In this section I will outline the common factors that WILL disturb your sleep unless they are put right. The ‘COMMON SENSE’ title for this section underscores the fact that there are so many things we CAN DO to aid healthy sleep.
The following ‘COMMON SENSE’ guidelines are to be considered as pointers for healthier sleep - obviously we all have times in our lives when we don’t want to do things in moderation and that’s normal. It is important however to understand that if you sleep badly (always assuming it is not a medical condition) but don’t want to use the guidelines then you WON’T SLEEP. Common sense may not be fashionable but it isn’t dead!!!!
Common Sense Tip No. 1 - Alcohol
Well, what can I say? Alcohol will definitely impair your ability to sleep well. AND … as we get older, alcohol's effect on sleep becomes more and more destructive - SORRY!
“Because of alcohol's sedating effect, many people with insomnia consume alcohol to promote sleep. However, alcohol consumed within an hour of bedtime appears to disrupt the second half of the sleep period.” www.sleepdex.org/alcohol1.htm
“Studies show that a moderate dose of alcohol consumed as much as 6 hours before bedtime can increase wakefulness during the second half of sleep.” www.sleepdex.org/alcohol1.htm
Digestion - if you normally eat your evening meal after 7.30 p.m. try eating a little earlier. For preference try eating earlier, say 6.30 p.m. - this means it is still relatively early by the time you have finished eating and you can spend a bit of time doing something relaxing before bed. If you are a late eater then make sure you allow at least 2 hours from the end of your meal before heading for bed.
If you can’t get to sleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep, a REALLY good personal favourite is a cup of tea, or warmed milk and honey, and a piece of toast with peanut butter. Peanut butter and milk have relaxing properties (tryptophans) but also feel very nurturing. For those with peanut allergies, old ‘home remedies’ talk of lettuce as being a sure way to get children off to sleep. I’ve found a lettuce sandwich in the middle of the night to be curiously comforting - strange but true!
Needless to say, diet in general can play a huge role in our ability or inability to sleep. Use your own common sense to ascertain whether what you eat and when you eat may be having a deleterious effect on your sleeping patterns.
WARNING: In seriously overweight or obese people, sleep apnoea is often prevalent: “Extra fat in the neck squashes the throat from outside, particularly when the throat muscles become floppier with sleep.” www.sleep-apnoea-trust.org
Common Sense Tip No. 3 - Brain Activity ANYTHING THAT ISN’T SEX OR SLEEP MUST HAPPEN OUTSIDE THE BEDROOM! If you are addicted to computer games which increase adrenalin then make sure you eat early enough so you can set time aside to play for half an hour before doing anything remotely like getting ready for bed.
A bedtime book IS allowed in the bedroom BUT keep it either very light or very boring. The trick is to let your brain slow down. Skimming over an easy to read book (see a couple of my own personal recommendations below) that doesn’t create too much brain activity will almost trick your brain into a silent and trance-like state - a very good preparation for sleep. Books: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series by Alexander McCall Smith - very calm & soothing
The Phryne Fisher Mysteries by Kerry Greenwood - light, humourous and entertaining sleuthing set in the 1920’s
Be consciously aware of anxieties and stress levels - these are sleep and health killers. There are hundreds of websites and self-help books that will tell you about stress reduction and meditation. My experience tells me though that when people are in extreme stress it can take a HUGE effort to even think about doing something slow and calming. It goes without saying that stress will keep the brain active through the night. In cases such as these, find the smallest and easily ‘do-able’ thing you can that feels calm - even if it just means listening to a favourite song or watching an old favourite, gentle DVD or reading a book in a warm (not hot) bath with a few drops of lavender oil. (Please note my comment on warm water in ‘Nature’s Aids’).
Common Sense Tip No. 4 - Getting Help It stands to reason that there could be either psychological or medical conditions interfering with your sleep patterns.
A good Psychologist/Psychotherapist may be able to help you discover the source of your problems - be it a particular trigger point or a subtle change in your lifestyle etc.
If you are undergoing certain biological changes - hormonal, illness etc - then your local GP is a good place to start.
Alternative medicine is very helpful too but if you suspect anything medical, it is worth getting your Doctor to run a few medical checks. Alternative practitioners will often appreciate having some sort of information as to what might be indicated by blood tests etc.
As mentioned, there are thousands of self-help books, organisations and activities that can point you in the direction of meditation, yoga, tai chi etc. This has to be a personal decision but perhaps joining a rowing club, for example, may be just as (if not more) helpful. Some personality types cannot stomach slow activities so think carefully about the sorts of things that might help your body relax and try and do them towards the end of the day.
Hypnotherapy - can help some people. Individual differences mean that not everyone will respond to Hypnotherapy and even if you do respond well, in my experience (with my own clients and my own difficulties sleeping) Hypnotherapy for Insomnia is tricky and very rarely has a permanent effect. If you think that Hypnotherapy may work for you then seek out a Doctor, Psychiatrist or Psychologist with proper, clinical training in Hypnotherapy and a thorough understanding of the brain and subconscious process.
Common Sense Tip No. 6 - Medication There are many reasons why we take pills and sometimes we have to take more than one form of medication.
If you are having problems sleeping and you take medication (for whatever reason), it may be worth talking to a trusted medical practitioner to ascertain whether the combination of medicine could be interfering with your sleep.
Become well informed about the drugs you are taking and whether they might be affecting you.
If your local GP is not interested in helping you work out whether there may be some link between your medication and disturbed sleep then find a second opinion - it could be the best thing you ever do.
Individual differences can often account for subtle differences in several people’s different reactions to the same drug.