When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, we know the drill. No tea or coffee post 5pm, no pre-slumber cheese, and absolutely no scrolling Insta before bed, blue light = bad, and all that.
But if we’re following all the bedtime rules, why then do we still find it so hard to drop off?
In addition to the obvious culprits, there are a number of more surprising factors that can impact the quality and quantity of your shuteye.
Certain pre-bed habits can not only keep you up at night, but can affect your sleep quality, number of hours you sleep, and how bleary eyed you feel the following day.
Despite experts recommending between seven and nine hours a night, new research by Bensons for Beds revealed that more than a quarter (26 per cent) of us are regularly surviving on just four hours, while a further 24 per cent insist they sometimes get as little as three.
But people who experience sleep deficiency are at a greater risk of health problems, both physical and mental.
So to celebrate World Sleep Day we consulted the experts to find out the surprising factors that might be stopping you getting the good night’s sleep you’ve been craving.
What you eat, or rather not eat, in the morning can totally impact the sleep you get hours later. “Not having breakfast is a surprising cause of poor sleep,” Dr Nerina Ramlakhan sleep expert for Silentnight explains.
“I see lots of people struggle with eating early in the morning but skipping it will put everything, including your sleep out of sync. Not ‘breaking the fast’ leaves your body running on the wrong kind of energy throughout the day, but by having breakfast you stabilise your blood sugar while activating your body’s circadian timer, which allows it to make more of the sleep hormone melatonin later in the day.”
Dr Nerina recommends having a protein-rich breakfast eaten within 30 minutes of rising to help you produce more melatonin at night so you fall asleep more easily. “Eating foods such as chicken, cheese, tofu, tuna, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk will also help to boost these hormone levels. Also remember to aim to drink two litres of water/day and stay off the caffeine,” she adds.
Worrying about not getting enough sleep
“The cause of poor-quality sleep commonly comes down to worrying about the number of hours of sleep you get and the worry about what happens when you don’t get the ‘prescribed’ amount,” explains Bensons for Beds Sleep Expert Stephanie Romiszewski. “This increases levels of anxiety which will in turn affect your sleep.”
“The reality is that at some point in your life you will have a bad night’s sleep – you may even have them numerous times. This is normal. The key thing here is to remember that one bad night’s sleep will not harm you significantly and your body will recover.”
Hitting snooze on your alarm
Who doesn’t want to steal an extra ten minutes shuteye in the mornings? But hitting snooze now can impact your sleep later. “Snoozing is not good for you,” explains Romiszewski. “You get nothing more from it apart from feeling sleepier when you should be feeling more alert. Once you wake up, get up! In time your body will recognise the pattern and start to make you feel refreshed on waking – like we are supposed to.”
Romiszewski explains that the important part of nailing your sleep routine is to ensure consistency. “Make sure you’re sticking to your normal sleep pattern more often than you’re not. On the days where you do just want to watch your favourite series in bed after you wake up, (that’s OK, enjoy yourself!) but try to avoid drifting back off to sleep so your sleep pattern doesn’t get confused, and don’t make it too much of a habit otherwise your brain will start associating your bedroom with being awake and these associations can be powerful and stop you sleeping in the future.”
Sitting at a desk all day
“If you’re stiff from sitting down all day, and haven’t stretched properly or moved enough, that aching will roll over into your night time because of how still we are when we sleep,” explains Romiszewski. “It’s important to remember that moving during the day is just as important as resting our bodies at night. Try a variety of stretches before going to bed and when you wake up to relieve this discomfort.”
Not getting enough daylight
We’re told light is the nod-off enemy, but the same can’t be said of day light. “Get more LIGHT in the day!” says Romiszewski. “Light is not the enemy. We are told to avoid it at night and we should be sensible in the evenings. But why are we getting ready in the mornings in the dark?! Light is the most influential external factor on our sleep/wake cycles and lifts our mood!”
READ MORE: How to fall asleep in five minutes flat
That sneaky afternoon nap
Sure its tempting to take in a quick nap when the 4 o clock flop kicks in but napping could have a knock-on effect on your night-time sleep. “Napping has become fashionable. And yes, short naps ‘G’ you up. But that’s just it…they have literally stolen some of your sleep ‘fuel’,” explains Stephanie Romiszewski. “Therefore, you need to regain it again if you still expect to sleep a solid 8 hours of quality sleep. Get rid of the naps or, reduce your nightly expectations.”
A lack of house plants
The current plant trend can up more than just your Insta likes, it could up your ZZZs too! “Having plants in the bedroom provides a good supply of oxygen,” explains Hope Bastine, Resident Sleep Psychologist for Simba. “This is especially beneficial for breathing problems relating to allergies or asthma. Some well-researched suggestions include: Aloe Vera; Lavender; Jasmine; Snake plant and English Ivy.”
The wrong PJs
Wearing the right pjs (and having the right bedding) is key to managing optimum temperature and air circulation for good sleep. “Choose natural fabrics such as cotton, bamboo, silk, satin because they absorb excess moisture, thus regulating body temperature,” recommends Hope.
Bad bedroom decor
According to Bastine, every room in our home has a specific purpose. As we walk into it we begin associating specific activities with the space. So it’s important to create an environment that promotes the desired activity – in this case sleep and rest.
“Bedroom décor is key to promoting a good night’s rest,” she explains. “Research has found that red is exciting while blue promotes competence. Another study showed that reds and yellows increased anxiety compared to blues and greens.”
Count sheep, they say when sleep refuses to come, but actually this can prevent you falling into the land of nod. “Keeping the mind active is possibly not a very useful aid to sleeping,” explains Jane Bozier a sleep expert, for new sleep app, Rise (available to download from the App Store and Google Play)
“Focussing the mind on something more relaxing such as sitting in a comfy chair in front of a warm fire or sitting on a beach on holiday, have been found to be more helpful as they relax the mind with something more pleasant and calming.”
The older that you get, the less sleep you need, says Bozier. “Sleep experts recommend that adults have between 7-9 hours’ sleep a night. This does not change as we get older. What changes is your sleep pattern,” she says. “Older people might have more fractured sleep patterns resulting in sleeping both at night and during the day.”