EVA BOVET: good sleep starts in the morning

Smart tips for sleep and relaxation from the sleep coach

In this interview sleep coach and bed expert Eva Bovet reveals how we can achieve a quiet environment in the bedroom at night – despite demanding work, a chaotic family life, and an office in the bedroom.

I’m lying awake at night for an hour or so at around three o’clock, what’s the best thing to do? Get up and make use of the time? Or stay in bed?

Your bed should always be a place for quiet time, relaxation and sleep. If I’m lying awake, going over problems, or something else is stopping me from sleeping, then I should get out of bed. What I do next can be a very individual choice: I can write down what’s bothering me, read a book, get some fresh air, or change whatever’s stopping me from sleeping. Things I definitely need to avoid: bright light or screens, strenuous exercise and food – or in general consumption of anything unhealthy. When I start to feel tired again, the best solution is to go back to bed.

Sometimes a cycle of negative feelings is generated by being unable to sleep: I can’t sleep – I’m frustrated by that – I hope I’m going to be able to survive the next day reasonably well – I think about all the things I have to do the next day… and thus the merry-go-round gathers momentum. It’s much better to accept the situation for what it is: an exception to the rule.

What if lying awake at night becomes a frequent occurrence?

If sleeping fails to make me happy on a regular basis, then I should try different approaches. This includes identifying the chronotype: am I a lark or an owl, or a combination type? Not all people have the same sleeping and waking patterns. That’s absolutely natural, and good to know. If your partner goes straight to sleep at 10 pm, while you spend hours lying awake in frustration, it can also be because you’re just not ready to sleep for genetic reasons.

What would you recommend to help us get to sleep – and stay asleep?

The first thing is that it’s vital to understand that none of us sleep through the whole night. The question is whether and how I notice the nocturnal waking. The fact that there are little phases of wakefulness between the sleep phases could be seen as a good thing. The thing is, they ensure that we recall our dreams more consciously and more often. These phases of wakefulness become more frequent and longer towards the morning.

It’s a different matter if I’m being woken by external influences. Someone snoring, it’s too light or dark, too hot or cold, I need the toilet: all these things can be changed. There are earplugs, sleep masks and all sorts of other aids. Of course it’s also always worth looking at the bed itself: am I lying comfortably? Might I need a different mattress, pillow or cover?

Falling asleep (successfully) starts on the morning of the day before. How am I spending the whole day so that I’m tired enough for bed by the evening and able to fall asleep effectively? Regardless of chronotype, it’s a good idea to top up on sunshine and exercise in the morning. In the dark months you can also use a daylight lamp for this. Moving towards evening, it’s always a good idea to reduce physical activity and light consumption (including from screens). Some things should be avoided two hours before going to sleep – eating and drinking (other than water), bright light, bad news …. It’s far more relaxing to meditate, listen to a radio drama or podcast, do some very gentle yoga or breathing exercises – or whatever helps create a calm environment from a personal perspective.

Evening rituals ensure that our organism knows it’s now time to go to sleep. There are lots of evening rituals for children – unfortunately adults “forget” this valuable resource.

There are various products that are meant to help people fall asleep and stay asleep better. This is actually a kind of night-time fire-fighting strategy. You’re better off making sure there’s nothing burning in the first place.

What First Aid would you suggest for people who lie awake, or for nocturnal problem-solvers?

My emergency tip for people who try to solve problems during the night is this: leave it alone. You can write everything down, good and bad thoughts, ideas for solutions, inspiration. The problem will only be solved satisfactorily in a small minority of cases. This has a lot to do with hormone levels: at night we’re always the sad, melancholy version of ourselves. Unfortunately those very same hormones that make people tired and sleepy also make them sentimental. Problems that seem overwhelming in the evening or night are often nowhere near as bad the next morning. If this is not the case, then it’s a good idea to solve them with an alert mind.

And what are long-term, sustainable solutions?

The first, and in my opinion most important, steps to a really refreshing sleep are acceptance and self-observation. We often know full well what’s good for us and what isn’t. Acting on that knowledge isn’t always as easy. 

Another thing is that our own sleep needs change during the course of life, we don’t need as much. The disruptive influences may possibly increase, we’re stressed on a day-to-day basis. I certainly don’t mean that you should accept poor sleep – quite the opposite – I mean that it’s okay to accept that things go wrong sometimes. Just as it’s okay to accept that you didn’t stick to your fitness plan, or you’ve eaten “too much” chocolate.

However, when sleep problems become an ongoing issue, you should definitely get checked by your GP. Sometimes physical factors can be the cause. And we need refreshing sleep – more urgently than ever at the moment.

A few more tips if your desk’s in the bedroom:

  • It’s best to use a curtain, room divider etc. to separate it from the rest of the room
  • Avoid having a direct view of the desk from your bed
  • Change the temperature, smell and light in the room during the working day so that you’re creating a different atmosphere in the evening
  • Never get into bed or go to sleep straight from your desk
  • Clean Desk
  • If you absolutely can’t avoid screenwork late at night, wear blue light filter glasses

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