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Solving The Problems of Sleeplessness

When it comes down to how much sleep a person needs, eight (8) hours is considered to be the guide. That is over 120 full days a year and a third of our lives. However, only 1 in 10 people claim to sleep well and 1 in 5 claim to suffer from a lack of sleep. For many people one of the main reasons for sleeplessness is that their bed and/or pillow no longer provide the support and comfort needed. Nonetheless, there are many factors that can affect your sleep. It is important that you purchase a good quality bed that suits your needs and provides adequate support but it is equally important to create an optimal sleeping environment and have an effective pre-sleep ritual. Below are some tips to help you solve the problem of sleeplessness by looking at your general lifestyle, what to do before bed and your sleeping environment.

GENERAL LIFESTYLE

Keep regular hours
Time of day serves as a powerful cue to your body clock. Going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day will help your body recognise when it is time to sleep and time to rise. You should establish a routine giving you 8 hours sleep a night. Regularity of bedtimes and arising times reinforces the body clock?s synchronisation and enables good sleep. In setting your bedtime, pay attention to the cues your body is giving you. When do you feel sleepy? Set your bedtime for when you normally feel tired. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day will make it easier and easier for you to fall asleep. However tempting it may be, try not to break this routine on weekends when you may want to stay up or sleep in much later. Your overall sleep quality and sleeping pattern will be better if you keep regular hours.

Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise, in addition to many other health benefits, makes it easier to fall asleep and can improve the quality of your sleep.  As little as 20-30 minutes of regular daily exercise, such as swimming, walking or a brisk run, will help you sleep. And you don?t need to do it in one session ? break it up into 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Exercise allows you to release pent up frustration and relieve the day?s stresses thereby allowing you to drift off to sleep more easily. But avoid exercising too late in the day or just before bedtime; exercise actually stimulates the body, raising its temperature and because a cooler body temperature is associated with sleep, it may keep you awake. If your only free time to exercise is in the evening relaxing exercises such as yoga or simple stretching should improve your health and your sleeping pattern.

Establish positive sleep habits
Simply improving your daytime habits, pre-sleep ritual and creating a better sleep environment can set the stage for a good or better night?s sleep. To improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, you need to move sleep to the top of your 'To-Do' list and re-organize your priorities. By developing positive sleep habits that works with your individual needs, you can avoid common pitfalls and make simple changes that bring you consistently better sleep. Take a look at your present sleep habits and consider the tips listed below. Work on improving one area at a time. As human beings we are creatures of habit, and our bodies take time to adjust to change. For best results make changes slowly and methodically. Once you've successfully implemented one positive change, move onto the next one. When you start replacing old, unhealthy sleep habits with a well thought-out sleep schedule, you'll find your energy, enthusiasm and zest for life grows on an almost daily basis.

No Naps during the day
Daytime naps can affect your body clock and therefore impact on the amount and quality of sleep you get at night. Some people can take a short afternoon nap and still sleep well at night. However, if you are having trouble sleeping at night, try to eliminate napping. If you must nap, try to do it in the early afternoon, and sleep no longer than 30 minutes.

Avoid alcohol
Alcohol reduces your overall sleep quality. Many people think that a nightcap before bed will help them sleep, however, although it acts as a sedative and may knock you out faster, alcohol can interrupt sleep patterns resulting in you waking up later in the night. It might be a tall order but for the sake of quality sleep try not to drink anything alcoholic in the last few hours before bedtime.

Cut down on caffeine
All stimulants interfere with falling asleep and prevent deep, restful sleep. However, caffeine can cause sleep problems up to ten to twelve hours after drinking it! If you are dependent on coffee, tea or caffeinated soda to keep you going during the day, consider eliminating caffeine after lunch or cutting back your overall intake. Also, avoid foods that contain caffeine - hidden sources of caffeine include chocolate, cocoa beans and kola nuts and caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in the leaves, seeds or fruits of more than 60 plants.

Be wary of medicines
A good night?s sleep can be affected by many over the counter and prescription drugs. Some medications have sleeplessness as a side effect. Check with your doctor when considering any new medication. You may wake up more often and experience disrupted sleep simply because of the drugs.

Don?t smoke
It should come as no surprise that nicotine can have an adverse affect on your sleep. It is a powerful stimulant which makes it difficult for you to drift off to sleep and stay asleep. Smokers actually experience nicotine withdrawal as the night progresses, making it hard to sleep. For the sake of a better night?s sleep, try to pass on the cigarette before bedtime, or better still, give up altogether.

Replace negative thoughts with positive ones
Repeating to yourself negative thoughts such as ?I can?t get to sleep? are simply not helpful and often become a self-fulfilling prophecy resulting in you lying awake in bed. It is advisable to keep your thoughts positive for example: ?I can sleep?. The repetition of a positive unstimulating mantra such as this can actually help you fall asleep.

If your child is reluctant to sleep give him/her a cuddly toy
If your child is having trouble sleeping giving him or her a sleeping companion such as a cuddly toy can help. Like a bedtime routine, the cuddly toy?s association with bedtime indicates to the child that she or he should be going to sleep soon. It can also make the child feel secure and more content with going to sleep.

WHAT TO DO BEFORE BED?

Relax before going to bed
It is important to develop a relaxing bedtime routine that enables you to unwind mentally and physically. A consistent, relaxing routine before bed sends a signal to your brain that it is time to wind down, making it easier to fall asleep. Relaxation techniques include deep breathing, mediation, visualisation, and gentle exercises like yoga or Pilates; however a regular bedtime routine such as having a warm bath or reading before bed can be just as effective.

Write down your thoughts
If you have got things on your mind, write them down, make a list and clear your head before bed. Writing down your worries and ?things to do tomorrow? list before going to bed will help free your mind, relax your body and enable you to drift off to sleep. This planning ritual also gives your mind the message ?I?m done for the day? and will help you feel more secure that you?ll be ready for tomorrow after a good night?s sleep.

Use bed socks
Your feet have the poorest circulation in the body and often feel cold well before the rest of you which may cause you to wake during the night. This poor circulation is due to the feet being the furthest structures from the heart and also because the blood in the feet has to work against gravity to get back to the heart. Wearing big comfy socks to bed can help keep your feet warm and reduce that chance of disturbed sleep. During winter months and cold weather bed socks can be a godsend. Just make sure your bed socks are a loose fit around the ankles and a soft breathable fabric. As circulation is often compromised in diabetes, bed socks are often recommended for people suffering from diabetes.

No TV just before bedtime
Television is a stimulant. It incites the brain, making it more difficult to clear the mind and fall asleep. Television programming is intentionally stimulating rather than calming. Prime time shows and late night news frequently have disturbing, violent or action packed material. Even non-violent programmes have commercials which are often louder than the actual program. Remember, commercials want to get your attention! Processing this type of material is a stimulating activity - the opposite of what you need to help you sleep. In addition, the light coming from the TV (or a computer screen) can interfere with the body?s clock, which is sensitive to any light. Television is also noisy, which can disturb sleep if left on accidentally. As much as possible avoid things that may trigger worry or anxiety (like upsetting news) and avoid doing anything which doesn?t help you to relax before bed.  The optimum setup for better sleep is to have your bedroom reserved for sleeping, so it is best to remove the TV from the bedroom entirely.

No late heavy meals
Avoid eating before bedtime as it can lead to indigestion which can make lying down uncomfortable. This can in turn interfere with a healthy sleeping pattern. Protein-rich foods contain tyrosine, an amino acid that stimulates brain activity and can be particularly troublesome. Experiment with your food habits to determine your optimum evening meals and snacks but try to eat no less than 2 hours before going to bed.

Breathing exercises
Simple deep breathing techniques can help you to relax and induce sleepiness. Long, slow, deep breathing can create a sense of calm and increase your chances of falling asleep.

Visualisation/Meditation
Focussing all your attention on a repetitive thing or activity allows your brain to shut down and sleep. The time honoured technique of ?counting sheep? works by engaging the brain in a repetitive, non-stimulating activity, helping you wind down. Visualisation works in a similar way ? when you visualise yourself doing a quiet, non-stimulating activity like walking down an endless stairwell it allows your brain to cut off from the worries of everyday life.

Take a warm bath
A consistent, relaxing routine before bed such as having a warm bath sends a signal to your brain that it is time to wind down, making it easier to fall asleep. Furthermore, studies have shown that taking a warm bath an hour before bed can actually help you feel tired - your body temperature drops at night to conserve energy, so getting out of a warm bath tricks the body into cooling down fast and makes you feel sleepy. A warm bath or shower before bed therefore not only helps relieve anxiety and stress but makes you feel sleepy and tells your body it is time for sleep. The perfect combination.

A light bedtime snack or glass of warm milk
A light snack before bed, especially one which contains the amino acid tryptophan, can help promote sleep. When you pair tryptophan-containing foods with carbohydrates and/or calcium, it helps calm the brain and allow you to sleep better. On the other hand, you might want to avoid eating too much protein before bedtime which, as mentioned above, stimulates brain activity. Some bedtime snacks to help you sleep include a glass of warm milk; whole-grain, low-sugar cereal with low-fat milk or yogurt; or a banana and a cup of hot chamomile tea.

KEEPING YOUR SLEEPING ENVIRONMENT OPTIMAL

Get a bigger bed
Being knocked into by a sleeping partner is one of the most common complaints and a common reason for a restless night?s sleep. Standard size beds don?t suit everyone and with a larger bed you are less likely to disturb your sleeping partner. Upgrade to a king size or super king for a better night?s sleep. Absolute Beds offers a made-to-measure service on certain styles (please contact us on 020 8208 1616 for more details). As a guide to the right size bed, you should be able to lie side by side, with your hands behind your head and your elbows out, without touching your partner. Additionally, your bed should be 10-15cm longer than the tallest partner.

Treat yourself to new pillows
Your pillow should be replaced every 2-4 years to ensure it continues to provide you with the support and shape you are after. Your head contains more nerve ending than any other part of the body and as such it?s vital that it receives the ultimate care. Your neck should be in alignment with the rest of your spine and a quality pillow plays a vital role in providing the essential support required. There are a few warning signs which may indicate that it is time for a new pillow, such as: the cover of your pillow becoming discoloured, you waking up with a neck ache and you waking up feeling wheezy or with a runny/blocked nose. It is worth remembering that we all lose up to 1 pint of sweat per night which stains and dirties the pillow cover, allows unhealthy fungi to grow inside and attracts dusts mites which can cause allergic reactions and a restless night.

Buy the right bed for you
Moving around in bed during the night because you are getting sore and stiff can result in you feeling less refreshed in the morning, despite the amount of time in bed. It is therefore important to buy a bed with the right support. There are many different types and sizes to choose from, so ensure you spend ample time lying on them in your normal sleeping positions. A comfortable mattress is one that offers the right amount of support and tension for you. When deciding on a new mattress [link to Mattress types and sizes], your aim should be to achieve perfect posture in bed. Everyone is different and you may prefer a soft, medium or firm feel.

Dust mites and allergens
The amount of dust mites and allergens in your bedroom can affect how refreshing your sleep is. Dust mite waste contains allergens which can aggravate breathing problems like asthma. Pillows and duvets can contain a significant amount of allergens, as can mattresses more than 10 years old. A number of factors can affect allergen concentration in your sleeping environment, such as mattress age, mattress and bedding ventilation, dampness, how often the bedroom, bedding and mattress are cleaned, room temperature and humidity. To improve your sleep you should aim to minimise or eliminate dust mites by regularly airing and cleaning your mattress, bedding and bedroom, using an anti-dust mite pillow and mattress protector, replacing your pillow every 2 years and replacing your mattress every 10 years.
 
Room Association
Your bedroom should be associated with rest and relaxation and make you feel comfortable, peaceful and secure. You should avoid using your bedroom and especially your bed for working, watching TV, eating, drinking, playing computer games or using your laptop. It might feel relaxing to do small tasks like jotting down notes or a shopping list on a comfortable bed. However, if you associate your bed with events like work or errands, it will only make it harder to wind down in bed at night.

Soothing Sounds
Your bedroom should be a quiet tranquil environment conducive to sleep. Too much noise - loud outside conversations, televisions blaring, traffic noise - can make it difficult for you to sleep well. You may, however, benefit from playing soothing music to help send you off to sleep. Natural sounds such as waves, wind or rain and soft classical music have the most calming effect. Ear plugs may also help.

Snoring, which is caused by a partial blockage inside the airway, may also lead to disrupted sleep for you and/or your partner. The blockage may be located anywhere from the tip of the nose to the vocal chords and is caused by a physical abnormality that needs to be identified before a control can be found. Sleeping position can sometimes be the cause of snoring because when you lay on your back your tongue is more likely to fall back into the throat blocking off the airway. You may wish to use more pillows to elevate your head or sleep on your side to reduce the likelihood of you snoring.

Keep your bedroom dark during sleeping hours
We all have an internal body clock that helps regulate sleep. This clock is sensitive to light and dark. Light instructs your body clock to move to the active daytime phase. When you get up, open the shades or make an effort to go outside to get some sunlight. Conversely, your sleeping environment should be dark. Heavy shades can help block light from windows, or you can try an eye mask to cover your eyes.

Keep your room temperature cool and non-humid
Most people sleep best in a slightly cool non-humid room.  If you can though, experiment with the room temperature to find what is best for you. It is important to ensure that you have adequate ventilation as well - a fan can help keep the air moving. You also might want to check your windows and doors to make sure that drafts are not interfering with your sleep.

Bedroom Colour choice
Colours can affect our moods. In the bedroom it is important to create a colour scheme using soft tones as these are more calming whereas brighter, bolder colours are more stimulating and unsuitable for a soothing environment.

Hide your clock
Having your clock in full view can lead to worry about not sleeping and the amount of available time left to sleep. We?ve all tossed and turning through a restless night feeling like we?ve seen every minute tick by. Simply making sure your clock isn?t visible while you are trying to get to sleep can really help.
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