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How to Cope with Sleep Disturbances

Sleep disturbances can occur for a number of reasons, usually because of sleep disorders, like insomnia. While common, they can interrupt the 6-9 hours of sleep we’re recommended to get every night1. This can then affect mood, overall health, concentration, and more… So, if you’re wondering how to cope with sleep disturbances, we’ve got your back. Here are some top tips.

What are sleep disturbances?

Sleep disturbances encompass many different disorders of initiating, and maintaining, sleep2. Remember, it’s not all about getting to sleep – but staying asleep also. Some examples include:

  1. Insomnia
  2. Sleep apnea
  3. Restless leg syndrome
  4. Narcolepsy
  5. Sleepwalking
  6. Nocturnal seizures
  7. Disorders of the sleep–wake schedule
  8. Night terrors

What causes sleep disturbances?

Since there are so many different types of sleep disorder, they also have a variety of different causes, such as:

How to cope with sleep disturbances

It can be hard to pinpoint one underlying cause for why your sleep is disturbed, but there are things you can do about it. Sleep is as important for our health as good nutrition, so it’s vital you prioritise getting more of it. Here are some things you can try to help improve it.

Eliminate alcohol and stimulants

We get it, it can be hard to make it through the day without coffee – but effects of caffeine can last for several hours, perhaps up to 24 hours3, and can therefore affect sleep. It can not only prevent you from getting to sleep, but be responsible for you waking up multiple times in the night too. It’s a good idea to reduce your caffeine intake, or cut it out completely.

What’s more, you may think that alcohol sends you into a deep sleep – but alcohol and sleep do not mix. It can put you in a less restful sleep, and be the reason you wake up throughout the night.

Nicotine, and certain medications your doctor may have put you on, can also act as stimulants that prevent you from sleeping. Quitting smoking could help prevent sleep disturbances.

Set a sleep schedule

Bedtime routines are just for children, they have many benefits for adults also. Stay consistent: get up and go to bed at the same time every day to train your body to follow a schedule. This can help you get more sleep. Resist the temptation to sleep in until late, even if you’re tired!

Look after your mental health

There’s a close relationship between sleep and mental health. Living with a mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, can affect how well you sleep, and poor sleep can have a negative impact on your mental health4. It can be a vicious cycle!

Try to manage stress or worries, talking to others and speaking to a doctor if necessary. Don’t be afraid to open up to those around you or seek help if needed. You should try and find the route cause: e.g. are you stressed with work? Is past trauma the cause? Pinpointing it can help you deal with it.

Writing in a diary can help you get your worries out of your head before you try to sleep. These same worries are sometimes the source of night terrors and nightmares.

Practice relaxation

Tossing and turning at night, with worries on your mind, can only stress you out further. However, practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, before you sleep can help you drift off. It can be easier said than done, but try to clear your head and just focus on the act of breathing.

Meditation is another useful tool to aid you in getting to sleep, practiced widely across the world. It can train you to let go of any negative thoughts bouncing around in your head that are stopping you from getting to sleep.

Even if meditating isn’t for you, try to unwind before bed. This could be reading a book, listening to calming music or having a hot bath.

Optimise your sleep environment

Promoting a healthy sleep environment is key, whether you have a sleep disorder, or you’re simply sick of your sleep being disturbed. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Turn off all electronics
  • Block out all light
  • Shut out noise
  • Ensure your bed is comfortable
  • Make sure it’s not too hot
  • Tidy and clean your room

Exercise regularly

Exercise has numerous benefits for both physical and mental health. Exercising can also improve sleep. Specifically, moderate-to-vigorous exercise can increase sleep quality for adults by reducing the time it takes to fall asleep. What’s more, it can decrease the amount of time they lie awake in bed during the night. Additionally, physical activity can help alleviate daytime sleepiness5.

Limit napping

If you miss sleep, you should catch up on it by napping, right? This isn’t always the case. Napping can affect nighttime sleep, keeping you awake. It’s important to set a sleep schedule and stick to it.

Talk to a doctor

If your sleep disturbances persist or get worse, it can be a good idea to talk to a doctor. Sleep is important for your overall health, so you should take the necessary steps to look after it.

Tired of feeling tired?

Whether you have a sleep disorder, or your habits are responsible for your lack of sleep, lifestyle changes can make a positive difference. What you eat and drink, the time you go to bed, your bedroom itself… All of these things impact how well you sleep, and for how long. Remember, it’s not all about the length of time you sleep, but the quality of it also. Make the necessary changes to improve it.

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