Figure out if you’re tired or sleepy
“It’s important to recognise that there’s a difference between tiredness and sleepiness,” says Hugh Selsick, chair of the Sleep Working Group at the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Tiredness is: “I’m lacking energy and concentration, I’m irritable. I’m not motivated.” Sleepiness, however, is: “I am battling to stay awake. When I sit on the bus I’m nodding off.” Sleepiness is usually a sign of a sleep disorder or not getting enough sleep, whereas tiredness could be caused by many things – stress, pain, anaemia or hormone problems most commonly. If you have concerns about your sleep, Selsick recommends getting specialist help via your GP.
Resist box-set temptation
“Staying up for an extra half hour just to watch one more episode of a TV show can leave you feeling tired and rotten for 16 hours of the next day. Whereas that extra 30 minutes of sleep could have you feeling better for 16 hours of the next day. That’s a very good return on investment.” Giving yourself an extra 30 minutes in bed, five nights a week, he says, can make a significant difference. It won’t necessarily happen straight away, he warns, “because if you are walking around with a sleep debt, it takes time to pay off that debt”. He recommends trying it consistently for a month, and if you don’t feel any better, then sleep may not be the problem and you need to investigate further.
Grownups need bedtime routines, too
“Avoid alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and other stimulants before bed and don’t eat large meals late in the evening,” says Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs. Watch your exposure to blue light, too. “Watching TV and using digital devices such as smartphones and tablets can increase alertness. Make sure your bedroom is sleep-friendly: dark, quiet and tidy.” There is good evidence, he says, “that exercise can reduce stress, which can help with sleep – but it also gives you energy so avoid doing it for a couple of hours before bed.”
Don’t let your phone wake you up
Phones buzzing or lighting up during the night are a sleep menace, says Selsick. We all wake up a few times and that is completely normal. “It’s what stopped our ancestors getting eaten,” he says. “We wake up, check our environment and go back to sleep. But what we see a lot in the sleep lab is people wake up, and the first thing they do is reach for the phone. It’s keeping them awake for longer periods during the night.” If you are adamant about taking your phone to bed, to use as an alarm clock or in case of emergencies, “ideally, the phone should be left charging under your bed so that you’re not tempted to reach for it in the middle of the night”.
“Doing so will help to keep your blood sugar balanced,” says the registered nutritional therapist Jackie Lynch, author of Va Va Voom: The 10-Day Energy Diet. “This will help you avoid the dreaded mid-afternoon energy slump. And foods that are rich in protein also often contain iron, an extra bonus for anyone who is borderline anaemic. Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and pulses are all good sources.”