The Department of Psychology at HELP University, Malaysia, brings you our ‘5 Keys Series’ providing five practical tips on five topics to help you stay mentally, emotionally and physically strong. Drawing on evidence-based psychology, you can be sure of getting 5-star quality insight and guidance from HELP University: the university of achievers.

Our second ‘5 Keys Series’ is called “The 5 Keys to Nurturing Your Physical Health”. Be sure to watch this space to get regular insights into the psychology of everyday living.

By Dr. LIANNE BRITTEN AND Dr. MARC ARCHER

For many of us, it doesn’t take a global pandemic to disrupt our sleep. Lack of sleep, or poor quality of sleep, has long been acknowledged as one of the biggest health challenges we face today. Here are some top tips to help you wind down, rest easy, and get some Zzzzzs…

Stick to a regular sleep routine “Training” ourselves to learn new things during this lockdown period includes developing healthy sleep habits. By continuing or starting a night-time routine, we can train ourselves to associate nighttime with bedtime. (For those working night shifts, you can create a routine around your preferred hours of rest.) This routine should start at least 30 minutes to an hour before bed. If you have kids, you might read them a bedtime story — you recognise their need for a bedtime routine, and now it’s time to focus on yours. Switch off those screens. Just like you need a day routine to get through all your work, take a 1 hour “bedtime routine” to make your nights a time of rejuvenating rest. This can include your bathing routine, so after reading the kids a story and having them take a bath, take a shower or a bath yourself. Do some meditation. Avoid stimulating exercise, keep it low and slow. Slow your mind down — let it unwind as you get cosy under the sheets. Let your thoughts go and close your eyes. Breathe in, breathe out, be grateful and let go of the day.

Cast out that (sleep) anchor Every day, get up at the same time and stick to it. Yes, every day. Even Sundays. Among sleep experts, this regular getting-up time is called the sleep anchor. Why is it so important? Well, the time you get up is under your control. Even if you feel you’ve had a terrible night’s sleep and think you need more sleep, it’s better to rise out of bed. By getting up at the same time, you train yourself to get into a good sleep and waking cycle. At night, that little ‘sleep debt’ you’ve been feeling all day will help you sleep soundly. Check out Prof. Colin Espie and his app for getting a good night’s sleep.

Recharge as Nature intended What does our body know that we sometimes forget? When it’s dark, it’s time to put out the light and get some sleep. It’s only been in the last few decades that humans have lost sight of this simple truth — our electronic devices haven’t been helpful in this regard. We’re careful to recharge our phones every night — we also need time every day to rest and recover. The “dark of night” means no blue light either, so we can sleep, and then with the light of day we wake up fresh and ready for the day ahead. When left to Nature, our circadian rhythm (sleep and feeding cycles) naturally regulates our sleep pattern. In fact, it’s usually quite difficult to resist. If you want to improve your sleep, you can start by bringing the light in your environment back under control. Black out curtains can help if you live in a place that has big daylight fluctuations. Fortunately for us in Malaysia, it tends to get dark pretty early in the evening and light pretty late in the morning all year around.

Let’s tune up our body and tune out better at night. You might not always feel it, especially when you’ve been cooped up in your apartment for weeks, but your body is a finely tuned machine. And just as you’d tune a car to perform optimally, you can adjust your physical state to induce predictable, stable, unbroken sleep. How? Do light exercise at least two hours before bedtime. Avoid eating too much within two hours of going to bed. Do have a relaxing shower or bath, but not too close to sleeping time and not too hot as this can also stimulate wakefulness. Avoid taking alcohol, coffee, and nicotine before bedtime. They have different effects, but they can all disrupt sleep during the night. Check out these tips on great sleep.

Let’s just “be” the bed and sleep. Have you heard of Pavlov’s dogs? They were ‘trained’ by the Russian physiologist to salivate (drool) whenever they heard a bell ringing. How? It was done through a process called ‘classical conditioning’, which involves pairing two things together until our minds make such a strong connection between the two that we react to each in the same way. In the case of Pavlov’s dogs, every time they were given food a bell rang. After a time of conditioning the dogs, no food was required. A simple bell ringing caused them to drool! At this point, you might be wondering, “What do salivating dogs have to do with good sleep?” If you use your bed only for sleeping (i.e. no reading or using smartphones in bed), your mind will be conditioned to associate your bed with sleep, making it much easier to drift away. There are two Golden Rules to follow:

  1. Bed is only for sleeping
  2. If you are awake in bed for more than 15 minutes, get up, leave your bed, go somewhere

else and do something else (go back only when you feel sleepy). If you stick to these two golden rules, your mind will learn that the bed is for unbroken and restful sleep.

Remember, you owe it to yourself to get some good rest. Your smartphone might be expensive, but you’re much more valuable, and so give yourself the same care and attention every night to unwind, relax, and recharge with a good night’s sleep.

With gratitude to Dr. Marc Archer from our amazing HELP Psychology department. We want to connect so don’t hesitate to comment on what worked and didn’t work from the above. Let’s add to this and build a TOP 10 from a KEY 5! Reach out to Lianne at: HELP5keysblog@gmail.com