Getting good sleep is an important step in building resilience - it is critical to better physical and mental health. It helps you clear your mind so you can cope better with adversity during the day and it supports your immune system so you can stay well and gives you the energy you need to keep going.
So it doesn’t seem fair that stress and traumatic events are some of the most common causes of insomnia!
Research following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti found that 94 per cent of respondents reported insomnia after the disaster.
Natural disasters, such as the weather events that have plagued New Zealand in the first few months of 2023, are highly likely to cause sleeping difficulties for those impacted.
But we also need to be aware of other stressors in our life that may be affecting our sleep – ill health or anxiety about the welfare of our loved ones, relationship break-ups, financial strain, grief and loss, job insecurity or lack of a secure living environment can all contribute to high stress levels.
As well as taking steps to reduce your stress where possible, there are several things you can do at home to improve your sleep quality and get better rest. From setting up your bedroom so it helps you sleep better to creating bedtime rituals, these tips will help you improve your sleep without spending any money or seeing a doctor!
Go to bed at the same time every night
The first step to getting better sleep is to go to bed at the same time every night. This helps set your body's internal clock and optimize the quality of your sleep. Choose a bedtime when you normally feel tired, so that you don't toss and turn. If you can't go to bed at the same time every night, try getting as close as possible - the body needs a regular sleep schedule so that it knows when it's time for rest! You should also try to get up at the same time – avoid sleeping in at weekends.
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool
Keep it dark – blackout curtains or blinds work well.
Keep it quiet – if you have noisy neighbours or are on a busy street, try playing white noise or relaxing music to block out distractions.
Keep it cool – don’t let sun shine in your room late in the day and invest in a fan or an air conditioning unit.
Find a comfortable mattress that supports you properly
The first step to finding the right mattress for you is to determine what type of sleeper you are. There are three main categories: back, side and stomach sleepers. If you don't know which category best describes your sleeping habits, ask someone who has slept in the same bed with you or look at old photos of yourself when asleep (or simply try lying down on each side).
Once you've figured out which kind of sleeper you are, there are some things to look for in a mattress that will help support that kind of body type:
If you're a back sleeper: Look for something soft enough so that it doesn't give too much support under the hips but firm enough so that it doesn't sink too much under the shoulders and neck area; this keeps pressure off those parts of the body during sleep without causing any stress on other parts like knees or elbows.
If you're a side sleeper: Look for something firm enough so as not to cause pressure points from laying directly on top but soft enough so as not to cause discomfort from pressure underneath either arm; this keeps good spinal alignment while also supporting muscles in the arms and shoulders without causing soreness.
Take naps (if possible)
If you're able to take short naps, they can help you feel more alert during the day and sleep better at night. Naps can also help with jet lag, recovery after a workout or a stressful day. You don’t want to nap for too long or it could make it even harder to get to sleep at night, so set an alarm that will wake you up after 10 or 20 minutes.
Shut off your phone and leave it out of your bedroom completely
Turn off your phone and leave it in another room.
Don't use it as an alarm clock.
Don't check social media before bed. Social media has been shown to make us feel less happy after we check it, so this is not a good habit to get into if you're looking for better sleep!
Limit how much caffeine you consume each day
Caffeine is a stimulant, and it can disrupt your sleep cycle by suppressing the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your circadian rhythm (your body's internal clock). If you're sensitive to caffeine or have trouble sleeping, then limit your intake to no more than 200 milligrams per day- that about two cups of coffee or four cups of tea.
Create a bedtime ritual that signals to your body it's time to sleep
Always do the same things before bed, whether it's reading, meditating or soaking in a hot bath. These actions will help you transition into sleep mode by engaging your brain in relaxing activities. If you have trouble falling asleep at night and wake up feeling groggy in the morning, try incorporating one of these rituals into your routine:
Read for 30 minutes before going to bed each night (and no phone or tablet!). This will help calm down any racing thoughts or anxieties that could keep you awake at night.
Listen to meditative music while lying down with eyes closed (and no phone!). You could try an app such as Calm by Headspace which offers guided meditations - just press play!
Try some more advanced techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation – this can help quiet your mind so that it's easier for you to fall asleep faster when it's time for lights out!
Avoid screen time before bedtime
Blue light suppresses melatonin, which makes it harder to fall asleep. A study published in the journal SLEEP found that using a blue light filter on your phone or computer can help you get more restful shut eye. But ideally you should avoid all screens, including TV, for 45 minutes before you want to go to sleep.
Natural remedies for sleep
There are several natural remedies you could try to help you drift off to sleep and stay there.
Some essential oils have been found to promote better sleep - try lavender, ylang ylang or sandalwood oil. You can use an air diffuser in your room or try mixing a few drops of essential oil with a carrier oil and massaging it into your skin.
Magnesium is known to relax muscles and induce sleep and some studies suggest that insufficient levels of magnesium in the body may be linked to troubled sleep and insomnia.
Valerian root is another commonly used sleep-promoting herbal supplement.
Melatonin is hormone produced naturally by the body that has a role in regulating sleep. Taking melatonin supplements can provide short-term support or try drinking tart cherry juice which has been shown to increase the body’s production of melatonin.
Talk to your GP, a naturopath or staff at your local health store about what might work for you.
Hormones and sleep Fluctuating hormones during menopause or perimenopause can also create sleep issues for many women. Progesterone, a calming sedative kind of hormone, declines during this life stage, which can have an impact, and some women have lower levels of melatonin (see natural remedies for sleep, above). Fluctuating oestrogen levels can also cause hot flushes or night sweats, which result in further disturbed sleep. Some women find Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), also known as Menopausal Hormonal Therapy helpful.
Hopefully some of these tips will help improve your sleep, but it's also important to remember that some nights will be better than others. If you're regularly having trouble getting a good night's rest, don't hesitate to reach out for help from a medical professional!