From some of the best sleep aids to a yoga nidra practice to help you relax after a long day, here’s our guide to unwind
If you’re struggling to sleep, you’re not alone. Episodes of temporary sleeplessness are common – it’s believed that a third of Brits will have suffered from it at some point – with everyday stress and anxiety being common triggers.
Thankfully, though, there are a range of tools that can help you to get a more restful night’s sleep, including bedtime rituals, natural sleeping aids and yoga nidra techniques.
Unsure if you’re experiencing just a temporary stint of bad sleep or if it might be veering towards something more serious such as insomnia? Here’s how to spot the signs – and stop them getting worse.
Insomnia or temporary sleep troubles?
Insomnia is categorised by regular and ongoing bouts of sleep difficulty during the night, which causes impaired functioning such as low concentration, fluctuating moods and fatigue the following day. Short-term insomnia is diagnosed if you’ve been experiencing symptoms for less than three months, whereas chronic insomnia can be diagnosed if you’ve had symptoms on at least three nights per week for three months or more. It is thought that this type of insomnia can occur alongside conditions such as anxiety, depression, medical issues and substance misuse.
As well as struggling to get to sleep, sufferers may also find it tricky to actually stay asleep resulting in poor quality restorative rest. Other conditions (as well as their medicines) can also cause insomnia. These include bipolar disorder, restless legs syndrome and thyroid issues.
If you regularly experience any of the following symptoms, you may have insomnia as opposed to just occasional sleeplessness.
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Waking up several times during the night
- Waking up early and finding it hard to fall back to sleep
- Lying awake at night
- Still feeling fatigued after waking up
- Difficulty napping despite feeling tired
- Feeling irritable during the day
- Struggling to concentrate during the day because you’re still tired
Temporary sleep troubles, on the other hand, can be caused by jet lag and shift work, which affect sleeping patterns, as well as any changes to your sleeping environment such as noise, a room that is too hot or cold or an uncomfortable bed.
It can be handy to keep a sleep diary for at least two weeks to log your sleep patterns and to help identify any lifestyle factors that might be negatively affecting the quality of your rest. Common examples include drinking caffeine or alcohol late in the day and if you (or your partner) snore.
How can trouble sleeping be treated?
There are lots of things that can help, from sleeping aids to changes to your sleeping habits. If those don’t work, however, and your sleeplessness is bringing you significant distress, it could be worth booking in with your GP for further advice
1. Changes to your sleep hygiene
What exactly is sleep hygiene? In a nutshell, it involves making your bedtime routine and bedroom as sleep-friendly as possible and goes beyond just winding down in the evening.
Regular exercise, for example, is believed to help aid better sleep (provided that you do it at least four hours before bed) as does avoiding big meals late at night and stimulants such as coffee and tea, as well as alcohol, six hours before bed.
If you can, try to keep to a consistent sleep schedule (go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including weekends/your days off), and keep your room as dark and quiet as possible to prevent unwanted interruptions from waking you up prematurely.
On the subject of light, it’s worth keeping your bedroom as blue light-free as possible as it can trick your body into thinking it’s day when it’s actually night. Whether keeping your phone in another room or replacing your TV with a good book or your favourite playlist, find what works for you.
Not all tech use is bad though. There are some great sleep and relaxation apps that you can try (maybe just shift your phone to Night Mode beforehand to reduce your screen’s blue light). These include Pzizz, Calm and Headspace.
There’s also Sleepstation, an online program incorporating cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBTi). Sleepstation is an approved NHS service in England and can be accessed free of charge with a GP referral, or you can pay for it privately. NICE recommends CBTi as the first-line approach for chronic insomnia.
2. Find ways to relax
These range from pillow mists to bath salts to help you to decompress in the evenings. Snoring aids can also fall under this, in case yours or your partner’s snoring keeps you up at night.
There are also natural sleeping aids, which, although they cannot cure sleeplessness, can improve your sleep. Some contain natural ingredients such as lavender and melatonin, and some have antihistamine properties. Pop in-store for a chat with your Boots Pharmacy Team to see what suits your needs and symptoms; and if you’re on any medication, have a medical condition, have allergies or are pregnant or breastfeeding, check with your doctor first.
With those considerations in mind, here are 9 of the best products to consider if you’re having difficulty sleeping. Explore more great options here.
Best pillow spray for sleep
Try: This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray (£19.50)
• Size: 75ml
• Suitable during pregnancy
Containing a dreamy blend of lavender, vetivert and camomile, this sleep enhancing spritz helps to bring a dose of calm to your bedtime routine.
Best valerian sleep aid
• Size: 30 tablets
• Suitable for adults aged 18 years and over (except those who are pregnant or breastfeeding)
• Can make you drowsy
A traditional herbal medicinal product for use in temporary relief of sleep disturbances, exclusively based on long-standing use as a traditional remedy. (Always read the label.)
Best lavender sleep aid
• Size: 1kg
These mineral-rich Epsom and Dead Sea salts infused with lavender, valerian and jasmine oil make for the perfect bath-time treat. For a more portable way to get your lavender fix, try Tisserand Aromatherapy Sleep Better Roller Ball. Simply swipe on to pulse points on evenings when you’re struggling to switch off to help you unwind at the end of a long day.
Best natural sleep aid
• Size: 180ml
• Suitable for use during pregnancy
• Suitable for vegetarians
• Free from synthetic fragrance and colour
This body lotion uses magnesium (thought to help promote relaxation, rest and recovery) to soothe tired muscles and a stressed mind before bed. In an independent clinical sleep trial, 92% of users said that they benefited from incorporating it into their routine over a 5-week period.
Best snoring aid
• Size: 14 strips
• Mint flavour
If yours (or your partner’s snoring) is keeping you wide awake at night, these oral strips may help bring some peace back into your bedroom. Designed to lubricate the soft tissue at the back of the throat, simply place a strip on to the roof of the mouth and allow it to dissolve (it has a refreshing mint flavour) for snoring relief that can last up to eight hours.
Best snoring spray
• Size: 42ml
• Mint flavour
This anti-snoring spray works by tackling the source – the vibrations made at the back of the throat – to make your bedroom noticeably quieter.
• Contains 5 pairs
• Single use
These malleable ear plugs can be moulded and shaped to provide a more snug fit so that they don’t fall out during the night.
Best relaxing bath oil
• Size: 55ml
• Suitable for adults only
Make your bath all the more blissful with this luxurious oil containing vetivert, camomile and sandalwood. Prefer a shower? Not a problem. Smooth over limbs beforehand.
Best sunrise alarm clock
• 30-minute sunrise/sunset
• 5 optional wake-up sounds or a beep
• Snooze feature
• Dimmable bedside lighting
• Mood lighting
• 2-year manufacturer’s warranty
This clever clock slowly illuminates 30 minutes before its alarm to gently wake you up. Particularly handy on winter mornings or if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD), it’s great for helping you to maintain a consistent sleep schedule.
Yoga nidra for sleep
Another way to help improve sleep quality, could be to incorporate a yoga nidra practice into your daily routine.
What is yoga nidra and what are its benefits? “Yoga nidra helps transport the body to a place of deep relaxation as well as disengaging the mind from worries and stresses,” explains Anna Blackmore, yoga nidra teacher at triyoga. Translated as “yogic sleep,” it helps the nervous system to unwind and relaxes the body and mind to help relieve stress levels before going to bed.
When is the best time to do yoga nidra?
Look to do your yoga nidra practice just before going to sleep. “It provides a space to lie down, listen and find yourself connecting with all that you are and everything that is,” says Anna. In this way, it can help get you into a peaceful frame of mind to provide prime conditions for deep and restorative rest.
How can you get the best out of your yoga nidra practice? Dig out comfortable and soothing clothes like fluffy socks and baggy jumpers:
“When practicing yoga nidra, it’s really important that you are warm and comfortable,” says Anna.
Practice gratitude: This will help you to be in a positive and present mindset. “Practice lying down with your eyes closed and your head back deep into the pillow,” recommends Anna. “Think of two or three things that you are really grateful for. This could be anything from having a warm bed and a roof over your head, to a lovely message from a friend that day.”
Reduce screen time: Blue light exposure can suppress the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), which can make it harder to fall asleep. Anna recommends steering away from screens such as those on your mobile phone, laptop and TV, at least two hours before bed to give your brain time to decompress and relax.
What is a short yoga nidra practice that you can try?
If you’re new to Yoga Nidra, Anna recommends trying the following practice.
Step 1: Restorative yoga pose
“Lie with your back on the floor and legs up the wall or on the bed, with a pillow or folded blanket underneath the lower back to elevate the pelvis. Inverting the body like this will improve blood circulation by stimulating the flow towards the upper body and head, which calms the mind and creates a rebalancing effect after long periods on your feet or sitting at a computer.”
Step 2: Abdominal breathing exercises
“Deep breathing into the belly is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. Slower breaths send a parasympathetic signal from the brain to the rest of the body that slows it down. Start by lying flat on your back or with knees bent, with one hand on the belly, just below the ribs and the other hand on the chest. Take a deep breath into the belly, through the nose, feeling the belly push the hand up, while the chest remains still and passive. Breathe out slowly through the mouth, as if gently blowing feathers across a table, and slightly squeeze the belly in, to lengthen the exhale. Count the breaths backwards from 10 down to 1 then from 1 to 10 and backwards again, as many times as you need until the body feels calmer and more relaxed.”
Whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced student, triyoga has a yoga nidra class to suit you. Book in here.