How to sleep: The lifestyle change that reduces ‘pre-sleep anxiety’ and improves ‘quality’

Dr Michael Mosley on the importance of routine for sleep

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The NHS says sleep is an essential part of life and contributes to us feeling well and happy. “However, most people will experience problems sleeping at some point in their life. Sleep disruption is a common issue, especially at times when you may feel emotionally overwhelmed,” it adds.

The Sleep Foundation says exercise is a cornerstone of health and benefits nearly every system in the body.

Many of the benefits are seen immediately, like reduced anxiety, lowered blood pressure, and better sleep, it says.

The NHS says a lack of exercise can mean your body is not tired enough to need much sleep.

Regular exercise is recommended to help you sleep well, but the timing is important, it suggests.

The Sleep Foundation states: “Working out can also reduce the risk of sleep problems, like insomnia, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and restless leg syndrome (RLS).

“Multiple studies have shown that exercise can reduce pre-sleep anxiety and improve sleep quality in people with insomnia.”

The NHS says exercise promotes more restful sleep, but vigorous exercise should not be carried out within three hours of going to bed.

It says relaxing exercise such as yoga can be done before bed to aid sleep.

For most, sleep problems tend to sort themselves out within about a month, according to the NHS.

The NHS says: “Most people experience problems with sleep in their life. In fact, it’s thought that a third of Brits will have episodes of insomnia at some point.”

People who smoke also tend to take longer to fall asleep, wake up more frequently, and often have more disrupted sleep.

Alcohol can stop you falling asleep and prevent good quality sleep. Therefore, it is recommended that people cut down on alcohol and avoid it close to bedtime.

Caffeine can be found in other sources too. These include:

  • Tea
  • Some fizzy drinks
  • Chocolate
  • Energy drinks
  • Some pain relievers.
  • Caffeine interferes with the process of falling asleep, and also prevents deep sleep.

The Sleep Foundation says: “It’s natural to want to find a food to make you sleepy or the single best food for sleep, but it’s important to be realistic.

“Sleep is a complicated process affected by many things including mental health, light exposure, and underlying physical issues.”

“Some people are naturally lighter sleepers or take longer to drop off, while some life circumstances might make it more likely for your sleep to be interrupted, like stressful events or having a new baby,” the NHS states.

If poor sleep is affecting your daily life or causing you distress, you can talk to your GP.

People with insomnia will regularly find it hard to go to sleep and can wake up several times during the night and lie awake at night.

Everyone needs different amounts of sleep. On average adults need seven to nine hours, while children need nine to 13 hours. Toddlers and babies need 12 to 17 hours of sleep every day.

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