Being a parent is tiring enough but when you’ve been tossing and turning in bed all night, it’s very hard to function properly the next day. You’re left feeling tired, irritable and drowsy - but when this happens again, night after night, it can have a big impact on your health.
One in three of us suffers from poor sleep and this can be caused by a variety of factors, such as the birth of a new baby, stress, a change in schedule and bad sleeping habits. Your sleep can also be affected by health conditions and sleep disorders, such as sleep apnoea.
Sleep is essential for maintaining good physical and mental health as it gives your body and mind time to recharge so you feel alert and energised for the day. A poor night’s sleep can affect your energy levels and leave you less alert and unable to concentrate.
Regular sleep disruption can also lead to less immunity against illnesses such as coughs and colds. In more serious cases, it can lead to clinical depression and generalised anxiety disorder in adults, as well as an increased risk of medical conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
How much sleep should I get each night?
Generally, we need about eight hours of sleep a night to feel well rested, but this can vary from person to person. Some people may feel energised after having just six hours every night, so it’s best to try to find out how much sleep you need and aim for that.
A sign that you’re probably not getting enough sleep is if you’re waking up feeling tired and wanting to nap throughout the day. It’s not just about how many hours you get though - it’s about the quality of sleep you’re getting. Someone who is asleep for eight hours but wakes frequently will wake up in the morning feeling drowsy and tired, rather than well-rested and refreshed.
As we spend a third of our lives sleeping – or not, as the case may be – we’ve compiled a list of evidence-based tips to help you sleep better and look after your all-round health. Here’s how to get a good night’s sleep according to health experts and Mumsnetters.
1. Create a restful environment
We spend a lot of our time in our bedroom each night, but there may be a range of factors in there that are affecting your sleep. A relaxing environment is essential for a good night’s sleep, so make sure your bedroom is set up to fully promote rest.
If you’re too hot or cold at night, it can be difficult to sleep. The ideal temperature for a restful night is around 16 to 18°C. So if it’s too hot, open the windows, use an electric fan, and opt for a lower tog duvet or cotton sheet.
Make sure it’s dark too. When light comes into your room, your body thinks it’s time to get up. If your room lets in external light – the general rule is that if you can stand at one side of the bedroom and see the other wall, it’s too light according to Sleepstation - use shutters, black-out blinds and curtains or an eye mask to block it out. Also keep your bedroom door closed to keep light from other parts of the house from creeping in.
Pay attention to any unwanted noises in your bedroom. Do you live on a busy road? Do you have noisy neighbours? Consider blocking out the noise with earplugs or listen to white noise to help filter it out. A tower fan in your room or a white noise app can help with this.
“Try making your bedroom really restful, welcoming and luxurious - good quality linen, a memory foam mattress, king-sized bed.” ABetaDad
2. Comfort is key
Being comfortable in your bed is essential as it helps you to relax and fall asleep more quickly.
A comfortable mattress means something different to everyone, depending on your weight, sleep positions and how soft or firm it is. If it’s sagging or is damaged or you’re waking up with aches and pains, this could be affecting your sleep so it may be time for an upgrade. Some studies have found that a newer mattress can help you get a better night’s sleep and relieve back pain.
Make sure your pillow is comfortable and supportive too, and your duvet is cosy enough for the time of year. You could alternate between thicker and thinner duvets to help keep your body at the right temperature for the season.
“A superking-size bed and separate blankets. Life-changer.” Retty
Whether you’re thinking about work or worrying about something at home, it can be very hard to get to sleep if you have a lot on your mind. According to the NHS, stress is one of the most common causes of insomnia, so what can you do to de-stress at bedtime?
Write down your thoughts before you go to bed to help clear your mind. This could be a to-do list for the next day or journaling your worries. Some people also find weighted blankets – which provide gentle, evenly distributed pressure on your body through the use of heavy filling - help to reduce stress and anxiety at nighttime.
This light pressure from the blanket recreates the feeling of a hug, which releases serotonin (one of nature’s happy hormones) and promotes relaxation. Weighted blankets can also stop you from tossing and turning during the night.
Listening to meditation before you go to sleep can help promote calmness and improve sleep health. You can also try doing gentle exercises, such as yoga stretches, to help to relax your muscles.
“Ear plugs and I have a separate weighted blanket. I sleep like a baby.” Mabelface
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4. Prioritise screen-free time
As tempting as it is to quickly check your messages or reply to a work email before you go to bed, devices that emit light can disrupt your sleep.
It’s thought that using devices such as your mobile phone, tablet, TV or computer before you go to sleep affects your circadian rhythm - a natural process that regulates your daily sleep–wake cycle - which tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone that’s released to help you feel tired and get you ready to sleep.
If possible, make your bedroom a screen-free zone and avoid using electronic devices for an hour or so before bed. If you don’t feel tired when you go to bed, read a book instead.
“No phone or screen past 9pm.” catbellz
5. Stick to a sleep routine
With busy lifestyles, it can be hard to stick to a regular bedtime routine, but if you’re suffering from long-term sleep disruption, this can help your body and mind prepare for bed each night.
Sticking to regular sleep hours helps to programme the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine, but it’s important to find one that works for you. Once you’ve worked out how many hours you need each night to feel energised for the day, you can set regular times to go to bed and wake up.
Try not to go over your set bedtime by more than an hour and avoid napping during the day - if you really need to sleep, make sure it’s for less than one hour and before 3pm. Being consistent, even on a weekend, will help to regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
“Try and keep to a routine where possible, no screens for an hour before bed and only go to bed to sleep, so you associate your bedroom with sleeping.” Chesterf***ingdrorrs
6. Watch what you eat and drink
When you’re tired, it can be very tempting to reach for the carbs and caffeine to help you feel more energised, but what you eat and drink throughout the day can affect how you sleep at night.
Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bed - tea, coffee and energy drinks may provide a short-term pick-me-up, but caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for up to six hours which can disrupt your sleep.
Try to reduce your alcohol intake too – some people think that having a glass of wine or two before bed can make them fall asleep quicker, but it can affect your quality of sleep which will make you feel more sleepy the next day.
When it comes to food, don’t go to bed hungry but also don't eat too close to bedtime as going to bed with a full stomach can cause indigestion and discomfort which will make it hard for you to sleep.
“I realised I had become much more sensitive to caffeine and now avoid anything containing caffeine after midday, otherwise I’d just lie awake and not be able to sleep - not anxious but just alert!” Daisycakes9
7. Wind down before bed
Just like bath and story bedtime routines for children, adults need help winding down after a busy day too. If you struggle to get to sleep at night, try forming some new habits that will give your body cues that it’s time for bed.
Taking a relaxing bath or a warm shower each night are thought to improve sleep quality. Make sure the water is not too hot though as you want to help your body reach a temperature that’s ideal for sleep.
Dimming the lights in your house two hours before you go to bed can also help you to relax. Artificial light on an evening can disrupt our circadian rhythm, so we feel less sleepy. Reading a book and listening to music can also help to promote calmness.
“I get all my housework done. Kids ready for bed and their bedtime done. Then I have a ritual. I have to have a bath, brush my teeth and my hair, go to the toilet, put face cream on, jammies on, cream on my feet and hands while in bed. I do this every single night. In a certain order.” Thatstheendofmytether
Taking part in regular exercise is not only great for your health and mind, but promotes better sleep. However, exercising too close to bedtime can interfere with your sleep. Try to exercise in the morning or early afternoon to give your body time to wind down before bed.
If you exercise outside – even just going for a walk – natural light will also help keep your circadian rhythm healthy.
“Do you get some form of exercise everyday or time outside? Even just a brisk walk? I find this can make a huge difference to my sleep.” paisleybandana
9. Get any sleep issues checked
If you’re suffering from long-term sleep deprivation, speak to your doctor to make sure it’s not caused by a medical condition or a sleep disorder, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnoea. A course of treatment may be able to help you sleep better.
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