Trouble sleeping is very common these days, what with 24-hour access to computers, financial worries and the bombardment of negative news about the future. Many people find preoccupation and distractions are affecting their ability to sleep. Of course, one night without sleep isn’t the end of the world, and if you are going through a period of particular stress then you may have a few nights of disturbed sleep before things settle down, but if this has been going on for a while, you might be wondering what you can do to help yourself.
Good sleep is something that is under your control; healthy sleeping habits, or “sleep hygiene” as it is often referred to, can make a big difference. It can help to go back to basics and ask ourselves what has happened to disrupt our sleeping pattern.
Here are some tips:
- Avoid Chemicals – Avoid caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other chemicals that interfere with sleep 4-6 hours before bedtime. Points to note: Smokers experience withdrawal as the night progresses. Some pain relievers contain caffeine. Alcohol can help you to fall asleep, but after a few hours, it acts as a stimulant which is why you can find yourself waking up and generally having a deterioration in the quality of sleep during the night. Spicy food can also disrupt your sleep, particularly if you are not used to it.
- Exercise regularly as this can help to deepen sleep, but avoid doing any strenuous exercise within 2 hours of bedtime as this can make you too alert.
- The two S’s – save your bed for sleep and sex. Turn your bedroom into a sleep-inducing environment. This trains your mind so that when you think about your bed, you think about sleep, slumber, sanctuary and all things relaxing. Use eye mask/earplugs if you are having trouble with environmental factors. Avoid using the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room … move the TV and any other electronic equipment into another room. This way, when you get into bed, it’s a powerful message to your body and mind…..Sleep!
- Pre-sleep soother – this might be a bath, a hot drink (e.g. chamomile tea, hot milk), a good book, relaxing music, breathing exercises, using relaxing aromatherapy oils such as lavender, visualising a favourite place, etc. Pre-Sleep Tip – Diaphragmatic breathing: This is about learning to breathe slowly and deeply from the stomach rather than from the upper chest. A simple way to see this happen is to lie on your back with a book on your stomach. The book will move up and down if you are breathing from the stomach. Make relaxation your goal rather than sleep; this way, you can take it easy if you don’t fall asleep straight away. Remember rest still has a positive effect on your body and mind.
- Respect Routine – go to sleep when you are exhausted, don’t be unrealistic. Delay going to bed until the time you go to sleep; otherwise, you may end up spending more time trying to get to sleep and end up feeling frustrated. After 20 minutes of trying, go to another room and do something relaxing. Try to get into a routine of going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at roughly the same time each day.
- Stay out of your head – often the time just before sleep is when your mind pops up with an unresolved issue from the day. If thoughts are going round in your head, write them down and put them to the side, you can tackle them in the morning. Face your fears, including the fear of not sleeping. No matter what you did or didn’t do today, you deserve to rest and sleep. If you can’t stop yourself worrying, then this is something you need to work through during the daylight hours. Go through a process of challenging your thinking. Replace irrational fears with more productive thoughts. Even counting sheep is more productive than worrying at bedtime. Don’t be a clock watcher: if you find you are counting the hours until you have to get up, try to refocus on relaxing your body parts or your breathing and take a holiday from your mind…..
- Waking up in the night – if you wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, get out of bed, leave the bedroom and do some quiet activity or have a bath, you will generally find that you can get back to sleep in 20 minutes or so. Do not watch TV or do an engaging activity like housework or office work.
- Do you have a sleep disorder? – If you think you have a sleep disorder or other medical condition which might be affecting your ability to sleep, then you should see your GP straight away. Physical factors such as arthritis, heartburn, and headaches can upset sleep, as can some medications.
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