Mental Health

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Mind Tools: Sleeping well

Tips for achieving successful shut-eye

Dr Mark Harrold

Published 11/10/2013|04:00

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There is plenty of advice for parents about how to get children off to sleep, and what to do if they wake up at night. Equally important, however, but not given nearly as much attention, is how we adults get our sleep.

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Poor sleep is the cause of significant stress for many of us.

It can make us cranky, more prone to be aggressive, or simply unable to function the next day. And so the cycle of stress goes on.

But there is plenty we can do to improve the quality of our sleep.

There can be many reasons why the quality of our sleep is poor. Children are an obvious one, so making sure you have a solid sleep routine for them is a good start.

Shift work can interfere with developing good sleep patterns, as can general stress resulting from a variety of possible causes such as financial distress, relationship problems or poor physical health.

Some of us may have difficulty getting off to sleep; others may wake up in the middle of the night or may have a poor quality of sleep.

Our task is to take active steps to ensure that we give ourselves every chance of sleeping soundly, along the lines of the following:

* Make your bedroom a haven of peace. Limit clutter.

* Electronics must be removed from the bedroom. That includes TV, games consoles, mobile phones and the computer. They are too stimulating. Sorry but Nidge, Breaking Bad and all the rest stay downstairs and well away from the bedroom.

* Keep a sleep diary to see what your patterns are.

* As you settle down to sleep practise Progressive Muscle Relaxation – a simple relaxation technique – with the help of an audio file, examples of which can be easily downloaded from the internet.

* Avoid caffeine for at least three hours before bed – that includes tea.

* Have a relaxing bath before bed.

* No naps during the day when you are aiming to improve your night-time sleep.

* Change your sheets every week.

* Make sure your bed is comfortable. Otherwise get down to Mattress Mick pronto.

* The bedroom should be the correct temperature, which is 64F/18C.

* Avoid arguments before bedtime.

* Do some light stretching before going to bed.

* Read light materials before going to sleep and avoid the murder mysteries.

* Have a regular bedtime and aim to stick to it.

* A warm milky drink before bed will relax you.

* If you wake up at night, do not lie there allowing negative thoughts to accumulate. Read or get up for a few minutes until you feel tired again.

* A few drops of lavender or other suitable essential oil on the pillow will aid good sleep.

* Ensure that there is no unnecessary light streaming into the room.

* Drinking alcohol and/or smoking impede good sleep.

* Play soft music in the bedroom.

* Go to bed early and get up early rather than having late nights and rushing in the morning.

* If you take exercise late, be aware that your body will take a few hours to settle down afterwards.

* If your partner snores, ask him her to move out. Seriously, snoring partners can certainly impede good sleep. If possible, get him or her to sleep in another room, at least until you can develop your own successful routine.

It may well be a two-way phenomenon, so you would have to reverse the sequence at some point.

You probably are aware of many or all of these tips. Your task now is to implement them.

Getting good sleep is one of the cornerstones of controlling stress. Act tonight.

Dr Mark Harrold is a clinical psychologist www.drmarkharrold.com

Irish Independent

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