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"Help! I Can’t Sleep!"
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could flick a switch every night that said ‘sleep’? Then you could hit the hay and nod off for a full eight hours of uninterrupted zzzzzs. There’d be no wrestling with the sheets or an overactive mind. No sudden waking for no obvious reason. And in the morning? Your alarm wouldn’t get the death stare because you’d feel rested and re-energised.
Dream on! In reality, few of us are getting the shut-eye we need. And it’s taking a big toll on our health. Too little or low quality sleep lowers energy, immunity, mood and brain function. Meanwhile, it raises blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. While you sleep, your body does important housework, such as repairing cells to help protect you from diseases like cancer. Meanwhile, sleep loss can affect your waistline. It reduces leptin, the hormone that makes you feel full and increases ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry.
Bottom line? You should never tough out chronic sleep blahs. Good quality zzzzs are the foundation of good health. And for every sleep issue, there are strategies that can help:
“I have trouble falling asleep”
When you suffer insomnia, it’s hard to know what’s worse – the hours lying awake in bed or the hours spent feeling like a walking zombie the next day. We all want to fall asleep quickly and get a good night's rest, here are some tips:
- Soak in a bath: The warmth causes a temperature drop that can help you fall asleep faster. Here at Wellbeing Island we have a wide range of Bath time products to help you feel relaxed during your bubble bath serenity.
- Set a caffeine curfew: Even six hours after your last cup of coffee or tea, the impacts of caffeine can be detected in your body shows research from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
- Minimise alcohol intake: It may wake you up later with dehydration or the need to pee. And it can delay and shorten your slow-wave and REM sleep, reducing sleep quality.
- Enjoy early morning light: Open your curtains on waking and if possible, breakfast al fresco. Morning sunlight suppresses melatonin, the ‘sleep hormone’, which should drop during the day and rise at night. If you don’t usually fall asleep until 3 am, aim to get your bright light exposure around 10 am for a few days, then 9.30 am for a few days and so on to help set your body clock back.
- Stay off screens: Steer clear of computers, mobile phones and tablet devices for at least two hours before bed. The light interferes with your body’s production of melatonin which drops your body temperature in readiness for slumber. In particular, screens give off blue light. And research from Harvard University shows that exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin for twice as long as other colours and can shift your body clock by as much as three hours. Though you can install an app called f.lux to reduce blue light, some sensitive people still find that looking at a screen delays their sleep onset.
- Stay up later: Can’t sleep until 2 am? Don’t lie in bed seething or stressing. For a few days or weeks, restrict your time in bed to the hours that you know you normally sleep. Doing this can help reduce ‘conditioned insomnia’, where wakefulness has become an anxious habit and the worry that you won’t fall asleep is the main reason you can’t nod off. Once you are falling asleep sooner, slowly make your sleep time earlier.
- Avoid naps and sleep-ins: These can put your body clock out of synch with light and dark, so you feel tired in the morning and wakeful at night.
“I fall asleep but I’m wide awake by 4 am”
Though problems like asthma or low blood glucose could be to blame, the most likely cause of late-morning waking is that you’re feeling anxious or down.
- Address health niggles: Such as an allergy that causes a blocked nose or a weak pelvic floor that makes you get up to go to the toilet.
- Try light therapy: Ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist for bright light therapy. This would involve a hired lightbox used to provide evening bright light between around nine and midnight for repeated nights until you re-set your body clock.
- Try melatonin: Talk to your GP about getting slow-release melatonin pills or melatonin drops to use for a while to get you into a healthier sleeping pattern.
“I wake repeatedly all night”
There’s nothing worse than tossing and turning into the wee hours – it makes the night feel like an endless marathon and hijacks your partner’s sleep too.
- Address stress: Meditate, slow breathe and try not to sweat the small stuff. Anxiety and stress can raise your cortisol levels, which then prevent you from getting into a deep sleep. Seeing a mental health professional could be a huge help.
- Take magnesium before bed: This natural relaxant promotes calm. Start with a low dose as in some people, magnesium can cause tummy upset.
- Unwind: In the hour before bed, have a warm bath, read a book or slowly sip soothing valerian or chamomile tea. When you get into bed, do some progressive relaxation where you tense and relax all your muscles from head to toe.
- Address depression: See a counsellor or read self-help books to learn mindfulness. Studies indicate that some depressed people have more Rapid Eye Movement (REM or dream) sleep and as a result, their intense dreams cause broken sleep.
“My snoring wakes me up”
Though your ear-splitting snoring may be the butt of jokes amongst your family, it’s no laughing matter. Studies show that snoring not only raises blood pressure, but over time it can also increase your risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Screen for sleep apnea: Ask your GP for a referral to a sleep clinic for an overnight sleep study to discount a condition called sleep apnea which causes micro-pauses in breathing and needs treatment.
- Move it: Engage in regular exercise and if you’re overweight, improve your diet to help drop a few pounds.
- See your dentist: Ask about being fitted for a mouth guard to hold the lower jaw forward – this can help reduce or stop snoring.
- Cut the chardonnay: Reduce your alcohol intake and try not to use sleeping pills. These can both relax the soft palate, worsening snoring.
Whether you can't fall asleep or you just struggle to stay asleep; there are solutions.
It's crucial that you build a consistent sleep schedule and kick sleep deprivation to the curb. Poor sleep habits and excessive daytime sleepiness can have dire effects on your health as well as your day to day productivity.
Let us know what has worked for you and the techniques you have used to get a restful sleep!