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Searching for a Good Nights Sleep

The older I get, the more I seem to either be talking about sleep or crying into my pillow over the lack of it. As a teen, I could quite happily survive on an average of around 4 hours a night and go to college full time, work 2O hour weeks at my part time job, and socialise in all of my free time. Now? Now I get incredibly anxious if I'm not in bed, ready to sleep by 1Opm (11pm if it's not a school night. Rock and roll is not dead in my household). As I've gotten older, I've grew to truly appreciate a good night's sleep and how a good bedtime routine can be invaluable to not only making sure I get some solid hours each night, but also how good it can be for my mental health and overall health in general. Since moving house and moving from a very quiet area to living on an extremely busy main road that is also near a train station and an airport (I fucking know), I have tried and tested what feels like everything to try and ensure I get some good sleep that is not disrupted and is a healthy amount.

Sleep is so important and I feel we all start to truly understand that in our twenties. It's as if our bodies play catch up and tell us to calm down a bit and suddenly PJs and a snuggle in bed at 8pm on a Saturday night can become more desirable than queuing up outside a bar to buy shots. It can reduce your stress levels, it can make you feel less anxious, and it can certainly improve my mood. Good sleep stops me being short tempered, helps me retain information better and not be so scatter-brained (although I think that's my default setting no matter what), and having a better sleeping pattern has dramatically decreased how often I become sick or ill. It can be healing both physically and mentally but it can also be incredibly hard to grasp and maintain. I don't think anyone has the answer for how to have the perfect night's sleep night after night, but there's definitely a few things to try to see what works for you.

One of the first things I had to get over was the fact that I hated sleeping for a long time. Why I hear you ask? I felt like I was missing out. I had this odd obsession when I was teen with the fact that I felt like I wasn't living my life to the fullest if I "wasted" time sleeping. Obviously my logic was flawed as I was always running on minimum energy and probably would have benefited in many situations if I'd have clocked more hours in the night before, but I just couldn't do it. My essentially 4 hour cat naps every night sustained my needs so I thought that was just fine. Now I realise I need so much more than that and always make sure I'm in bed at a good time. If I'm not in bed by 1Opm on weekdays I feel antsy and start worrying that I won't get enough sleep and boom: suddenly I can't sleep because I've woken up my brain and fired off these worried thoughts. I find I still apologise to friends constantly for going to bed "early" but actually? I'm not sorry. It helps me keep my shit together so I work well at work and can function properly. No apologies needed.

Get rid of any and all screens
So besides worrying myself, there's a few other things I try to avoid to ensure I'm actually ready for bed when that 1Opm rolls around. Firstly staring at screens will without a doubt make it harder for you to switch off and slumber. I got into a bad habit of just endlessly scrolling through Twitter, Instagram etc. in bed and a) it wasn't actually stimulating or interesting and b) it made it *so* difficult to switch off and go to sleep. I now try to avoid my phone and if I do need to use it, I will always put it into night mode so the screen is dimmer. I also turn the brightness right down on my laptop if I'm using it past 9pm and never do any blogging/admin work in bed before I plan to sleep anymore. If you're a restless sleeper and often wake up at intervals during the night, I can't stress enough how much you should not use your phone. I fully understand the utter frustration when you just can't sleep and that the temptation to tweet "can't fucking sleep *insert all the sad face emojis*" is there, but just don't do it. It makes the brain too active and you've got no chance of drifting off to dreamland.

Bed is for sleep - not hanging out
Another "rule of thumb" I've adopted is that bed is for sleep - not hanging out. This was difficult when I used to live in a studio flat as my bed unfortunately also doubled up as my sofa and my dining table because I just didn't have any other space to utilise but, if you have the luxury of your bedroom being a separate room, only use your bed when needed for sleep (or sex you know, whatever). Now that I live in a house, I don't have lazy mornings in bed. Sure, I might wake up early and lie there for half an hour at the weekends because I can, but I always get up as quick as possible, make the bed, then don't return to it until I'm going to bed the next night. This helps me trick my brain so that it only associates bed with rest and sleep rather than snacks and back to back binge watching of my favourite TV shows.

Don't go to bed in a bad mood
Something I've noticed more recently too is making sure I don't go to bed in a bad mood. If I've had an argument with someone or a stressful day, I can always guarantee that my night's sleep that night will be broken and I won't really feel rested the next morning. Therefore, I always try to go to bed in at least an "okay" mood. I know this is obviously easier said than done as sometimes bad moods and vibes just can't be avoided, but if you can do something to either distract yourself or improve your mood - do it. Yoga can always help me feel either energised when I need a boost or calm when I need to rest so I rely on that. Others might find meditation helpful, masturbation, listening to calm music, podcasts, or reading. Whatever it is, include it in your bedtime routine and I would be willing to bet money that you will see an overall improvement.

Calming the mind like this helps create that routine and expectation for bed that will work towards tricking the brain and preparing it the same way each evening. Having a routine can sometimes mean you can cruise along on auto-pilot and what better way to go to bed? Cruising through your bedtime routine means you don't need to think too much and you're not swarmed with thoughts or concerns. Make sure your bag is packed for the next morning, check your weather app and plan your work outfit... All these little prep things that can make your mornings more smooth sailing can also improve your sleep.

Temperature, Lighting and Scent
A couple of other things that I've noticed can help improve my sleep are little environmental things that can make a huge difference. Temperature, lighting, and scent can all effect your sleep and although they might seem subtle, they can influence how deep and well you sleep. Make sure your bedroom and the bed itself is a comfortable temperature for you. This can be tricky when it's hot and sticky in the summer and freezing cold in winter, but use a fan and a hot water bottle if and when needed and you might reap the benefits. I used to *always* read in bed for an hour or so before going to sleep and this used to see me have a pretty well rested night so it's something I'm trying to get back into. Something worth noting here though is making sure you've got suitable lighting. At the moment, I only have the bright "big" main light in my bedroom and it's too harsh - it leaves me feeling wide awake as soon as I shut it off. Soft lighting that doesn't make you strain your eyes but keeps you in a comfortable lazy state can be a big help for prepping you for sleep time. And lastly - scent? Again, it can impact you big time. Strong smells, particularly those you don't find pleasant or even those you find too pleasant can be distracting and keep your brain active. Pillow sprays and scents like lavender and chamomile are popular for getting a good night's sleep so test and try what subtle scents you could have active in your bedroom that will help your brain think "I can smell sleep".

Be mindful of your diet
Lastly, one area I struggle with constantly but I'm trying to actively change is my diet. We all know eating healthy in general is good for you and that's a no-brainer, but being wary of your diet or eating/drinking habits before bed is really important too. I love me a good cup of tea or seven throughout the day but I make sure I never drink a cup of regular, caffeinated tea after 8pm. That's still probably too late in the day and probably still effects my sleep, but it makes me feel in control of that aspect of my bedtime routine and makes me feel like I'm making a conscious effort to better it. I'm a serial snacker too and try my best to keep sugary snacks to a minimum and again, to a curfew. I can demolish a whole share bar of chocolate as quick as the next person, but those quick sugary releases of energy are going to happen right before bed if you're eating late and that'll ruin your hard work before you've even tried to get settled into a comfy position. Steering clear of caffeine and sugar particularly right before bed can be a big help. If you seek a hot drink because its comforting for going to bed, try things like hot milk, Ovaltine, or a herbal tea as there's many brands out there that have bedtime/nighttime ranges or simple chamomile can help.

Making positive small changes to your bedtime routine can really help you get your head down and feel rejuvenated the next day but there certainly isn't a one size fits all approach to it. What might work for some people might do absolutely nothing for others and not to mention that many of us have mental health, physical ailments, and sleeping disorders which can all greatly impact sleep too. I'm still battling through this mindfield of restless broken sleep and sometimes rely on herbal sleeping remedies and tablets to help me when I really need it. Having a solid routine and sticking to it no matter what is definitely improving my sleeping and how awake and alert I am the next day which is great to see, but if you're on this journey and search for good sleep yourself, keep note of your sleeping pattern - when it's good and bad - or use a sleeping tracker app to see if there's anything in particular influencing you.

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