March was National Sleep Month and while we all know the importance of a good night’s sleep achieving it can be another matter altogether.
Thankfully there is help at hand to ensure you have every chance of getting your recommended 7-9 hours as the experts over at IKEA have explored the main factors that can impact sleep and found the best ways to counteract them
It’s pretty hard to control which positions you adopt when asleep but there are ways to make sure you stay comfortable in whichever position comes naturally.
On your back
This is considered the best sleeping position for your overall health because it gives the body optimal support while maintaining the natural alignment of your head, neck and spine. The only downside is that it can increase the chances of snoring. Back sleepers should have a mattress that supports the lower neck and spine, and a medium-height pillow.
On your side
Sleeping on your side with your legs straight is thought to be the second-best position for your health because it keeps the spine elongated. Just make sure your head is well supported by a pillow. Side sleepers should have a mattress that supports the spine in a neutral position and a firm, high pillow.
On your front
It’s widely recognised that sleeping on your front can put a strain on your neck and back. So to help stay comfortable, front sleepers need a low pillow and a mattress that provides even support.
In the foetal position
Sleeping on your side with your legs tucked up towards your chest is thought to be the most popular way to sleep. But while it offers a lot of the same benefits as sleeping on your side, it also takes the spine out of its natural alignment, which increases your chance of discomfort-related sleep disturbance. If you sleep in the foetal position, keep an eye on your pain levels and try out other positions if necessary.
We all know light and sleep don’t mix very well, but understanding the science behind why, can help us to get better-quality shut eye and wake up feeling ready to face the day. Dr Guy Meadows from the Sleep School explained: “Light levels in our environment signal to our brains whether we should be awake or asleep, so you can use them to your advantage to get better, undisturbed sleep.”
Our eyes’ response
We are extremely sensitive to light and dark, mainly due to cells in our eyes that detect the rise and fall of the sun and instruct our brains when to sleep and be awake. To get good-quality sleep, we have to respect this sensitivity and try to stay in tune with the natural light cycles of day and night as much as possible.
As the sun rises, the light stimulates the release of cortisol – the hormone responsible for waking us up and energising us for the day ahead. When the sun sets and it gets dark, our internal body clock triggers the release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin, to prepare us for nodding off.
Phones, laptops, TVs, e-readers and any other device with a bright screen emits blue light, which has the same wavelength as sunlight. As a result, looking at screens like these in the last hour before going to sleep or during the night makes our brains think it’s time to wake up.
The light levels in your bedroom play a pretty important role in in the length and quality of your sleep. Follow these four tips to harness the power of light in the battle for better kip.
Shut the world out
Make your room extra dark at night by installing blackout curtains or blinds. This will help to create a sleep-inducing environment and minimise disturbance from outside sources of light, such as security lights or sunlight in the morning. If that’s not enough of a barrier for you, try using an eye mask, too.
Set the mood
Dimmable lights are a great way to get yourself ready for sleep. Even better are lights that you can dim and turn on and off from a distance using a remote control. As your eyelids begin to droop, simply press a button from the comfort of your bed and drift off into the land of nod.
The blue light emitted by our digital screens makes our brains think it’s time to be awake so it’s important to keep technology out of your bedroom, at least for the hour before you go to sleep. Dr Guy said: “Swap your mobile for a traditional alarm clock and read a hard copy of a book instead of using a tablet or e-reader.”
Wake up naturally
Sudden exposure to a harsh burst of light caused by opening curtains or turning on a light just after waking up isn’t many people’s ideal way to start the day. Instead, ease yourself awake with a lamp that has a timer switch or a wake-up light alarm clock.
The simple reason noise affects sleep is that sound stimulates the brain, and research shows that even when we’re asleep, our brains are still listening out for noise. The arrival of sound into the brain triggers its waking centre, keeping it alert and therefore getting in the way of sleep.
We’re most sensitive to sound during the light and REM (rapid eye movement) stages, which together, usually account for more than half of our sleep time. So you might be lucky enough not to wake up if noise occurs at a point when you happen to be sleeping deeply.
Turn on, tune out
Drowning out unwanted sounds is one approach many people find useful. White noise machines are small devices that emit a constant background noise – usually you’re able to choose from options like the sound of a fan, or gentle rain. You can also adjust the volume to suit your requirements, and cancel out anything from your partner’s snoring to the neighbour’s dog barking.
Using earplugs is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to block out disturbing sounds. Even if you don’t start the night wearing earplugs, keep a pair by your bed so you can slip them into your ears if noise arises.
Muffle unwanted noise
Furnish your bedroom with plenty of textiles to provide soundproofing, and consider replacing wooden floors with carpets. Kitting your bedroom out with soft furnishings like rugs, fabric-covered armchairs and padded ottomans is a great way to help absorb noise.
If you don’t have double-glazed windows, choose curtains in a heavy fabric to help block out sounds from the outside world. You can introduce another layer of soundproofing by doubling up on your window coverings, with blinds and curtains working together to help keep noise out.
Cover your walls
Thin walls are a common problem, but one that can be easily solved without ruining the décor. Muffle the noise travelling into your bedroom by hanging up a rug or throw on your wall. This adds a decorative touch to your room while creating an extra sound-proof barrier between you and unwelcome noise.
The physical act of cooling down slightly helps send your body to sleep, and then warming up helps wake you up again. It’s partly why we often drift off more easily after a hot bath at night. A 1°C drop is required at the beginning of the night to help you fall asleep, and an equivalent rise is needed to help you feel more awake in the morning.
As tempting as it might be to crank up the heating in winter, keeping your bedroom cool is important for a good night’s sleep. Comfort is very personal and the ideal sleeping conditions will vary from person to person, but the optimum temperature is thought to be 16-17°C.
Whatever temperature you find comfortable, keeping your bedroom – and therefore your body – at a stable temperature throughout the night is essential to high-quality sleep.