Ten Ways to Get a Good Night's Sleep
The sun sets...
Sleep; the poor cousin of healthcare
Do you recognize this person? You’re feeling down. You have no energy and even the simplest task seems a drag. So, you feel the need to pep yourself up. You go to the mall and requisition a new hairstyle and a new outfit. You go for a night on the town with friends. You take a “holiday” in some exotic resort and party until dawn. You read the latest diet book and embark on some extraordinary nutritional regime. You fill yourself with vitamin pills and listen to sermons on the corroding effect of laziness. You take up a new hobby, find a new job or even, a new lover. You will go anywhere and do anything to fill the time, rather than admit that you simply need to get more hours of sleep at night, every night. Why is this?
In 2017, the Nobel committee awarded its annual prize for medicine to three US scientists who discovered the genes that control our circadian rhythms. The scientists – Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash, and Michael Young –established that Earth’s daily revolutions synchronize with a DNA “clock” that resides within every cell in our bodies, a clock that controls our wake and sleep cycles. The existence of circadian rhythms has long been established and formerly, scientists believed that this clock was just a small bundle of cells that resided in the brain. Moreover, they believed that if you fooled this minute area of the brain into believing that it was daytime, for example, by exposure to ultraviolet light, you could stave off the desire to sleep indefinitely. But now this theory is obsolete. Come sundown, all areas of your body shut down and prepare for sleep. The Nobel committee’s decision has opened a dialogue about the chronic sleep deprivation of many people, and the need to recognise sleep not as an indulgence or extravagance, but as a tool vital for optimum health. Keep in mind the following ten practices when you are claiming your rightful share of this most essential of therapies.
1. See sleep as an entitlement, not as an indulgence or luxury
Recognise now that you are entitled to a night’s sleep. Quality shut-eye is vital for optimum mental and physical activity. It is not a privilege, available only to an elite few. Do not be taken in by the school that teaches that bed is only for the desperately ill or terminally exhausted. See hyperactivity as the disorder that it is, not the virtue it has been painted as. If you have to work overtime for a period, then negotiate for extra days off of work. Pool childminding duties with partners, relatives and friends; trading time is not begging a favour. Tell your partying friends that you are taking time out to catch up on sleep. Bearing in mind the difference between constant disturbance and one-off events, take action against noisy neighbours.
Pondering and pondering....
2. Do check out the personal conundrums that keep you awake at night
It could be that you are frustrated in your role at work. Changing jobs or taking a course to improve your career prospects will enhance your life in every direction. You may be in a relationship that you want to say bye-bye to. Or an unwelcome suitor is foisting their attentions upon you. If this is so, then practical intervention and total honesty, no matter how unpleasant, is the likeliest solution to tackling situations like these. And you will sleep better at night.
3. Check your sleep environment
Review your sleeping environment, removing all distractions to shut-eye. This could mean moving a television set or other electronic items from the bedroom – and yes, I do mean that blue light. Get rid of photographs of relatives – pleasant though they are to look at – and other images whose presence you cannot ignore. With the clutter vanquished, redecorate the room in gentle colours, pale blues and pinks, lilac, cream and green. Buy the finest bedding that you can afford; pile the bed with pillows – lavender-scented are the most restful (see below). Take steps to ensure that your room is never too warm or too cold.
4. Do get plenty of exercise during the day
Train your body to want to sleep. Walking, cycling and swimming – add your favourite activity here – are all healthy pastimes that pull oxygen into the lungs and thus send it to all areas of the body, via the bloodstream. Exercise builds muscle and helps keep it toned. It keeps weight in check and helps induce that sleepy yet relaxed feeling that betokens plenty of shut-eye, just before bedtime. But do not exercise too close to bedtime, which can have the opposite effect.
5. Do not eat or drink heavily after 8 pm
Avoid heavy meals too close to bedtime. Once you eat, you set your digestive system in motion, a process that does definitely interfere with sound sleep. Take your main daily meal at lunchtime, if possible. If not, try to finish supper by 8 pm. If you must eat afterwards, eat a light snack of wholemeal toast and a piece of fruit; do not add a heavy protein filling, like meat, fish or cheese. Whatever you do, do not get in the habit of taking alcohol just before bedtime. The alcohol-induced fug is not the same as natural, healthy sleep.
Calming and gentle....
6. Do look at the herb family
Certain herbal infusions are renowned for helping the body relax, which can only lead to enhanced sleep. Look in health stores for teas of chamomile and marshmallow, coriander and vervain, sweet violet and bergamot. You will probably find combinations of these leaves. Experiment until you find the one that is most effective for you. The scent of lavender is renowned for inducing sleep; place a pillow filled with lavender petals on your bed and “top up” the scent occasionally with lavender oil.
7. Do take a calming bath and listen to relaxing music
Develop a bedtime routine. Even if you don’t feel sleepy, begin preparing for bed around the same time every night. Post 8pm, soften the lights and turn down the music – do not reach for that glass of alcohol. At about 10pm, take a warm shower and pull on that glam nightie or those swanky jammies. If you must read, choose a few pages of a relaxing book before shutting your eyes. Again, ritual helps. Many an insomniac has found that simply turning out the light and lying still in darkness can induce a deep and healthy sleep.
8. Do count sheep
This activity draws much amusement from the uninitiated but mundane cranial activity, late at night, really does have a sleep-inducing effect. If you can’t stand the woolly breed, try counting another species, e.g. koalas, porcupines, dragons…
9. Take a vacation, with reservations
Be careful of leaving workaday cares behind; the purpose of these exercises is to help you sleep in your normal environment. But there is a case for taking an occasional vacation and discovering how the rarefied conditions of a comfortable hotel room and exotic climate can work together to promote sleep. Beforehand, decide why you want to get away; a very stimulating environment will inhibit sleep, as will the party-all-night type of vacation.
10. Go to a sleep clinic
This measure may seem extreme, but if you are suffering from the type of insomnia that the above raft of measures will not cure, then it is advisable to seek medical help. If constant nightmares interrupt your sleep or if you suspect you are sleepwalking, then ask your medical practitioner for referral to a sleep clinic. Luckily, common sleep disorders respond well to treatment.