Six suggestions for a good night’s sleep
Whether you are on a high-powered treadmill career, or battling against unending housework while looking after a family, there is one thing that is certain. Sleep can be a precious commodity and for some it comes more easily than others.
While the gurus teach you to be focused on a goal and to be always pushing forward, there is no doubt that at times you can flag a little. Perhaps you slump in the afternoons, or you are a slow starter in the mornings. Maybe the evenings just seem to drag and you can be counting the minutes until it is the right time to go to bed, only to find that when you get there you toss and turn and can’t sleep.
To be the best you can it can really help to make your sleeping hours as valuable as your waking hours. Here are a few tips that can help make the most of your sleep time.
1) Don’t eat or drink too late in the evening
Eating any kind of food too late in the evening can send the wrong messages to your body. Your digestion can often be slower when you are sleepy and you can end up with indigestion, wind or heartburn. Having a drink in the evening can also cause problems. Caffeine is naturally going to keep you awake, while alcohol, although it may initially make you drowsy, some studies suggest, can make the second half of a night’s sleep more restless and you may not get as much sleep overall. Even water can cause problems if you drink too much near to bed-time, resulting in having to get up in the night!
2) Listen to your body and sleep when you need to
We are taught at a young age that we should sleep at a set time. Bed-times tend to get later according to age, and this can often be perceived when we are young as a privilege. It can therefore be easy to think that we have to go to bed at a certain hour. Why not go when you are sleepy, and get up when you are awake? It sounds simple and for many it is, although if you are tied to a sleep routine for your job it can be more difficult and shift work can be a real problem.
3) Resolve your issues
Perhaps you lie awake for hours turning things over in your mind, or maybe you do sleep but are disturbed by dreams. We dream every night, but most of the time we don’t remember them. Dreams are there for a good reason. They are a way of resolving issues from the previous day for the benefit of your unconscious mind. You will often discover, if you analyse a dream, that it is a metaphor for an unresolved issue from the day before. So in that case, why not try and focus on resolving those issues before you sleep. If there is an unfinished project or an issue in the day that you haven’t dealt with that is bothering you when you go to bed, try making an action plan for the next day. Even having one definite task that you will perform to resolve the issue can help. Write it down on a pad by your bedside. It can also be good to ‘count your blessings instead of sheep’ as an old song says. Think of three things you are grateful for right now. They don’t need to be big things. They can often be obvious basic necessities of life that you have, like being able to see or hear. Write those too, and draw a line under them.
4) Get blackout blinds
We are instinctively programmed to respond to light and so having the sun shine in during the morning, while an uplifting experience for some, may hinder your sleep and cause you to wake earlier than you want to. Blackout blinds can be a very economical addition to the bedroom. Equally, managing the light levels before you go to bed can help gear your body up for sleep in advance. Why not revert to mood lighting in the later evening or use a dimmer switch. For similar reasons don’t watch television or play computer games before bedtime, the flashing lights can stimulate your brain and make it harder to settle down.
5) Take a power nap
It may seem counter-productive but sometimes what you need is a smaller sleep during the day. Babies nap, toddlers nap, and we may associate napping with the elderly too and so the idea of sleeping for a short time in the day can imply weakness to some. But there are some very famous people who have made the nap an integral part of their day – Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Bagpuss… the list is endless. Taking a nap for 20 to 30 minutes in the afternoon has been shown to increase concentration and reduce stress without impacting on a normal night’s sleep. In fact it can help to prevent overtiredness, and the natural sleep pattern for human beings is to have two sleeps each day, one short and one long. This is where the notion of a siesta came from in hotter countries and can be traced back to Roman times.
6) Use self-hypnosis or another relaxation method
Sometimes you need a helping hand to take that step from being drowsy into actually getting to sleep. Rather than use medication, why not try a relaxation method. Meditation, deep breathing or self-hypnosis can be very effective ways of calming the mind and as you become better at these techniques sleep can become a natural, straightforward habit once more.
If you are really struggling with insomnia, or if you are constantly tired and needing sleep it may well be worth trying the suggestions above before turning to a doctor or a therapist for drugs or a more direct intervention.