Have you ever gone to bed really tired, but toss and turn all night finally falling to sleep as the first rays of sunlight peep through your bedroom window? Or you go to sleep easily, but wake in the middle of the night and no matter what you do, you can’t get back to sleep again?
Insomnia is a common condition experienced by one in three people at some time in their lives. It may be brought on by stress, sleeping in unfamiliar environments, jet lag, stimulants or due to an acute illness. Normal sleep patterns usually return once the stress or event is over.
When insomnia strikes, be reassured that there are things you can do to enhance the quality of your sleep and help you get off to a good night’s rest.
1. Establish a bedtime routine.
Go to bed at the same time each night if possible. This helps the body to establish it’s natural sleep/wake cycle, our circadian rhythm. Also try and get up at the same time each day. Although you may be tempted to sleep in on a weekend, it’t actually more beneficial to get up at the same time and have a brief (no more than 30 minute) nap in the afternoon. If however, your insomnia is due to a health condition, a sleep-in on a weekend may help.
2. Enhance your Melatonin levels.
We all produce Melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleeping and waking patterns. It’s production is controlled by exposure to light and we produce more in the evenings when it is dark so we become sleepy, and less during the day so we can remain awake and alert. Modern life however, often interferes with Melatonin production. Artificially lit offices, computer screens and television all affect our melatonin levels. Try and get some exposure to natural light during the day and exercise outdoors. Keep curtains and blinds open when possible to expose yourself to natural light.
Avoid using the computer, your iPhone and iPad and watching television late at night. These all suppress melatonin production and stimulate your brain at a time when your body is trying to wind down.
3. Create an inviting bedroom.
Make sure that your sleeping environment is relaxing and welcoming and not part of your working environment. Keep televisions out of the bedroom and ensure that you have a great mattress. It has been said that the bedroom is for sleeping and sex and that’s not a bad suggestion. Invest in blackout curtains as any light will affect the quality of your sleep and try to minimise any secondary lights such as from a clock-radio. If you have to go to the bathroom at night, try and not turn on lights. Use a torch or have a low wattage light in the hall or bathroom. Keep the bedroom cool as overheating can affect your sleep.
4. Relax before bedtime.
Instead of working late into the night or watching TV and overstimulating your brain, relax with a book and read by a soft light. Have a warm bath prior to bed with some aromatherapy oils such as lavender or roman chamomile or put a few drops of these oils on a tissue under your pillow. Listen to some calming music to enhance and relax your mind.
5. Eat the right food and exercise regularly.
Cut back your intake of coffee, especially in the afternoon and evening. Caffeine is a stimulant that will disrupt your sleep patterns and it’s also a diuretic which means more trips to the bathroom!
Avoid alcohol late at night even though you may think it will help you sleep. Initially it may help you feel drowsier and get off to sleep quickly but it affects the quality of your sleep and makes it more likely that you will wake later in the night. The old story of a ‘nightcap’ is just that, a story! It is thought to originate from the 1700′s when people had an alcoholic drink to keep them warm. Whether it actually helped them sleep is debatable!!
Avoid heavy meals within two hours of bedtime as your stomach will be working hard to digest the food and sleep will be disrupted. Regular exercise is great as it will help you sleep more deeply but avoid anything strenuous at night as it tends to stimulate and warm up the body.
Deep breathing techniques or meditation before bedtime prepare your mind and body for a good night’s rest. Progressively relax your muscles one by one and breath deeply in and out. Visualize a quiet place, the sea, a meadow or stream and imagine yourself there.
Invest in regular Reflexology treatments to help balance your body and mind and enhance the activity of your Pineal gland which produces Melatonin.
7. Calm your Active Mind.
You may find that you fall asleep easily, only to wake a few hours later with your mind racing. If you find you are tossing and turning, get up briefly and write down what you are thinking or worrying about. Getting your thoughts down on paper often helps get them ‘out of your head.’ Read for awhile by a soft light or have a small snack if needed. When back in bed, ‘listen’ to your body and feel it relaxing. Try some of the relaxation techniques as above.
Remember, Insomnia is a symptom not an illness but if it persists it needs to be investigated. It may be the sign of an underlying condition. We all crave our sleep and feel very frustrated when we miss out or find it is disturbed. However with a few simple changes we can restore that blissful feeling of a great night’s slumber.
Disclaimer: Please note that all information in this article is the opinion of the author and obtained through her knowledge and the following references. It is not meant to replace medical advice and a medical opinion should always be obtained for any health condition.