If you have trouble getting a good night’s sleep you are not alone. About one in 10 people has difficulty sleeping on three or more nights a week.
Most people experience some sleep disturbance at times of personal stress but may return to a good sleeping pattern when the situation has resolved.
However for others, the problem continues with often far reaching effects. Chronic sleep problems can lead to impaired cognitive performance, reduced ability to handle minor irritations and enjoy family/social life, poorer interpersonal relationships, lower work performance, and higher rates of errors and absenteeism.
While many of us complain about the discomfort of lying awake counting sheep this inconvenience may be the smallest price we may pay for losing out on regular shut-eye. Persistent lack of sleep can lead to irritability, tension, inefficiency and even car accidents. Research indicates that people who have poor sleep achieve less and keep jobs for a shorter time than those with undisturbed sleep.
It is essential to treat poor sleep patterns as a priority because they can affect and exacerbate all other problems and stresses, says Norman Warden, the director of Galway Counselling Studies and an accredited psychotherapist.
Fortunately there are a number of ways we can help ourselves sleep better. He says the key to solving sleeplessness problems may be found in our daily routine. By examining our sleep schedule, eating habits and lifestyle choices we may identify the culprits and go on to achieve quality sleep.
The following tips aim to help you optimise your sleep so you can face each new day rested, energised, mentally alert and in a positive frame of mind.
1. Cut down on caffeine and avoid it altogether in the evening.
Caffeine negatively impacts on our sleep when ingested in excessive amounts. Over 150mg per day (roughly two cups ) reduces sleep time and increases the time it takes to get off to sleep, explains Mr Warden.
“Remember our bodies know how to sleep unless we do something that gives the impression we need to stay wake! Caffeine has a half-life of six hours meaning that six hours after drinking a cup of coffee, only half of the caffeine has left the bloodstream. Because it is metabolised slowly it can accumulate in the blood and brain during the day. It can cause restlessness, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, agitation, palpitations, insomnia, headaches and stomach upsets. Avoid consuming drinks containing caffeine after 6pm.”
2. Reduce screen time before bed.
Many of us are guilty of watching television (the programme determines when you go to sleep rather than your need to sleep! ) and even worse, browsing the web, before bedtime. This is not a good idea.
A recent study showed that people who view electronic media just before bed report lower-quality sleep. “Using a light-emitting device before bed like a computer monitor, iPad or smartphone stimulates the brain in a different way than the way the body was intended to move towards sleep (gradually as the sun sets ). The exposure to light stimulates the brain and creates a false alertness and stimulation,” he says.
Try listening to music instead or practising relaxing exercises.
3. Exercise to enhance sleep.
Physical activity in the morning or afternoon deepens one’s quality of sleep and reduces the time it takes to fall asleep. However, vigorous exercise leading up to bedtime has the reverse effect.
Norman Warden recommends exercising in the morning or afternoon, not at night. “Be sure to leave at least four hours between any form of exercise and bedtime to give the body time to wind down from the adrenaline aroused brain.”
4. Write down or share worries.
If you are worried or preoccupied about something share it and/or write down your concerns. Then include what action, if any, may be required to resolve the issue. This will help release what has been troubling you and help clear your head.
5. Create a relaxing bedtime routine.
Ensure your bedroom is not too bright, noisy, hot, cold, stuffy or cluttered. The atmosphere should be conducive to relaxation and sleep.
Make an effort to relax and unwind before bed, that way you have a better chance of falling asleep quicker and getting a better quality sleep.
Keep the room as dark as possible. Close curtains or blinds before going to bed. If necessary, buy thicker curtains. These are especially useful during summer when it gets bright earlier. Be sure to keep your bedroom at a cool (not cold ) rather than too hot a temperature.
Do not sleep on an uncomfortable bed with a poor mattress or inadequate blankets.
Do something relaxing before retiring to bed: relaxation exercises, a warm bath or shower or listen to calming music.
Norman Warden claims that if you have chronic sleep problems one of the most successful treatments for improving sleep is Stimulus Control Therapy. This involves following the five guidelines below to return you to a healthy sleep routine by helping you associate bed with falling asleep only:
1.Use your bed for sleep only. Do not use it for reading, watching television, eating, making telephone calls, using a laptop, iPad or smartphone and even avoid worrying while lying there.
2. Lie down to go to sleep only when you are sleepy.
3. If you find yourself unable to fall asleep after five to 10 minutes get up and go into another room. Stay up as long as you wish and then return to bed only when you feel sleepy. Remember the goal is to associate your bed with falling asleep and falling asleep within minutes.
4. Set your alarm and get up at the same time every morning irrespective of how much sleep you got during the night. This will help your body acquire a consistent sleep rhythm.
5. Do not nap during the day.