Why can't I sleep? How to get a good night's sleep without taking tablets
Can't get off to sleep? Can't stay asleep?
Everybody at some stage during their life will have the odd sleepless night. Lots of us suffer a lack of sleep the night before a job interview, or an important event…the very time when we want to get off to a good start, feeling well rested and full of energy for the challenges of the day ahead. Anxiety or excitement trigger adrenaline which antagonises the actions of the neurotransmitters and hormones associated with relaxation and sleep.
Worries about finances or health, anything fundamental to ours our our loved ones’ well-being can surface at night when all is quiet and there’s nothing else happening to distract our minds.
Women in particular can suffer episodes of sleeplessness. The most common time in a woman’s life for her to experience nocturnal wakefulness is pregnancy. This is due in some part to physical as well as physiological causes.
Quite often the mother’s sleep pattern does not correspond to her unborn baby’s sleep patterns and she can be woken from even a fairly deep slumber by the rolling and kicking of her little passenger.
Physiologically, pregnancy increases the mother’s metabolic rate which can make her hot and bothered and give her a restless night. Nocturia, or the need to urinate in the night, is another effect of pregnancy which disturbs the mother’s rest. This is a perfectly normal occurrence. The kidneys’ function is reduced at night in order to allow us to get an uninterrupted sleep. The body switches off this effect in pregnant women though, because the increased strain on the kidneys due to the pregnancy means that they need to keep working at full function across twenty four hours.
These conditions are perfectly normal effects of pregnancy, and the only cure comes when baby is born. And then you don’t sleep either, but for completely different reasons!
Pregnant women should seek the advice of a qualified aromatherapist before using essential oils
A collection of all the most relaxing and sleep inducing oils in one bottle. This is a really competitively priced product to start with, plus the fact that you only need one or two drops in a carrier oil as these particular oils are quite intense.
In non-pregnant women, hormonal imbalances, our natural hormonal fluctuations or more often, due to acute sensitivity to female hormones can cause regular alterations in quality of sleep.
Keeping a sleep-diary can be really useful for pin-pointing possible causes. Use your usual diary to note bad nights, and make sure you include things like menstrual cycle day, the foods you eat and any alcohol intake, too.
Most people associate alcohol with sleep because it is a central nervous system depressant, and a little too much can send you off to sleep before you even reach your bed. The quality of alcohol-induced sleep, however, is totally different and inferior to natural sleep, and when its soporific effects have worn off it soon becomes apparent that it is an irritant to the nervous system, and you can find yourself waking up in the small hours, with good quality sleep still eluding you.
‘Quality’ of sleep is determined by the regularity of REM sleep periods during any one night’s sleep.
REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement and it is the signal that sleep researchers use to denote that a sleeper is experiencing a dream. Researchers reached this conclusion when they observed sleepers’ eyes moving under their eyelids for periods lasting a few minutes to an hour, four or five times during a night’s sleep. They woke people during these periods, and during NREM (non rapid-eye-movement) and questioned them about what was going through their minds at the time. REM periods corresponded to actual dreams, and NREM corresponded to meandering, thought-like processes, or just the oblivion of sleep.
You can observe REM periods yourself if you have a partner, or a dog! Your dog dreams, like all mammals do, and his paws twitch as he dreams of running, and a grunt in this throat is a loud bark in his dream! It is thought that mammals have these periods during sleep because they can be very easily roused, in case of threat by predators, but a mechanism of the brain renders them, and humans ( all us mammals are in it together!) temporarily paralysed to protect us from acting out any of our more exciting dreams.
Dreams maintain physical and psychological health
Dreams are vital to the wellbeing of humans, as a way of processing the multitude of information we take in during the day and our interior responses to it and our lives. Some researchers have come to believe that the purpose and importance of sleep, is actually to dream.
If people are sleep, and therefore dream, deprived, they eventually die.
Dreams protect our physical and psychological health, and prescribed sleeping tablets, and alcohol and other non-prescribed narcotic (sleep-inducing) drugs may render us unconscious, but they also suppress the REM state by altering the physiology that gets us there naturally. They can cause nightmares, or a total lack of dreams.
So if you try to avoid resorting to the above methods for getting to and staying asleep, what simple remedies can be used at home to aid sleep?
Practising some gentle, regular bedtime habits over a few days or weeks can trigger the body’s natural hormones into playing along and helping you to rest. You might like to try some or all of these methods.
Ten Top Tips for a good night's sleep
- De-clutter, tidy, and give a little love and attention to your sleeping space. Paint the walls of your bedroom a restful shade…dark blue is thought to be very effective.
- Take out the television, the laptop, and anything pertaining to your daily work. In fact….
- Don’t work in your bedroom, and try to reserve it for intimacy with your partner (which promotes sleep) and well…just sleep.
- Change your bright light bulbs for lower wattage ones, as the sleep hormones are stimulated by dark, and suppressed by light
- If you must read, try to leave horror stories, crime fiction and thrillers downstairs. Give poetry a go at bedtime, or look at some art books, these won’t stimulate the neo-cortex (this is the new-brain which houses the intellect, the thinking brain) but will appeal to the imagination and may pave the way for some satisfying dreams. Knitting can help, so long as its not a complicated pattern, unless you’re a talented knitter.
- Diffuse some aromatherapy essential oils around your bedroom. A burner, heated by a tea light with the oil in the bowl above suspended in a couple of tablespoons of water will ready the room for sleep. Of course, extinguish the candle and cool the burner before you even get into bed. You can make a massage oil especially for encouraging sleep, which you can massage into your arms and upper chest, or have your partner give you a massage with it. Almond or light olive make a good base, to which you can add four or five drops of Roman camomile, lavender and frankincense. Experiment with combinations of two or three oils that are restful rather than stimulating.
- Make sure the room is warm, and that you are warm enough. Cold stimulates adrenaline, which interferes with sleep.
- Don’t eat for four hours before you want to go to sleep, and avoid stimulants like tea and coffee for four hours before too. If you feel actual hunger pangs or are really thirsty, have a small camomile tea sweetened with honey and a biscuit, or a cup of warm milk or cocoa with a drop of vanilla essence.
- Exercise during the day is a great way of tiring yourself out, and following an exercise programme at the gym with a combination of cardiovascular exercise and weight training is one of the best ways of making the body desperate to sleep whilst muscles repair themselves. Exercise is a stimulant, however, and it will increase your energy for a good few hours, so train early morning before work rather than afterwards in the evening. Certainly give yourself 4-6 hours after exercising before trying to sleep.
- Practise some yoga or relaxation techniques before bed, and be strict with your mind, keep it occupied with positive affirmations and comforting memories. If it tries to stray back to its habitual worrying, gently bring it back. Remember, we can only think one thought at a time, and we can choose our thoughts. So choose some good ones and take heart, it takes around three weeks of habitual practise to change our thought patterns. Soon all your nighttime rituals will be second nature.
Sleep well and sweet dreams!