Simple ways to improve sleep health

Disrupted sleep doesn’t just make you feel groggy the next day – a new study suggests it could contribute to a higher risk of death in the long term.

Research published in the European Heart Journal examined the impact of ‘unconscious wakefulness’ on a person’s risk of dying and found those who woke more in the night were more likely to have long-term cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.

It’s common to wake up during sleep, but when your sleep is severely fragmented, it can become a problem. Falling back to sleep may seem like an impossible dream when you’re awake in the early hours, but following some of these healthy sleep habits could make the difference between a good or bad night’s kip.

Read more: How sleep affects the way we age

1. Listen to sleep inducing music
Music can help reduce stress, so listening to soothing tunes or sounds before bed can help you relax. “Try and avoid music that is over stimulating,” says Dr Alka Patel, founder of The Lifestyle First Method. “Sounds of nature, such as the ocean, birds or rain may help you relax into a more restful mental space. Instrumental classical music is another good choice before bed.”

2. Try ‘rising tide’ breath
This breathing exercise stimulates your yawn reflex and can help release sleep-inducing hormones.

“It works by deactivating the sympathetic nervous system and engaging key parts of the parasympathetic nervous system,” explains Oliver James, author of 21 Breaths: Breathing Techniques to Change Your Life. “Shut your eyes and take a breath deep into your lower belly. Hold your breath and contract every muscle in your body for as long as you can. From here, you should exhale and relax. Repeat this step two to three times.

Read more: Controlling breathing

“Let the next inhale be slower. Filling your belly from your lower body up to the collarbones, feel the breath stretch every part of your lower torso before expanding each rib in turn.”

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As this wave-like sensation meets your collarbones, Mr James says you should imagine the inhale continuing upwards. “Placed correctly, your soft palate will feel like it’s starting to lift and broaden – much like the sensation of a yawn.

“Pause again at your inhale’s peak. Squeeze your entire body and then, as you exhale, let the whole body shed yet more tension. Continue this breath pattern for 10 minutes to feel the best results.”

3. Consider sleep therapy

“Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been found to be the most effective intervention for poor sleep, regardless of age, gender or the severity of problem,” says Dr Patel.

It’s a type of talking therapy that can help you manage problems by changing the way you think and behave. Your GP can refer you to a therapist, but if you’re facing a long waiting list, Dr Patel says Sleepio and CBT-i Coach are two CBT-based apps that have been linked to sleep improvements.

4. Cuddle your pet
If you have a cat or a dog, spending some quality time with them before you hit the hay could have significant sleep benefits. “Stroking a pet has been shown to release the hormone oxytocin – an anti-stress hormone – and can help to relax us, inducing a state of calm just before bedtime,” notes Dr Patel.

Read more: Pets, touch and COVID-19: Why our furry friends are lifesavers

5. Keep your feet warm in bed
“Keeping your feet warm in bed is a concept in traditional Chinese medicine, where it’s believed to give your brain a clear sleep signal that it’s time to rest,” says Kate Morris Bates, founder of InsideOut Wellness.

The art of self-care is often called ‘Yang Sheng’ – “a typical pre-sleep routine includes soaking feet in hot water for 15 minutes or so before bed,” she explains.

So, if you needed an excuse to indulge in a hot bubble bath tonight, tell yourself that soaking in the tub is essential for a better night’s sleep.

Do you struggle with insomnia? Please share your bedtime routine for a good night’s sleep in the comments section below.

– With PA

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Written by Liz Connor