Do you have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep? Do you wake up too early, or in the middle of the night? If so, these 7 simple causes of your sleep issues and things to do to improve your sleep may help you to sleep better at night and get some much-needed relief.
As a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, the most common problem I find to be reported by clients is poor sleep. Over the next few months I’m going to outline common activities and habits that poor sleepers fall into and give you some tips for overcoming them.
Poor sleep can be a secondary issue or bi-product of another more significant problem.
I must stress that you consider seeking help for any primary difficulty, as this could be the underlying reason that you can’t sleep.
Examples of primary difficulties could be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Depression.
How to sleep better at night: Tackle these 7 Sleep Spoilers
These 7 spoilers could be keeping you from sleeping. When looking for the causes of your sleep issues, these 7 spoilers are a good place to start!
- Spoiler 1 – “Melatonin Suppressors”
- Spoiler 2 – Trying to get an early night
- Spoiler 3 – Putting up with a poor sleep environment
- Spoiler 4 – Skipping exercise & no winddown time
- Spoiler 5 - Staying in bed when you can’t sleep
- Spoiler 6 – “Catching up” with sleep (lying in)
- Spoiler 7 – I must have 8 hours of sleep!
Spoiler 1: “Melatonin Suppressors”
To introduce the first of our 7 causes of your sleep issues, let’s begin with a little basic science.
The pineal gland (a tiny gland in your brain) releases the hormone melatonin. Melatonin helps to let your body know when it’s time for sleep.
Normally, more melatonin is created at night. However, if this is not the case and not enough is produced at night, you may find that you can’t sleep. In this case falling asleep and actually staying asleep can be difficult!
In the past, when there was no artificial or “blue light”, our bodies had an easier time regulating melatonin levels. They reduced during the day and increased when the sun sets.
The digital age has heavily impacted this. The plethora of false lights and electronic devices we have access to after dark suppress the secretion of melatonin (aka “melatonin suppressors”).
Some examples of these “melatonin suppressors” include:
- i-pads and other melatonin-suppressing tablets.
Lots of fun items, I’m afraid!
Why Does Exposure to “Blue Light” Affect Your Sleep?
These devices use high levels of “blue light”, which tricks the brain and our tiny pineal gland into thinking that it’s still daytime. The impact of the sunset is nullified and insufficient levels of melatonin are released, so we don’t feel sleepy and struggle to drop off.
Additionally, the material we view on these devices tends to be stimulating rather than relaxing. An intense video game or scary horror movie is not particularly conducive to winding down and falling asleep!
How to tackle our first sleep spoiler
Quick, throw all “melatonin suppressors” away! Obviously, this is an unrealistic (though effective) solution. So, here are my practical advices:
- Limit the use of the above “melatonin suppressors” in the evening. Try introducing a sensible cut-off period a couple of hours before bed. Rather than spending those “couple of hours” sat in silence, twiddling your thumbs or pondering this sleep blog, try doing something relaxing.
- Relaxing activities may help you to wind down. Good examples include guided relaxation, and reading (I know what you’re thinking, but don’t worry most kindles do not use blue light – presumably for this very reason) or Yogalates (I have no idea what this actually is, I just liked the word. Ultimately, you are best placed to make this decision, as you know what activity you are likely to engage in, find relaxing and stick to.
- If you can’t do without your devices at night, explore some blue-light filter options. These come in the form of glasses and software, but be warned this will not be conducive to a relaxing winddown period prior to bedtime (I’ll discuss this further in spoiler 4).
- Finally, drink a warm, milky (caffeine free) drink - as this contains melatonin, albeit a very small amount. It can’t hurt and is kinder to our sleepy sensibilities than its cousins, coffee and tea. There are a number of other natural sources of melatonin that you can explore too.
So, Get Cracking
Increase your evening / nightly melatonin levels! Hopefully, you now have a few ideas about how to sleep better at night.
This first blog was brought to you with a splashing of irony, as it was written on my naughty “melatonin suppressing” laptop at 9:30 at night, tut tut!
Make sure you check out the other 6 sleep spoilers coming soon…
About the Author
Mark Hill is a Psychological Practitioner and accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist. He works as a Lecturer on the Postgraduate CBT programmes at the University of Bolton, as well as running a successful private practice.
He works with clients that experience common psychological difficulties such as depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), various sleep disorders, and more. He has practiced as a therapist for over 10 years.