Monday 23 October 2017

15 tips to help you get a better night's sleep

Katie Byrne rounds up some self-help tips to help you get a better night's sleep

There are steps you can take to ensure a good night's sleep
There are steps you can take to ensure a good night's sleep

Frustrated by your inability to fall asleep? You're not alone. An estimated 15pc of Irish people suffer from insomnia, a sleep disorder that can adversely affect the mood and impair emotional regulation.

If you're at the end of your tether, or you feel as though you've tried everything, perhaps it's time to take an alternative approach.

1 TAKE AN EPSOM SALT BATH

Magnesium is known as nature's Valium for good reason. It improves nerve function, relaxes muscles, and may even reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. If you want to get a better night's sleep, the best way to take magnesium is in the bath. When Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulfate, is used as a bath soak, a small amount of magnesium is absorbed through the skin, and it's often just enough to relax the body and induce sleep.

2 DON'T LOOK AT THE CLOCK

Those who habitually lie awake at night will know that insomnia can sometimes be a fear of not falling asleep, as much as it is an inability to fall sleep. This is known as 'psychophysiological insomnia' - the pressure to fall asleep - and it triggers a self-perpetuating cycle.

Sleep experts advise that insomnia sufferers don't compound the anxiety by looking at their clock during the night. It's also important to use soothing self-talk. Instead of thinking 'I'll be exhausted tomorrow', assure yourself that you have functioned perfectly well on limited sleep in the past and there is no reason why you can't do it again.

3 REDESIGN YOUR SLEEPING SPACE

The Sleep Foundation has outlined specific standards for the ideal sleeping environment. A bedroom should be cool - between 15 °C and 19 °C - and free of any noises that can disturb sleep. They also recommend blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, 'white noise' machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices, if necessary.

4 YOUR BED IS ONLY FOR TWO THINGS…

…sleep and sex. All sleep experts are united in this advice. Avoid the temptation to watch movies or work on your laptop while lying in bed. This will help you associate your bedroom as a place of rest, rather than work or recreation. Additionally, sex is proven to induce sleep. It has to do with the 'cuddle hormone' oxytocin, which is released during sex.

5 SLEEP UNDER THE STARS

A fascinating study published in Current Biology found that a week of camping (without exposure to artificial light) resets the body clock. When we are exposed to natural light, our internal body clocks align with solar time, the study found. If you've been working night shifts (which can wreak havoc on the sleep schedule in the long run), consider a getaway that allows you to sleep under the stars.

6 START A GRATITUDE DIARY

Arianna Huffington, author of The Sleep Revolution, recommends writing a gratitude diary as part of your bedtime routine. "Write down a list of what you're grateful for before bed," she says. "It's a great way to make sure your blessings get the closing scene of the night."

7 NATURE'S SLEEP PILL

If you are in a cycle of taking prescription sleeping pills, consider transitioning to a non-addictive natural alternative. Integrated medicine pioneer Dr Andrew Weil recommends the sedative herb valerian, which has been used since the age of Hippocrates to treat insomnia. You can find it in most health food shops. Take one to two capsules half an hour before bedtime. Check with your doctor first.

8 PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

Mindfulness meditation has myriad benefits, better sleep being just one of them. According to a study that was recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine, those who practiced mindfulness had less insomnia, fatigue and depression, when compared to another group who had completed a sleep education class.

9 COUNT NUMBERS, NOT SHEEP

The tired old cliché about counting sheep probably won't help those who have difficulty falling asleep. However, counting numbers can be surprisingly effective, says sleep expert Dr Vicky Seelall, who recommends counting backwards from 100 in multiples of 3... 99, 96, 93, 90, 87, 84 etc.

10 EXERCISE EARLIER IN THE DAY

Exercise is proven to enhance sleep quality, but the time of day that you work out is crucial. Vigorous exercise within three hours of sleep, when the body should be going into wind-down mode, can over-stimulate the metabolism.

11 WEAR PYJAMAS

It's all too easy to fall into bed wearing tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt. However, sleep experts suggest that our sleep wear can act as an external cue that signals to the brain that it is time to fall asleep.

12 LEARN TO SELF-SOOTHE

Deirdre McGrath of Deva Healing Arts in the Dublin Holistic Centre (devahealingarts.com) is an energy medicine practitioner, which is described as "acupuncture without the needles". She teaches a workshop on insomnia in which she suggests the following technique: "Place one hand flat across your forehead and the other flat across your lower belly (just below the navel). Hold for 2-3 minutes.

"Then, keeping one hand on your belly, press the tips of thumb, index and middle finger of the other hand together, and hold lightly at the hollow at the base of your throat. This connects your energies in a way that dissipates stress, allowing your body to relax and drift off to a natural sleep."

13 WIND DOWN WITH YOGA

Yoga teacher Sinead O'Connor of Hush Yoga (hushyoga.com) recommends restorative yoga and yin yoga to those who are suffering from insomnia. "The beauty of these yoga styles is that they reenergise when energy is needed, yet they have an equally calming effect so that when it's time to rest, it's possible to do so."

She also recommends a number of postures that can be done just before bedtime. "Postures that promote good sleep are mostly seated forward bends," she explains. "The forward motion of the spine has a very calming effect on the nervous system. There are an array of postures that one can choose, including Balasana (child's pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog), Janu-Sirsasana (head-to-knee forward bend), Badhakonasana (butterfly pose) and Sukasana (easy pose), to name a few.

"It is also important to balance all the forward motion with a simple backbend. Something like bridge posture is a good choice here as it isn't as intense as some of the other backbends that can invigorate the nervous system."

14 PRACTICE 4-7-8 BREATHING

The 4-7-8 breathing technique is known as a tranquilliser for the nervous system. Dr Weil says it can help insomniacs fall asleep in 60 seconds, although that claim may be a touch farfetched. Nonetheless, it's a powerful breathing technique that induces a deep state of relaxation. With your mouth closed, inhale quietly through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Finally, exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound, for a count of eight. Repeat the cycle two to four times, or until you feel relaxed.

15 SCENT TO SLEEP

Certain essential oils can calm the mind and relax the body, leading to a better night's sleep. Aromatherapist Michael Hinch of In Harmony Holistic Therapies recommends the following blends:

Blend 1

• 1 drop geranium

• 2 drops palmarosa

• 2 drops lavender

• 10ml grapeseed carrier oil

Mix all the ingredients and use the blend for therapeutic massage or in a diffuser (without the carrier oil).

Blend 2

• 1 drop sweet orange

• 2 drops lavender

• 2 drops geranium

• 10ml grapeseed carrier oil

Mix all the ingredients and use the blend for therapeutic massage or in a diffuser (without the carrier oil).

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