8 Steps…To put sleep trouble to rest.
Many people believe that insomnia is just a natural inconvenience that comes with age. It is true that after the age of 50, many people tend to wake up earlier and experience fragmented sleep. But no matter how old you are, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. If you have been getting less than that because of occasional insomnia – a problem that affects millions of people at one time or another – making some adjustments to your bedtime routine may help.
Here are simple, non-medical steps you can try to help you get to sleep and stay asleep
1. Get into a pattern – naturally
If your schedule permits, wake up naturally without an alarm clock, and go to bed at night only when you feel sleepy – not because it’s ‘time for bed’. Pay attention to when you feel tired and to when you typically wake up. Then, to help regulate your body’s sleep cycle, try to go to sleep and get up around these times each day, even on weekends.
2. Exercise at the right times
Exercise not only improves overall health but also makes it easier to fall asleep. When you are physically active, your body temperature rises, leading to a natural drop about five to six hours later. Since sleeping is associated with falling body temperatures, afternoon exercise makes it easier to fall asleep at night – but activity right before bed can make the body too warm and alert for sleep.
3. Go outside at least 30 minutes a day
Even in overcast weather, exposure to natural light (without sunglasses, which block the sun’s full spectrum) helps regulate your body’s levels of melatonin, a hormone that plays an integral role in sleep rhythm.
4. Don’t go overboard on food and beverages during the evening
Heavy foods can cause heartburn or stomach trouble that may interrupt sleep, and lots of fluids mean more nightly trips to the bathroom. Try to finish dinner at least three hours before bed; if you get hungry again, just have a light snack, like a banana or cereal.
5. Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bed
Although alcohol may make you feel sleepier, even one drink up to four hours before bed can prevent the body from entering the most restful stages of the sleep cycle. And the body takes about six hours to eliminate just half the caffeine in a cup of coffee, so it’s best to stick to decaf beverages in the late afternoon and evening.
6. Try not to nap
Excessive napping during the day may make it harder to fall asleep at night. If you must nap, try to limit it to an hour around the same time every day – and do not nap after 3 p.m.
7. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark and a little cool
If that doesn’t do the trick, sometimes simple changes to your sleep environment, like blackout curtains, earplugs, or a more comfortable mattress (even high-quality mattresses should be replaced every 10 years), can make a big difference.
8. Use your bed just for sleeping and intimacy
If you can’t fall asleep after about 20 minutes, don’t stay in bed and try to force it. Thinking too hard about the ‘mission at hand’ can drum up anxiety that may keep you alert. The best thing to do is get out of bed (preferably, out of the bedroom) and relax with a book or some soft music until you feel like nodding off. Avoid watching TV in bed. The goal is to train your mind to associate your bed just with sleep.
Although these changes may not help at first – and, initially, may even make sleeping a little more difficult as your body adjusts to the new routine – you should see some improvements within a month. After that, if you continue to have trouble getting enough sleep at night or just feel more tired than usual during the day, see your doctor. These may be signs of an underlying medical or psychological condition (or a side effect from medications or supplements).
No matter what the cause, chronic insomnia that deprives you of sleep for extended periods should be treated. Evidence suggests that it increases the risk of falls due to fatigue and confusion and may be linked to conditions like high blood pressure and depression.
When the above lifestyle measures are not enough, a psychological approach that can supplement them is cognitive behavioural therapy. When targeted at chronic insomnia, cognitive behavioural therapy provides a focused, deliberate method for re-teaching bedtime habits and quelling anxious thoughts about sleep.
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