually disturbing your sleep sanctuary.

3. Keep a sleep diary   This is an ideal way to monitor your sleep and track your progress, as well as identify any problems that may be keeping you from sleeping properly. The diary could include information such as:

• What time you go to bed and what time you get up.

• How many hours sleep you get.

• How many times you wake throughout the night.

• Any nightmares, sleep paralysis or sleep-walking incidents.

• How much caffeine, nicotine or alcohol you have before bed.

• Your mood and feelings when you go to sleep and when you wake up.

4. Resolve worries or stress   If you have a niggling, unsettled feeling before bed, chances are you won’t sleep well. Try to resolve anything that’s making you feel anxious or worried before you turn in; talking to a friend or family member may also help to ease the burden and take a weight off your shoulders.

5. Relax, relax, relax   Swap technology for relaxing in the bath or a meditation session  – both these exercises may help clear your mind before bed. 

“Most importantly, stick to a schedule where you can, and go to bed roughly at the same time every day,” adds Beate O’Neil, head of wellbeing consulting at Punter Southall Health & Protection. “Make sure your bed and bedroom is dark and quiet and isn’t too warm. Ideally, it should be kept at a temperature of 18 – 24C. Leaving a window slightly open is also a good idea, if it’s not too noisy outside. And writing a to-do list for the next day can help clear your mind and prevent you mulling over what you need to do tomorrow during the night.

“Finally, if you can’t sleep, get up and do something relaxing until you feel tired again; reading or listening to quiet music can be a good idea.”

Your local Careway pharmacist can also offer advice and suggestions if you’re finding it difficult to get the sleep you need, and may also recommend a gentle short-term over-the-counter sleep remedy to help you nod off. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.