4 ways to sleep better

4 ways to sleep better

By Harriet Pritchard

4 ways to sleep better
You know the feeling. You’ve flipped the pillows, rearranged the duvet, made a chamomile tea… and yet, sleep remains painfully out of reach. We often only think about how to get a good night’s sleep when suffering a night of insomnia, but there are things we can practice during the day to help us sleep better at night.

Qualified Wellbeing Psychologist Amy Steadman has designed the mental fitness routine dreams are made of (quite literally).

Your mental fitness routine for a better night’s sleep

1. Practice gratitude

Sleep quality is directly related to how grateful we feel.

People who practice gratitude are less likely to have negative thoughts when trying to fall asleep as they are more likely to have positive association with the day.

Practicing gratitude helps us go to bed with fewer worries and can be done at any point during the day using the 4 Ds of Appreciative Inquiry.

Discovery - “what’s the best thing that happened today?”
Dream - “what’s the best thing that could happen tomorrow?”
Design - “how could I make that happen?”
Destiny - “what will happen if I do that?”

You don’t necessarily need a fancy journal (though writing it down can help), you just need to remember the 4 Ds - Discovery, Dream, Design, Destiny.

2. Practice optimism

People who practice optimism are 78%  more likely to have good sleep quality.

Optimism hugely impacts how we evaluate our day and how we think about sleep. It disrupts sleep disturbance factors such as rumination and distorted perceptions of sleep quality.

To practice optimism, create a summary of the day. Focus on the strengths, achievements, and fruitful aspects of your day. 

3. Practice purposeful behaviours

Dr. Emerson M Wickwire, a Professor of Psychiatry with 15 years’ experience studying clinical sleep, recommends purposeful behaviours as a way to help us get a better night’s sleep.

Purposeful behaviours are conscious choices we make instead of relying on routine or habit. They break negative cycles and shift us to a proactive and positive mindset.

Purposeful behaviours help in 2 ways:

1. Breaking behavioural ruts

This helps us realise that we have control over our thoughts, feelings, and bodies, which in turn helps us feel in control of how and when we sleep.

Try making purposeful decisions throughout the day that positively contradict your routines and habits. For example, choosing to stop scrolling through social media and replacing this habit with a purposeful behaviour such as reading a book.

2. Rewarding ourselves for sleeping

A positive self-reward each morning creates positive cognitions about sleep, which helps stop the vicious cycle of sleep distortion.

This might be purposefully making yourself your favourite breakfast, or taking time to enjoy the first sip of a delicious morning coffee.

4. Practice mindfulness

There’s a reason we all have the Calm or Headspace app. It’s the most well-researched area of sleep and wellbeing.

Mindfulness helps us to learn 3 processes:

1. Experiential awareness
promoting awareness of internal processes (thoughts and feelings) and external stimuli (sights and sounds). We learn to pay attention to what’s happening around us and inside us.

2. Attentional control
focusing attention on our breath to redirect it back to this anchor when it wanders.

3. Acceptance
helping us receive and acknowledge, rather than avoid or control negatively perceived thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.

You don’t necessarily need an app to practice mindfulness (though they are brilliant). You can simply do your own body scan meditation.

Once you’re in bed, with your eyes closed, start at the top of your head and mentally “scan” down your body. Bring your attention to your head and face, and notice any feelings or discomfort. You’re not trying to change anything, just notice how it feels as you send your attention to each and every part of the body, all the way down to your toes.

Practising mindfulness during the day can also help make us pros at it. One way to try it is to focus on sensations at various points in your day. For example, when you’re walking pay attention to how your feet feel connecting with the ground, and the sway of your arms as you move. Or when you’re eating or drinking, focus on the texture, and flavour of each mouthful.

Amy Steadman is a qualified Wellbeing Psychologist. She believes that proactive, emotional fitness for mental health should be as common, accessible, and mainstream as going to the gym or attending an exercise class.

Her mission is to enhance sustainable living by equipping people with what they need to feel their best, and cope with life’s inevitable challenges.

Amy Steadman