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How to sleep well and wake refreshed

Updated on January 20, 2010

Getting a good night of restful sleep is essential for health and wellbeing.

The importance of sleep

Sleep is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. While the odd bad nights sleep or jet lag when travelling will not do any harm prolonged problems with sleeping can seriously impact on your life and both physical and mental health. Insufficient, irregular or disrupted sleep will quickly start to impact on your mood, performance in both physical and mental tasks and can lead to stress and anxiety; further exacerbating the problem.

I used to be one of those charmed folk who routinely sleep like a baby and awake rested and refreshed for the new day. When you're enjoying such easy and deep sleep you don't realise how lucky you are! Whether it is getting older, having young kids, feeling more stress or likely a combination of all of the above, sadly I can longer hit the pillow assured of a solid eight hours shut eye. What keeps me awake at night? Well I'm not a sleep deprivation expert so this hub is essentially the thoughts of an occasionally afflicted layman from my personal perspectives on what stops me sleeping and what can help ensure a good nights sleep. I suspect, in general terms, the same issues apply for many people who have some trouble sleeping. Trying to implement some of the tips below may help you sleep better. If, however, you are suffering serious sleep deprivation and insomnia problems you should of course visit your doctor for help and advice.

What causes sleep problems?

Before looking at some things you can do to help ensure better sleep it is worth reflecting on possible causes for not sleeping well. A lot of the things that can prevent us from enjoying a rejuvenating sleep are lifestyle issues that contribute towards poor physical health and fitness and/or stress and anxiety; all of which conspires to keep us awake at night. Personally I always favour initially trying to 'fix' things naturally whenever possible before resorting to remedies and/or medication. If its possible to work out things you can change in your lifestyle and habits that will help you sleep better this should be tried first. Granted it is not always easy, and is always easier said, or written, than done! However if you start to find sleep easier after making some changes, you'll be glad you made the effort!

To get a good night's sleep you really need to go to bed having prepared for sleep. Both your body and your mind need to be ready for sleep and the lifestyles that many of us now lead do not really facilitate this! Ideally you've spent a physically active and mentally stimulating day followed by a period of unwinding and finally relaxation before retiring for sleep. If you think about your days I'll bet many don't really follow this pattern! All too frequently we miss out elements of a healthy day in terms of preparing for sleep and often are out of synch with what our bodies would really like to be doing.

I know many of my days do not really include as much exercise as they should, certainly involve too much stimulation from coffee and often alcohol and don't wind down in a relaxing way most conducive to sleep. When I've tackled some, or all, of these issues I have usually noticed benefits in terms of improved sleep, so I would recommend considering where you can make some adjustments in your daily lifestlye if you want to sleep better.

The video may be funny, but suffering from sleep deprivation isn't.

Insomniac trying to sleep

Struggling to sleep can be counterproductive. It may be better to get up and do a restful activity until you feel sleepy than trying to "count sheep" lying in bed.
Struggling to sleep can be counterproductive. It may be better to get up and do a restful activity until you feel sleepy than trying to "count sheep" lying in bed.

The usual Insomnia Suspects

Here's a list of things that can cause problems with sleeping and the correlated actions you can take to try and improve your sleeping patterns.

  • Stress and anxiety. OK, there's the biggy right up. If you're awake in bed stressing over stuff at night it's no fun. Obviously the root cause of the anxiety needs to be addressed and this isn't usually simple or quick. In the short term though don't lie in bed awake for hours agonising; get up and do something relaxing that will hopefully help you feel sleepy before returning to bed. Then after some sleep you're in a better state to tackle problems the next day. If stress is really preventing you from sleeping you might try listening to some calm relaxing music while trying to fall asleep. I'd recommend something instrumental, perhaps ambient background sounds, definitely don't stick the all night shock jock radio on. You don't want stimulation! A scientific approach to sound calming your mind for sleep uses binaural beats which help many people drift off.
  • Lack of exercise can really prevent you enjoying deep, restful sleep. If your lifestyle doesn't inherently involve physical activity then making sure you get thirty minutes of good aerobic exercise each day will help you sleep more soundly. This needn't be a 'workout' but just means ensuring your day incorporates enough physical activity. I know if I spend too much of a day sat in front of a computer etc it doesn't help me feel ready for sleep at night and when I have more active days I often sleep more soundly the following night. Being active out and about in fresh air also helps, especially if work usually keeps you cooped up in an office. Exercise can be invigorating though, so don't do it in the last few hours before bedtime as it may leave you too stimulated for sleep.
  • Too much caffeine! Coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, tea, its everywhere, and a lot of us are pretty addicted! While a little caffeine is great as a 'pick me up' during the day it is surprising how long its effects can last in the body and prevent you sleeping many hours after your last intake. To play safe it is a good idea to restrict caffeine intake to the morning as far as possible and definitely reduce your consumption during the afternoon. If you're a smoker the same applies to nicotine; though of course you should be quitting smoking anyway!
  • Alcohol is also a problem. While a few drinks can certainly help you get to sleep alcohol actually prevents you from falling into a rejuvenating deep sleep. I can certainly vouch for the truth of this! In my experience I'll sleep well initially but then wake after 4-6 hours and then struggle to get back to sleep. If this becomes a pattern staying away from alcohol often helps alleviate the problem. If you do have a drink in the evening a good tip is to also drink water at the same time. This helps to slow down and reduce your alcohol intake while reducing the impact what you do still drink.
  • Relax! While it sounds obvious it is essential to slow down and relax towards the end of your day as you approach bedtime. Going to bed with your head buzzing with ideas or still engrossed in a stimulating activity is not conducive to sleep. The Internet doesn't help here; if you're reading this because you can't sleep you might be better going away (bookmark this page first for later) and doing something more relaxing to prepare your body and mind for sleep. So when sleep time is approaching stop working etc and wind down with a book soaking in a bath. Your bedroom should also be conducive to relaxation and preferably on the cool side.

Hopefully making some conscious efforts along these lines will help you regularly enjoy an improved quality and quantity of sleep. If, however, problems persist seek professional help for any sleep disorder and/or stress you may be suffering from.


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