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We’ve all had those nights. The Sandman is elusive and you watch the clock change minute after minute, knowing that with each one that passes it’s one less that you have to get some rest. So many things can interfere with sleep. However, there is nothing better that you can do for yourself than to get some shut-eye. Sleep helps with metabolism, stress reduction, immunity and memory retention. And let’s face it- it just feels good to wake up refreshed. What can you do to make sure that you’re up and at ‘em?
Tip 1: Keep a Sleep Journal
A good place to start if you think you are not getting enough hours or quality of sleep at night, is to keep a sleep journal noting things like hours of sleep, ease or difficulty of falling asleep, when you exercise, when you drink alcohol and caffeine, how refreshed you feel, and then look for patterns between quality and length of sleep and what you do during the day and when you go to bed. This is often the first thing that a clinician will ask you to do.
For instance, after two weeks, you might find a pattern between exercise and sleep quality, or between caffeinated drink consumption late at night and the number of times you get up to go to the bathroom or difficulty falling asleep.
Tip 2: Stick to a Routine
Try to go to bed and get up at around the same time every day. Even at the weekend.
Keeping to a routine reinforces the body’s sleep-wake cycle and helps you fall asleep more easily at night, say experts at the Mayo Clinic in the US.
If you need an alarm clock to wake you up on time, you should consider going to bed earlier.
Tip 3: Control Napping and Drowsiness
A cat-nap during the day can be a great refresher, especially for older people. But be careful about sleeping during the day: a refreshing nap may be useful occasionally for paying off your sleep debt, and is better than sleeping late because this disrupts your sleep-wake rhythm, but if you have insomnia and nap regularly, consider eliminating the daytime nap.
If you must have a nap, restrict it to 20 minutes and do it early afternoon and not later.
Drowsiness often happens after big meals. Avoid the temptation to let this drift into sleep. Get off the couch and get active: do the dishes, go for a walk, do some chores, or call a friend. The killer is the TV dinner: eat, fall asleep on the couch, wake up hours later, and then you can’t get to sleep when you go to bed properly. We’ve all been there.
Tip 4: Avoid Lots of Drink and Food Before Bedtime
Keep in mind the saying: “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper”. Eating or drinking large amounts before bedtime can result in indigestion, and night-time toilet visits to empty a bursting bladder. Try to eat a light meal at least two hours before bedtime, and if fatty or spicy foods give you heartburn, try to avoid them in your evening meal.
Be careful with coffee and tea, and other caffeinated drinks. Caffeine is a well-known stimulant that lingers in the body and if you drink it in the evening, it will not help you sleep. Try replacing that after-dinner coffee with chamomile tea, a traditional sleep inducing remedy that soothes.
Tip 5: Avoid Alcohol in the Evening
Although it is often thought of as a sedative, alcohol actually disrupts sleep. Even in small doses, it can impair quality of sleep, especially in the second half of the night.
Alcohol disrupts chemical messengers in the brain and the balance between REM sleep and non-REM sleep. The right balance in sleep patterns and brain waves, what scientists call “sleep architecture”, helps us feel refreshed in the morning, as Jessica Alexander, of the UK’s Sleep Council told the Times newspaper in an interview:
“Alcohol can mean that sleep is no longer refreshing, because the brain can’t perform the normal restorative job it does during the night.”
Tip 6: Make Your Bedroom Sleep-Friendly
Keep your bedroom dark, cool, quiet and comfortable. This is the ideal environment for sleeping. Consider carefully each item in your bedroom, especially gadgets. If you have to keep them there, then be strict about switching them off, or even put them away in a cupboard. Switch off the cell phone or turn it to silent mode.
Many people watch TV in bed and claim it helps them get to sleep. Try doing without it for two weeks, and see what effect it has on your quality of sleep. It could be that the light from the screen disturbs the natural sleep-wake rhythm, and stimulating content like violence, advertisements, sudden loudness, raises your adrenaline and has the opposite effect from that which eases your body into sleep.
If you can’t lessen disturbing noises such as dogs barking, sirens, birds singing in the morning, then consider masking the sound with a fan or white noise generator, or wearing earplugs.
An eye mask that blocks out the light can also help if you wake up easily when a light goes on, or the early sun comes through the curtains.
Tip 7: Exercise in the Morning
Exercise is a great way to help us relax and consolidate sleep. However, when we exercise can affect our quality of sleep.
Researchers say that morning exercise is best, and that exercising too close to bedtime delays the time the body starts to unwind because it increases chemicals that are associated with wakefulness.
In a study published earlier this year, Dr Scott Collier, assistant professor at Appalachian State University, found that aerobic exercise at 7 am was linked to higher improvements in sleep quality than exercising at 1 pm and 7 pm.
Tip 8: Yoga of course
Follow these tips and see the Sandman every night.