Sleep; it’s a fundamental pillar of good health, but for many of us it’s an elusive dream. To coincide with Daylight Savings time kicking in and the recent Sleep Awareness Week we thought we’d take some time to talk about managing insomnia and the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep.

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There are few things worse than a night spent tossing and turning, watching the clock unable to sleep. You wake up cranky and out of sorts, and it’s likely that as the day progresses, your energy levels, productivity and general sense of wellbeing will all suffer too.

For many people, insomnia is a long-term affliction, and something that they feel they have little control over. For others, the inability to sleep might be influenced by external factors such as shift work or jet lag.

There’s also now considerable research suggesting that the modern 24/7 online lifestyle and increased time spent on smart phones and tablets (especially at bed time – or in fact, while we’re actually in bed) is another big factor getting in the way of a decent night’s sleep.

Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, was recently quoted in the UK Express as saying that:

“The blue light from these devices suppresses the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, so it’s important to avoid them before bedtime.”

Exposure to a device’s artificial light sends the brain a message to remain alert and ‘on’ – which is essentially the opposite of what we want to be telling our brain at bedtime.

The good news is that recent research into insomnia management has shown that good ‘sleep hygiene’ – that is, healthy habits that support a consistent sleep routine – can play a big role in managing insomnia and helping to achieve a truly restful slumber.

Our top 10 tips for establishing proper sleep habits:

AVOID STIMULANTS AFTER 3PM – that means laying off the caffeinated drinks such as black tea, coffee, cola drinks, ‘energy’ drinks and hot chocolate as well as cigarettes, drugs, and chocolate (sorry!).

GET PLENTY OF EXERCISE – try to exercise every day if you can, it reduces stress and helps to promote a good night’s sleep. Ideally opt for a morning or daytime routine: stimulating, heating and/or strenuous exercise in the evening can interfere with your desired state of restfulness. Exercising outdoors is great too – getting a dose of natural light a vitamin D aids good sleep.

AVOID BRIGHT LIGHTS & LED’S AT BEDTIME – replace cold, bright flouro lighting with a warm, low-wattage bedside lamp. Curb your smart phone and/or tablet usage at least two hours before bed and put a ban on using these devices in the bedroom. Seriously.

BE CONSISTENT – try to get a routine going. Going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time each day (even weekends) helps set your body clock into a rhythm.

AVOID HEAVY DINNERS OR EATING BEFORE BED – digestion is a considerable energetic process and one that is best done well before bedtime. Rich, spicy or stodgy foods can sit in your stomach and hamper sleepy-time, so avoid these if possible. Sugar is a stimulant and tends to hype us up – not the best option if you want to relax into a slumber.

ESTABLISH A ‘WINDING-DOWN’ ROUTINE – find things that relax you and make them a habit, every night. This might be knitting, reading, taking a bath, journaling, prayer, doing some gentle stretches, lying on your back with your legs up the wall (a great yoga pose for insomnia)

CREATE A COSY NEST – your bedroom should be a dedicated place for rest. You want to feel that it’s a sanctuary and somewhere that you enjoy retreating to. This might be as simple as buying nice new sheets and pillows, burning relaxing essential oils, removing clutter, placing fresh flowers in a vase or playing soft music at bedtime. It’s important to remove anything from your room that reminds you of work (computers, desks, files etc.). If streetlights are a problem, switch to heavy black out curtains – it might be the best small investment you ever make.

HAVE A NOTEPAD HANDY – if you’re someone whose mind whirs with ideas, plans, worries or to-do lists then it can help to actually write it all down before you hit the pillow. Once you’ve done this, mentally commit to letting the thoughts and plans go until tomorrow.

LEARN TO MEDITATE – regular meditators often cite improved sleep quality as one of the myriad positive side effects of their meditation practice. Meditating during the daytime is preferable and the positive effects of a day spent feeling relaxed and content usually extend to bedtime.

KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL – end your day on a positive note. Write down three things that have happened each day that you can be thankful for. That might just be something as humble as having thanks for the good people in your life, for access to food and shelter, or for the kindness of a stranger. Keep it simple. The effects of mindful gratitude are often amplified over time too and help train our minds to a more positive default.

Talk About It

If you’re still having problems you might like to discuss the issue with your GP or consider making an appointment with one of our Psychologists to explore your sleep habits in more detail.

For more info on Sleep Awareness Week visit:

http://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/sleep-awareness-week/sleep-awareness-week-2014.html