Healthy Body

Dos and Don’ts for a Better Night’s Sleep

Eloise Edington  |   21 Jan 2022

When you’re going through fertility treatment, a good night’s sleep can be elusive.  Maybe you’re worried about the upcoming IVF stims, perhaps the fertility medication is making you feel sick or maybe you’re worried this cycle won’t work.  Whatever the reasons you’re not sleeping, you’re not the only one.  (To read shared stories from our fertility community, click here.)

Fortunately, our friends at The Handbook have advice on how to improve sleep.

Read on for these helpful sleeping tips.

Over to The Handbook…

How are you feeling this morning?  Fresh?  Ready to start the day?  Or are you feeling like an extra hour/two hours/day in bed would go down pretty well?  It’s estimated that one in three of us aren’t getting enough sleep and are feeling the effects the next day.  Whilst getting the recommended six to nine hours a night can boost your immunity, sex drive, mental well being and give you enough energy to get through the day, repeatedly falling short of enough sleep can lead to an increased risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes – it also shortens your life expectancy.

A few simple tweaks to your life are enough to help you sleep through the night and have better quality sleep.

Get into a bedtime routine

We’re creatures of routine and that goes for our sleep patterns, too.  Work out how much sleep you need (the recommended amount is around eight hours but some of us need a little more or less).  If you’re falling asleep on your commute, take that as a sign that you need a bit more.  Next, plan a bedtime routine.

Admittedly, life can get in the way, but try and get into the habit of going to bed at the same time each night.  If it helps, set a reminder on your phone reminding you to start winding down.  Likewise, try and get up at the same time each day – even at the weekend.  Whilst it might be tempting to switch off that alarm on Sunday morning, it’s just going to confuse your internal body clock.  Instead, use those extra hours at the weekend to catch up on Netflix or get that missed gym session in.  Once your body is set in its new routine you shouldn’t need that lie in anyway (or so we hope, anyway…).

Switch off before bed

Ever arrived home from a bar, gone straight to bed and just lay there, wide awake?  We all need a little time to wind down at the end of each day to get ourselves ready for sleep.  In the hour before you go to bed, try and limit screen use; lights from your phone screen can have a negative effect on sleeping patterns.  Instead, read a book or listen to the radio to relax your mind.

If your mind is still whirring, write down your thoughts or create a to do list for tomorrow.  Have a warm (not hot) bath to get your body to the right temperature and avoid alcohol, caffeine or vigorous exercise, basically chamomile tea and yoga are in and sprinting after downing an espresso martini is out.

Related article: Optimise IVF success with these top five tips

Make your bedroom a sleep haven

Help set the stage for a better night’s sleep by getting your bedroom in order.  Ideally your bedroom should be dark, quiet, tidy and most importantly comfortable.  If this means investing in blackout curtains, earplugs and a decent mattress, so be it, you are investing in your health after all.  Your chances of getting a good night’s sleep are going to be hampered if you’re trying to fall asleep to a soundtrack of sirens and traffic or if your room is illuminated by street lights.  Remove any distractions like televisions or laptops; your room should be just for sleeping and sex, because unlike other exercise, sex makes you sleepy due to the chemicals that are released.  Sex helps you sleep and sleep helps your sex drive – it’s a no brainer.

Escape into a fantasy world

There’s no reason why adults can’t be read to at bedtime.  Whilst you might not be able to rope someone in to reading to you each night, you can download apps like Headspace and Calm, both of which have sleep stories, soothing noises and meditations all designed to have you nodding off before they finish.  You’ll find snug tales of antique shops and midnight launderettes, and different breathing techniques and visualisations to help calm you down.  We’ll be impressed if you can find something more soporific than Stephen Fry’s dulcet tones describing lavender fields.

Don’t fight it

You’ve done everything you can, and you still can’t sleep.  You’re calculating how much sleep you can still have if you get to sleep in the next 45 seconds.  You’ve had 13 cups of chamomile tea and pumped your pillows numerous times.

Just like with most things in life, don’t force it.  Focusing on the fact you’re not sleeping can heighten anxiety which means you’re less likely to sleep, and sleeping less can cause more anxiety about sleeping – it’s a vicious circle.  Instead, accept that whilst you will feel tired in the morning, you can get through the day with a couple of bad nights’ sleep, then get up and sit somewhere else and read a book or listen to a podcast until you do feel sleepy.

Learn from experts

We had a pupil at school who fell asleep during an A Level exam, we’re talking full on snoring, safe to say they didn’t get the result they wanted.  And whilst we’re not suggesting you go back to your school and be bored into sleeping, we are saying head to a school that specialises in sleeping, like The Sleep School in London.  As well as an app and one-to-one online calls, the medical team host weekly workshops that focus on insomnia, providing support and tips on how to tackle it.  And they’ve got impressive stats; research shows that 86% of clients successfully recover from insomnia.

Don’t get cold feet

Can’t sleep?  Then warm your feet.

When our feet get too cold the blood vessels constrict and that can cause less blood to circulate.  When you put on a pair of socks or warm the end of your bed with a hot water bottle, vasodilation occurs, which means that the blood vessels dilate and that can signal to the brain that you’re ready for sleep.

Eat to sleep

We all know that eating cheese before bed is a terrible idea, likewise an espresso but there are foods you can eat which should all help you to get to sleep.  Bananas contain magnesium to relax your muscles and contain both serotonin and melatonin, both of which encourage sleep.  Or you could eat honey which includes melatonin and switches off the hormone that keeps you alert – orexin.  So if you fancy cooking up a bowl of porridge with banana, honey, almonds and a side of turkey… you’ll be eating five foods that should have you dozing in no time.

Try herbs

Whether you take them as capsules or make a tea from them, there are some herbs that can really help to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation and sleep.  Lavender, with its nerve-calming properties, is probably the most well-known but it’s also worth trying limeflower if you suffer from nightmares or ashwagandha to help induce sleep.  Creating a sense of calm can be beneficial when TTC and when undergoing fertility treatment.

Snuggle down

Just as we swaddle babies to help them sleep, so it seems that wrapping up in weighted blankets can also help us drift off as adults.  The science behind it suggests that the extra weight helps to mimic being held or hugged which is also known as Deep Touch Pressure and can release serotonin that helps promote a state of calm.  It’s also thought to release oxytocin which can relieve anxiety, whilst the extra weight can physically stop you from moving around at night.

Try humming

Admittedly this one might be a little tricky if you’re sharing a bed or bedroom (maybe start buying ear plugs) but apparently humming like a bee can help us fall sleep.  The technique is known as brahmari and involves breathing in through your nose and as you exhale you make a humming sound like a bee.  Not only is the noise soothing, rather like your own version of a white noise app, but it also increases how much you exhale which can also help you relax.

Of course, if you’re constantly lacking sleep or think you might be suffering from insomnia then visit your doctor, but give these tips a go and see how you get on.  Struggling with sleep during fertility treatment is just another thing to worry about but following these top tips for sleep can help you feel rested and it will boost your chances of fertility success.

Sweet dreams.

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