Difficulty getting to sleep, waking during the night or waking too early are the tell-tale signs of insomnia. While everyone can experience brief periods of disturbed sleep, on-going insomnia is a common problem which is linked to depression, anxiety disorders and substance abuse. Poor sleep also leads to lethargy, poor concentration and poor memory. It is not always possible to determine exactly why a poor sleep pattern has developed, but there are many things that can help to re-establish normal sleep. The following 10 tips adapted from Sleep Disorders Australia Fact Sheet is the best place to start and can make a real difference.
- Cut out caffeine in the afternoon/evening. Caffeine is a stimulant and can take up to 8 hours to wear off.
- Don’t use cigarettes before bed. Nicotine is also a stimulant and should be avoided if you wake in the night.
- Don’t use alcohol as a sleep aid – it might help to get to sleep but then disturbs sleep.
- Develop a relaxing sleep ritual before bedtime.
- Exercise regularly, but not in the evening.
- Keep the bedroom quiet, dark and comfortable.
- Don’t go to bed overfull or hungry.
- Avoid napping in the day, and go to bed at the same time each night.
- Don’t sleep with pets or children in the bed – their movements can disturb an otherwise peaceful sleep.
- Avoid watching TV, eating and discussing emotional issues in bed.
These ten steps are invaluable to restore a normal sleep cycle. When more help is needed it is reassuring that there are a number of treatments that can improve sleep. Acupuncture can balance the autonomic nervous system and restore sleep. Chinese herbal medicine can be prescribed according to whether a person has difficulty getting to sleep, waking during the night or early waking. Prescribed pharmacy sleep medication has a role for very short term use. Concentrated milk drinks like “Horlicks” contain the sleep promoting substance tryptophan. Some common herbal medicines and the minerals calcium and magnesium when taken at night can have a relaxing effect that aids sleep. Any steps which improve the quality and quantity of sleep improve physical and mental wellbeing. These simple strategies can be the building blocks to a more vital life.