Health + WellnessLifestyle

HOW TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP

With all the excitement (and sometimes stress) over Christmas, perhaps it’s not surprising that even those who can normally nod off as soon as their head hits the pillow have trouble sleeping at this time of year. But for some, tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling, feeling too tired to get up and be productive, yet too awake to get any shuteye, is a normal state of affairs. Insomnia is a terrible thing, and its causes are wide ranging.

And it’s not just that you will spend the next day(s) feeling incredibly tired and generally unwell. Lack of sleep has been linked to strokes and heart disease, so it’s even more important to be rested than you might have first thought.

by Lisamarie Lamb

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The reasons

You may not realise it, but you could well be suffering from insomnia. There are, in fact, three different types of insomnia including not being able to get to sleep, waking up in the night, and waking up far too early. If any of these problems sound familiar, then insomnia could well be the answer.

What are the underlying causes of insomnia?

It could well be your sleeping environment. The body regulates its own temperature, keeping warm throughout the day and then cooling during the night. Anything that stops that nighttime cooling process will either wake us up or give us a restless night. It could be that the central heating is on too high, or that your duvet is too thick. Warm pyjamas are great for settling down to relax after your bath, but might be too much for your body to cope with when it is time to sleep. Reducing (or turning off) the central heating, getting a thinner duvet, or sleeping in lighter nightwear will certainly help. The ideal temperature for your bedroom is around 16C, which should be around 29C under the covers.

Your bedtime routine (or lack of) could be another insomnia trigger. Your body needs to understand that it is time for it to wind down, so rather than racing around later on in the day, it’s best to do chores and jobs in the morning. A good evening routine is to eat before 7pm, enjoy a warm bath or shower, and switch off any work-related machines such as your laptop or phone. You need, so the experts say, at least two hours of downtime before you go to bed; and this can include the 20 minutes you should allow yourself between getting into bed and falling asleep.

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You may not realise it, but your bedroom could be too bright. By changing your curtains to thick, blackout ones, or by using an eye mask at night, you can cut out almost all of the extra light that may well be affecting your sleep patterns. Despite millions of years of evolution, humans are still programmed to wake when the sun rises and sleep when it sets, so any shift in light (a car passing, a street lamp flickering on and off) can cause you to wake at the wrong time, which will then mean your sleep pattern is off kilter.

Your bedroom could also be too noisy. Even the slightest noise in the night could be enough to disturb your sleep. If you sleep with your mobile phone next to the bed, or like to drift off to the sound of music, a sudden noise will send the brain into alert mode, and your body will follow. If that happens, it can take hours to get back into a restful state, and sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Earplugs can certainly help, although if you require an alarm to wake up in the morning, then they may not be the best solution for you. Other ways to ensure peace and quiet are to switch your phone off, keep the window closed, and invest in a music player that automatically shuts off after a predetermined amount of time. You can even have ‘white noise’ playing through the night, as this will blank out other noises.

For some, depression, stress, and anxiety, can be the reasons behind their insomnia. If this is the case, then the best solution is to speak to your GP and get professional advice and assistance. It can be a vicious circle, with the bedroom becoming a place that causes even more anxiety because the sufferer knows that another sleepless night is ahead. Everyone’s depression is different, and it will take an expert to ensure that you are put on the right path.

The secrets

Sleep experts may not all agree on the reasons for insomnia, but when it comes to some hints and tips on how to banish it, they have come to a consensus.

Setting yourself a regular schedule is an excellent way to ensure you sleep well. Go to bed at the same time every night, and get up at the same time every morning. Your body will become used to your routine, and soon enough you will feel tired when it’s time for bed, and wide awake when it’s time to get up.

You should try to balance your melatonin (the hormone that regulates your sleep cycle) production. Make sure you get enough light during the day (keep curtains open, and go outside during break times), and not too much at night (use dimmer switches, lower light bulb wattages, and watch less TV). The more light you take in, the less melatonin you produce, therefore when you want to sleep you need it to be darker than when you want to be awake.

It’s a little known fact that what we eat can affect how we sleep. Obviously, eating a large meal just before bedtime is a bad idea, as not only will you feel uncomfortable in bed, but your digestive process will be disrupted too. However, what about the food itself? Eating oily fish or bananas (rich in vitamin B6, which makes melatonin), drinking cherry juice (which already has high levels of melatonin), enjoying a yoghurt, or some kale (calcium deficiency has been linked to insomnia) for example, can give you that restful night’s sleep you’ve been craving.

The things that are bad for your body such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, are bad for your sleeping pattern as well. Try to avoid them in the hours before bed if possible, and you’ll be amazed at the difference it makes.

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