Thursday 21 June 2018

Karl Henry: Five things to do when you can’t get to sleep

Stock image
Stock image
Brain dump: Put all your thoughts down on paper
Karl Henry

Karl Henry

So here we are, the final part of our How to Sleep Well series. I've been so delighted to see the difference in people's sleep over the past five weeks, especially following last week's column on sleeping in the heat. It has been so warm and sleeping in a cool bed makes such a difference.

In today's column, I want to focus on what to do if you can't get to sleep. It happens to all of us at some stage and it can be really frustrating, but there are some simple tips and tricks you can use that will have you nodding off in no time.

It's important to look at the obvious things first if you can't sleep. Are you too warm? Did you eat a heavy meal too late? Did you have caffeine too close to bedtime? Or watch TV just before going to sleep? If it's a regular occurrence, could there be an issue with your mattress or your pillow? It may be time for a change.

But let's take it that you have considered all of these and you still can't sleep. What can you do?

1. Relieve your stress

Chances are that your stress levels are off the charts and your mind is going into overdrive about whatever is stressing you out. If this is the case then it's time for a brain dump. Get out of bed and find yourself a notebook and a pen. Now it's time to dump all of the thoughts, issues and worries in your mind down on paper. It can be in sentences, words or images - it doesn't really matter. But by letting it all out on paper, you will find it so much easier to go to sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.

2. Get some fresh air

When you can't sleep, you tend to over-think it. Getting out of bed and out of the house for five or 10 minutes can make a huge difference. Taking yourself out of the bedroom for a quick stroll and a bit of fresh air can relax your mind and body.

3. Read or do a jigsaw

Sometimes the mind just needs to be challenged to help you get back to sleep, so focus on something that will consume all your attention - and not your smartphone! It's what many people call 'mindfulness', but it's basically just being able to give 100pc of your concentration to whatever activity you're doing, forgetting about everything else. Reading a good book is perfect for this. Doing a jigsaw is the same, as is using a colouring book or even cooking a meal. Distracting the mind is the aim, no matter what way you find to do it.

4. Count sheep

It's the oldest trick in the book, but it's actually an amazing way of getting your mind to relax and enabling the onset of sleep. It distracts you from all the worries of the day and gets you to focus on one very simple task - before you know it, you are asleep. You can also expand it a little by focusing on your breathing and the length of your breath. Try to count five seconds while you inhale, getting as much air in as possible and then focus on five seconds of exhaling, getting as much air out as possible. Repeat this exercise for 10-20 breaths - I'd be really surprised if you made it to 20, as you will be asleep before you know it. It will help to lower your heart rate, calm your restless mind and relax you more and more as you do it.

Remember, quality sleep is essential for health, mood, weight loss and happiness. Sleep better and everything around you will improve.

Irish Independent

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