If you only read one thing, make it this:
“It’s actually quite normal to wake up during the night.”
Sometimes a good night’s sleep seems like a unicorn – it probably exists, but you’ve never experienced it (at least, not lately). If that’s the case for you, it’s worth checking in to see whether you’re accidentally sabotaging your sleep health.
After all, how you feel while you're awake partly depends on what happens while you're asleep – giving your body and brain the time and space to reset and supporting both your physical and mental health. It’s worth sorting out – aside from the safety issues that come with being exhausted, ongoing sleep deficiency can affect how well you think, work, learn and react to the people around you.
Here, Professor Dorothy Bruck, chair of the Sleep Health Foundation, shares some of the most common mistakes many of us are making when it comes to sleep, to help you avoid them.
Professor Bruck says a one-hour lie-in on weekends is fine, but much longer than that and you’re messing with your body clock, creating a jet-lag effect come Monday morning.
“It’s better to wake up and get up by 8am so that you’re getting the morning light,” she says. “And if you’ve really accumulated a sleep debt then a) rethink your sleep times during the week and b) have an afternoon nap. A nap on the weekend is better than lying in.”
According to Professor Bruck, some people think a good night’s sleep is going into a deep sleep slowly before gradually climbing into a lighter sleep phase towards the morning.
“We actually have a rollercoaster of light and deep sleep [phases] across the night,” she says. “We go down into deep sleep and we have periods of light sleep or wakening about every 90 minutes. So it’s actually quite normal to wake up during the night.
“The problem is people get flooded with all these anxious thoughts when they wake, about what’s happening at work or whatever, and then stay awake.”
It’s better to “stop your chattering brain” and stay relaxed so you can drift back to sleep, she says.
Not having a buffer
Having a buffer zone before bed is crucial, Professor Bruck says.
“People think they can work on their laptop – even if they’ve stopped the blue light – then turn the computer off and go to sleep, but your mind is still stimulated,” she says.
She recommends having a buffer zone of an hour to an hour-and-a-half for relaxing things, such as having a bath or looking at a magazine.
Trying to force sleep
Some people are trying to control their sleep too much, Professor Bruck says.
“They’re lying in bed going, ‘go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep’ which is the wrong thing to do – you can’t force it,” she says. “It’s much better to create the right conditions for sleep to come. Try slow breathing, clearing your mind, thinking of your last holiday or your next holiday. Some people like to do mindfulness apps, particularly in that buffer zone.”