Common sleep issues answered by an expert

We all know the benefits that getting a good night’s sleep can have for us, but getting enough shut-eye can be difficult. The pandemic in particular has exacerbated sleep issues, with anxiety running high and, for those working from home, less physical and mental distance between office time and relaxation time than previously.

sleep issues
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In fact, there’s even a term for the heightened sleep problems we’ve had over the past couple of years –‘coronasomnia’. In August 2020, a study by the University of Southampton showed that the number of people experiencing insomnia had risen from one in six to one in four . And, in recent research from No7 Beauty Company, a whopping 71% of women reported suffering from poor sleep, attributing this to several factors including financial concerns.

Whether you regularly have trouble sleeping, are woken up at all hours of the night by your kids or only occasionally find yourself in an wide-eyed worry spiral a 2am, sleep issues can be difficult to deal with. That’s why we spoke to  Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, neurophysiologist, sleep expert and author of The Little Book of Sleep, The Art of Natural Sleep, to try and solve our biggest sleep questions.

Dr Nerina Ramlakhan
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan

Q&A: Sleep issues

Many of us start worrying the minute our heads hit the pillow, especially with the current news cycle. What are your top tips for preventing this, and dealing with it when it hits?

Practicing some form of meditation or mindfulness can help to alleviate this so that we become more adept at catching ourselves when we start worrying.  The key is not to slide into the spiral of worrying but to use some form or positive distraction such as following the breath or using a positive affirmation.

Going to bed with thoughts of gratitude can also be helpful – what went well in your day?  Who are you grateful for?  Focusing on these positive areas of your life can be a powerful form of distraction and it’s good for your health.

The worst thing you can do before you go to bed – and what will exacerbate worrying – is watching the news and spending time aimlessly scrolling.  Think about what you put into your head before you get into your bed.

Have any of your patients discovered good ways to stop the aimless scrolling?

  • Leave your phone out of the bedroom.  Switch it off and have it charging in another room so that if you wake during the night, you’re not tempted to look at it.
  • Go for walks without your phone.
  • Ban the phone in certain areas of your house.
  • Avoid looking at your phone in the evenings while watching TV.
  • Give yourself 20-30mins before looking at your phone in the morning.  During this time, practice meditation, journaling or breathwork.
  • Most importantly, value yourself and your sleep enough to make these changes and stick with them for at least 21 days and you will notice the difference.

Parents in particular suffer from broken sleep – if you have had a rubbish night, is there anything you advise the next day to re-energise yourself?

Sleep is only one way of getting energy so if you haven’t slept make sure that the next day you are energising yourself on other levels – hydrate well, eat well, avoid excessive caffeine, get out into natural daylight and move and avoid over-napping during the day.

What is the number one mistake women make when it comes to sleep, in your experience?

They worry about waking up during the night. I spend a lot of time telling them this is completely normal.

Why do so many people  feel tired all the time now it’s winter? And is there anything we can do?

Some of this is related to levels of light and sunlight which affect the circadian rhythm and pineal gland.  It’s a good idea to take a good vitamin D supplement at this time of the year as levels can become depleted thus causing fatigue.  Also, it can be related to mindset – if we think we’re going to be tired then we probably will be.  Cultivate a positive mindset, cultivate good habits and make choices that will positively influence your energy levels including moderating alcohol intake and avoiding bingeing on catch up TV, social media and junk food.

Why do you think women suffer with sleep problems more than men? 

There are a number of factors including hormonal changes which affect mood and energy levels – this is particularly the case during the menstrual cycle as well as during perimenopause and menopause. Fluctuating levels of hormones can cause anxiety and depression which affects sleep.

Additionally women can get caught up in juggling of multiple caregiving roles typically for children and elderly parents.  They tend to find it harder to let go of the associated worries whereas, by and large, men tend to be better at compartmentalising.

If you could ask everyone to make one sleep resolution this new year, what would it be?

Cultivate a stronger relationship with yourself and your inner world.  Stop looking outside of yourself for answers.  Take time to listen in.  This can make you feel odd or even anxious initially but over time you will notice that regularly stopping to pause and check in with yourself as you go about your busy days makes you calmer, more peaceful and more resourceful.  And you will sleep better too.

The best products for your pre-sleep routine

Soap & Glory Perfect zzZen Body Souffle, £10.00

Hands itching for something to do while you watch TV? Ditch the phone and moisturise instead!  With a lighter-than-air texture and enriched with sweet almond and chamomile oils and cocoa butter, this body souffle works the night shift to nourish and protect for gloriously glowing skin.

No7 Restore & Renew Face & Neck Multi Action Night Cream, £27.95

Some me-time before bed will help you wind down – even if it’s as simple as your skincare routine. Formulated with a skin fortifying blend of calcium, amino acids, and ceramides, this night cream provides essential nutrition to help skin feel firmer, wrinkles appear visibly reduced, neck look visibly smoother and feel noticeably firmer.

Botanics pillow spray, £7, Boots

This 100% natural, cruelty-free and vegan sleep spray is made with a soothing blend of lavender and sweet marjoram essential oils to help relax body and mind to encourage inner peace before sleep.