We only live once, so why not make the most of it? The ‘Better Me‘ series hopes to give some ideas on how to add fun and meaning to our lives.
Both our physical health and emotional well-being are directly affected by the amount and quality of our sleep. Adequate sleep can help us to enhance our performance, improve our memory and our metabolism, fight disease and live longer. But what happens when, despite our best intentions, Morpheus simply turns up his nose at us? Sleepless nights usually lead to difficult days. Not only that, but they tend to be frustrating, boring and stressful. So what can we do to improve our chances with the elusive Morpheus?
Keeping to a regular sleeping schedule is easier said than done. It could involve a few sacrifices, like ending a night out a little earlier than normal, abandoning a TV programme before it finishes or cutting a phone call short. Yet most of the time, our nights out would be none the worse if they were a little shorter, as would our phone calls. Not to mention the hours of terrible television we sometimes end up watching because the prospect of brushing our teeth is simply too hard to bear.
So here’s what you can do: if you are having a particularly good night out, stay out and enjoy it. The rest of the time, come home at a reasonable hour. The same goes for conversations and television programmes: they are only worth your sleep if they are too important or enjoyable to postpone.
You are more likely to keep to your schedule if it is a realistic one. Rather than devising a schedule that is ideal in theory but hard to follow in practice, try to form a schedule that is generally in-keeping with your habits. Even small, gradual improvements can go a long way
Sticking to your schedule will be easier if you prepare yourself for it. A useful tip is to prepare for bed an hour or so early. Get into your pyjamas, brush your teeth and apply your night cream before you sit down to read or watch TV. That way, when you start feeling sleepy you can crawl into bed without having to make all the preparations first.
Your sleep ritual could include anything you find relaxing and enjoyable. For example, you could try having a hot bath, listening to soothing music or reading something that allows you to disengage from your everyday worries. If you have trouble winding down after a hard day’s work, you may wish to avoid watching television or using the computer immediately before bed.
We often expect ourselves to sleep under circumstances that are not exactly sleep-conducive. Although essential, a comfortable mattress and pillow are not the only things we need for a good night’s sleep. Before going to bed, make sure that your bedroom is quiet, dark and neither too hot nor too cold.
Given that you spend almost a third of your days in your bedroom, it is important that you like your surroundings. For most of us, a tidy, clean room, with furniture and pictures in our preferred styles and colours will be far more sleep-conducive than a cluttered, shabby room.
Your daily habits could be having a negative effect on your sleep. Avoid having caffeine or alcohol late at night. If possible, avoid smoking or having heavy meals close to bedtime.
Worrying about the time it takes us to fall asleep can actually cause stress and aggravate insomnia. Do not allow yourself to check the clock during the night. Instead, let your mind drift away from your worries to thoughts that are both pleasant and relaxing.
Exercise is a great way to relax and is believed to encourage deep sleep. However, rather than helping you to sleep, exercising right before bed can actually cause sleeping difficulties. Instead, try to exercise during the day or in the evening (generally, up to 4 hours before bed time). Chronic insomniacs should avoid engaging in strenuous exercise and should opt instead for moderate forms of exercise such as walking or yoga. Here are a few yoga poses that can help you sleep.
Lavender: Add a few drops of lavender to your bath or under your pillow. Alternatively, you could try inhaling lavender essential oil or massaging it into your skin. Drinking some lavender tea thirty minutes before bed can also work wonders.
Chamomile: In addition to lavender, chamomile is another popular treatment for insomnia. Put some chamomile oil in your bath or have some chamomile tea thirty minutes before bed. Chamomile is safe to use by adults and children alike. Although chamomile is said to cure sleeping difficulties, recent studies have shown that it may not be an effective cure for chronic insomnia.
Valerian: If you have difficulty falling asleep or find yourself waking up during the night, try having some valerian tea two or three times a day. You could also try valerian supplements (200 – 800 mg per day). As valerian tends to have an energising effect, you may wish to avoid taking it too close to bedtime.
Minerals and hormones
Melatonin: A natural hormone said to regulate our sleep cycle, melatonin can help cure insomnia when taken in small doses. Care must be taken with the amount of melatonin taken, as excessive consumption is linked with toxicity and infertility. Although the typical recommended dosage of melatonin is 1 to 3mg, it is common for people to experience positive results with much smaller doses (ranging between 0.1 and 0.5 mg per day).
Calcium: Research has linked calcium deficiency with sleep disturbances. Calcium helps the brain to produce melatonin and is associated with deep sleep.
Magnesium: Chronic insomnia is one of the main symptoms of magnesium deficiency. For best results, the right ratio of calcium and magnesium must be achieved. Evidence suggests that calcium and magnesium should be taken in a two to one ratio.
Any more tips? Let me know!