Health and wellbeing column with Amanda Craven

Your GP should be your first port of call to discuss your concerns over the lack of sleep.
Your GP should be your first port of call to discuss your concerns over the lack of sleep.

As we slowly but surely move towards summer, the days are lengthening and the morning sun is peeping through our curtains and waking us perhaps earlier than some of us would like – in some cases long before we have had our ‘statutory’ eight hours sleep.

So, should we all rush to buy black-out blinds and curtains…or wear eye masks when settling down for the night…or do our bio-rhythms actually change with the seasons and we therefore require less sleep?

Amanda Craven

Amanda Craven

The jury’s still out among sleep researchers as to whether we do need less sleep in the summer months. What is certain is the fact that individual sleep needs vary quite significantly from person to person – an average of 7-9 hours per night for adults according to the National Sleep Foundation.

Research shows that any less than seven, on a regular basis could lead to issues later on in life – Higher risks of having a stroke or heart attack, developing diabetes, depression and becoming obese are all linked to lack of sleep.

So, apart from the afore-mentioned black-out curtains and eye-masks, what can we do to make sure we get enough sleep to keep us in good health?

In this age of general busyness, and electronic gadgets galore many of us have lost the ability to switch off and wind down in the evening, so preparing ourselves for sleep.

If you do think you need to improve the quality or length of your sleep, why not check through the following list of suggestions and see what you can change?

Avoid vigorous exercise two hours before bed – physical activity earlier in the evening or day can help us to sleep better

Don’t watch over-stimulating TV programmes (even late evening news is too thought-provoking for some people before bed) or play computer games late at night

Keep social media out of the bedroom at night – most posts or messages are simply better left until the next day and the light emitted by electronic devices disrupts the brain’s natural ability to begin preparing for rest

Check your pillows and mattress are still fit for purpose

Don’t go to bed on a full or empty stomach

Ensure your bedroom is aired regularly and the temperature is comfortable

Avoid drinking caffeine from late afternoon onwards

Try to establish a regular bed-time routine – eg warm (not too hot) bath, milky drink or herbal tea and a good book

If you struggle to switch off and you worry about things you have to do the next day, keep a notebook and pen next to your bed and spend a couple of minutes jotting down a list – remind yourself that you will deal with it in the morning when you’re refreshed.

Some people find meditation very helpful and even a few minutes can be just what you need to get ready for sleep.

There are a lot of apps and books on Mindfulness which could be worth exploring – it’s an accessible approach to meditation, rather than the more traditional meditation practices than can appear quite complicated and specialist without a tutor to guide you.

There are some free, minute-long mindful meditations on my YouTube channel (Amanda Craven Hypnotherapy) that you’re welcome to listen to, if you’d like to dip your toe in the water!

For anyone who has chronic sleep problems, though, it’s very important to get help before the consequences get out of hand.

Your GP should be your first port of call to discuss your concerns and eliminate any underlying medical causes of insomnia. If there’s no physiological reason for sleeping difficulties, and self-help approaches aren’t effective, it’s time to call on the services of a professional therapist who can work with you to establish and work through possible sources of the sleep disorder and help you to find a permanent solution.

Whatever sort of therapy you decide to try, make sure you approach therapists who are accredited by a recognised professional body – phone round a few different ones and make sure you feel comfortable with them and their approach before booking an appointment.