10 ways to get a good night's sleep
Tired of tossing and turning all night? Karen Creed goes in search of some natural nightcaps
A good night's sleep has never been so important, with many Irish adults leading fast-paced lives and holding down stressful jobs. And work stress may be behind the results of a new study which says that Sunday is the night when insomniacs are most likely to experience disturbed sleep
Insomnia affects about one-third of the population worldwide and women are twice as likely to suffer from it than men. American Idol's Paula Abdul has recently admitted to suffering from it, Robbie Williams was addicted to sleeping pills, while Heath Ledger was only managing two hours of sleep in the months leading up to his death.
Failing to get enough sleep can lead to depression, lack of concentration and personality changes. While many rely on over-the-counter medication, some simple lifestyle changes could help you snooze into dreamland naturally.
1. Switch off your mobile
We know that they can be distracting and dangerous while driving, but who would have thought that using your mobile phone at least an hour before bedtime could cause insomnia? According to various studies, including one at the University of Zurich, the radiation emitted by mobile phones can cause major sleep disturbances. The results showed that using the handsets before bed causes people to take longer to reach the deeper stages of sleep.
2. Wake up to warm feet
Toasty toes is a sign of healthy blood flow and helps induce restful sleep. Even lying down increases sleepiness by redistributing heat in the body. Those with poor circulation should make sure their feet are warm when slipping under the covers. Put a reliable hot water bottle in the bed, or wear sleep socks.
3. Hide your alarm clock
Remove the alarm clock from view. It will only add to your worry when constantly staring at it... 2am...3am...4.40am. Also, avoid using loud alarm clocks as it is very stressful on the body to be awoken suddenly. Consider buying a sun alarm clock as it provides a natural way to wake up each morning.
Combining the features of a traditional alarm clock, with a special built-in light that gradually increases in intensity, this clock simulates a natural sunrise. It also includes a sunset feature where the light fades to darkness over time -- ideal for anyone who has trouble falling asleep.
4. Early to bed
Our systems, particularly the adrenals, do a majority of their recharging or recovering during the hours of 11pm and 1am. "In addition, your gallbladder dumps toxins during this same period," says nutritionist Sarah Miller. "If you are awake, the toxins back up into the liver which then back up into your entire system and cause further disruption of your health." The simple message is get to bed early.
5. Don't overindulge
Eat two hours before you head to bed as this will give enough time to let the food digest. Avoid a heavy meal before bedtime, but also do not go to bed hungry. Warm milk is a soothing nightcap and prepares your body for rest.
"You can add some toast or a little cereal to your mini-meal," says Miller.
"But don't lurk in front of the fridge for too long. If you are peckish, peanuts and turkey are especially good at night as they encourage your brain to produce serotonin."
6. Avoid temptations
Most of us know that caffeine is bad before bedtime. If you are used to guzzling down mugs of coffee after dinner, it will affect your sleep patterns negatively. Stay away from other stimulants like tea late in the evening.
Alcohol is another no-no. Although a few glasses of red wine will make you nicely drowsy, the effect is short-lived and people will often wake up several hours later, unable to fall back asleep. Don't drink your eight glasses of water either just before bedtime, as you will have broken sleep from needing toilet breaks during the night.
7. No distractions
It is best to avoid TV right before bed. It is too stimulating to the brain and it will take longer to fall asleep. Also, put your work away at least one hour (but preferably two or more) before you call it a day. This will give your mind a chance to unwind so you can go to sleep feeling calm, not hyped up or anxious about tomorrow's deadlines.
8. Let your body wind down
Twenty to 30 minutes of exercise every day can help you sleep, but be sure to exercise in the morning or afternoon. Don't confuse your body with a major workout just before you go to bed, or your system will be begging you to stay up and party all night. Exercise stimulates the body and aerobic activity before bedtime may make falling asleep more difficult.
"Also, if you tend to get worked up about bedtime, relax by listening to some music, take a warm bath, drink some herbal tea or just do some breathing exercises," suggests Miller. "Let your body wind down gradually."
9. Get comfortable
It helps to have a nice, warm and cosy bed with comfortable pillows. Get a mattress that suits your body well. Your room should be ventilated, quiet and not freezing cold. Keep the temperature just the way you like it. Try to avoid bright lights just before sleeping and do not fret over not being able to sleep. It will make matters worse.
10. Follow a routine.
Fix a time for sleeping and getting up and follow this routine as best possible. "For example, have a cup of herbal tea one hour before going to bed," recommends Miller.
Try not to change your bedtime dramatically during the week. You should go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, and on the weekends if possible.
This will help your body to get into a rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and rise and shine in the morning.