By Laurel-Lea Shannon
If you spend hours every night tossing and turning trying to get to sleep, or regularly wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for hours, you know how important a good night’s sleep is. Not only do you feel better when you’ve had enough zzzzzs, you look better too. But that’s not all a good night’s sleep does. It keeps you healthy.
Sleep deprivation not only leaves you grumpy and fatigued but can lead to depression, heart disease, diabetes and acute illnesses like colds and flus.
Approximately 1 in 7 people in North America suffer from insomnia, and that number is on the rise. Part of the problem is the unending stimuli in our lives. We’re constantly connected to the latest news and input from the outside world through computers, smart phones, iPods, and television. There’s not enough downtime anymore. Add caffeine and alcohol to that mix and your body is left in high-buzz mode 24/7. Eventually, living like that catches up with you.
Sleep to the Rescue
Sleep is restorative. It’s the time when your body/mind heals and regenerates. If you have trouble sleeping, it’s important to track down the cause. Your health depends on it. Here are some tips:
1) Encourage Regular Habits: Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday. That helps establish healthy sleep patterns, which alone can fast-track you to a good night’s sleep.
2) Prepare for Sleep: If you’ve had a busy day and evening, don’t expect to jump into bed and fall asleep. Start winding down two hours before bed. Read a book. Listen to some relaxing music. Don’t watch the news just before bed.
3) Create a Relaxed Environment: A peaceful, quiet bedroom also promotes sleep. Eliminate clutter and decorate with restful colours.
4) Lose the Light and Noise: Make your room as dark as possible. Invest in opaque blinds or curtains and get rid of alarm clocks with bright displays. If that’s not an option, sleep with eye shades. If noise is a problem, wear earplugs.
5) Avoid Caffeine: Giving up coffee is hard but it can often mean the difference between sleeping soundly or lying awake half the night. If you’re a coffee drinker and have trouble sleeping, eliminating coffee may be all you need to do to get enough shut-eye. To reduce uncomfortable caffeine withdrawal symptoms like headaches, reduce your cup o’ joe gradually over a week or two.
6) Seek Daylight: Get at least 20 minutes of natural daylight each day. This releases hormones like melatonin, which are very important for sleep and well-being.
7) Exercise: Regular exercise is a good stress-buster and will help promote sleep. But don’t exercise vigorously after dinner. That stimulates the body and can make it difficult to fall asleep.
8) Skip Alcohol: When you’re busy and stressed, it’s pleasant to relax with a glass of wine at dinner. The problem with that is later on in the evening the alcohol will interrupt your sleep patterns. Have a cup of herbal tea instead. You’ll notice the difference.
9) Jump in the Tub: A warm bath right before bed is known to induce sleep. Add some lavender oil for deeper relaxation.
10) Meditate: Sleep can be disturbed by worry and anxiety. Doing mindfulness meditation before bed is calming and will help rid you of those pesky worries.
11) Listen to a Relaxation Tape: Listening to the calm rhythm of ocean waves and the gentle music on relaxation tapes can help you drift off. Your local bookstore or health food store will have a selection.
12) Supplement: If you’ve tried all of the above and are still having problems sleeping, try supplementing with calcium/magnesium, GABA, 5-HTP, or melatonin. Talk to your health practitioner to find out how much to take and when. These natural remedies can promote sleep without the nasty side effects of sleeping pills. To find out more, read The Mood Cure by Julia Ross.
Rule Out Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition in which your sleep is disturbed at regular intervals during the night because your air passage becomes blocked. You wake up so you won’t suffocate. If none of the above tips help, and you have persistent sleep problems, check with your doctor. She can rule out sleep apnea, by arranging a sleep-over for you at a sleep clinic to monitor your sleep and find out what your problem is.