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Ten Tips for Getting a Good Night's Sleep

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Sleeping Sleep is just as important to your health and well-being as a healthy diet and regular exercise. If you're not getting enough sleep, you may suffer from high blood pressure, high blood sugar and memory loss in the short term. After six months or more of sleep problems, you may become depressed or suffer from anxiety.

People who are sleep deprived also put themselves and others at risk on the road due to driver fatigue. You may also suffer from loss of memory, lack of concentration and a reduced ability to make decisions.

Are you getting enough sleep?

The amount of sleep you need varies from person to person, but most people need between six and nine hours sleep every night. Some people may have trouble falling asleep and suffer from insomnia, while others suffer from poor quality of sleep due to sleep apnoea, a serious condition where a person stops breathing briefly many times during the night.

Studies show that women have more sleeping problems than men. A poll by the Sleep Foundation in the USA found that 28 per cent of women felt they were not getting enough sleep, compared to 19 per cent of men. Sixty-three percent of women reported symptoms of insomnia, compared to 54 per cent of men.

And pity the poor mother of a newborn – in the first year of a baby's life, a woman may lose as much as 700 hours of sleep. Doctors at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Center in the USA have suggested that women experience more sleep problems because they are the one waking to care for children during the night.

The top ten tips for getting more sleep

If you're feeling drowsy during the day and don't function as well as you'd like, you may like to implement some of these changes into your daily routine:

  1. Avoid caffeine and nicotine
    Some people suffering from insomnia find that cutting out caffeine is a quick, simple solution to their sleeping problems. This means completely avoiding coffee, tea, cola, caffeine-containing energy drinks and, to a lesser extent, chocolate. Instead of going cold-turkey without caffeine, try to cut down gradually and introduce some alternatives, such as decaffeinated coffee or roasted cereal beverages (e.g. Caro or Ecco), or try herbal or green tea to replace your normal cup of tea.

    If you can't cut out caffeine completely, you may like to try limiting your intake of this stimulant to early in the day. You might notice some improvements in your sleeping habits if you have your last cup of tea or coffee of the day before three o'clock in the afternoon.

    Cigarettes are also stimulants that play havoc with your sleeping habits. This is just one more good reason to give cigarettes the flick!

  2. Keep regular hours
    If you go to bed at the same time every day and get up at the same time every morning, you are setting yourself up for good sleeping habits.

    There are differing opinions on the benefit of day-time naps – some experts recommend twenty minutes of shut-eye to refresh you during the day, while others warn against it. You need to work out what's best for you and stick with a sleeping schedule. If you find that naps keep you awake at night, it's best to avoid them.

  3. Don't drink too much before going to bed
    Alcohol may cause you to wake up frequently during the night and may make you snore. It is particularly bad for people with sleep apnoea as it reduces the brain's ability to respond when breathing has ceased momentarily.

    If you find yourself getting up several times during the night to empty your bladder, avoid fluid intake for a few hours before bedtime.

  4. Make the bedroom a quiet, comfortable place
    Make sure that the temperature of your bedroom is comfortable – aim towards a cooler temperature as excessive warmth may keep you awake. Your bed should be comfortable and supportive and the room should be dark, without any distracting lights. Try to block out excessive noise, either with curtains or you could try using ear plugs.

    You may be kept awake by a snoring partner – if getting them to change position doesn't work, try using ear plugs. See the article on snoring for more information.

  5. Declare the bedroom just for sleeping
    Don't keep a TV in the bedroom if you're having sleeping problems – watching TV before you go to sleep will stimulate your mind when you're meant to be winding down. Try not to read in the bedroom either – make the bedroom a special, relaxed place that's for sleeping and making love only, not for other day-to-day activities.

  6. Use relaxation techniques before you go to bed
    Try to wind down with twenty minutes of meditation before you go to sleep, or have a warm, relaxing bath. Studies in hospitals have found that a warm drink, a gentle back rub and listening to relaxation tapes are excellent alternatives to conventional sleep medications.

    If you're having trouble stopping your mind from racing, you may like to keep a 'worry book' beside your bed. If you're worrying about certain problems, or thinking of things you've got to do at work in the morning, jot them down. That way you'll know you can't forget them and you can safely put them out of your mind until morning.

  7. Exercise during the day
    Carrying out physical activity during the day will enhance your sleep, making it deeper and more restful. Try not to exercise too close to bed-time though, as this will stimulate your body temperature and metabolic rate, making it harder for you to get to sleep.

  8. Get exposure to sunlight during the day
    In one study of older people who had been experiencing sleep problems for more than one year, daily exposure to bright light increased the number of hours that the people slept and increased the quality of their sleep by up to 90 per cent. Try to spend some time outdoors every day, soaking up some sunshine – without getting sunburnt of course!

  9. Avoid spicy and fatty foods in the evening
    Spicy foods may exacerbate indigestion and heartburn, which can interfere with sleep. People who suffer from heartburn should also avoid coffee and other drinks that contain caffeine, fatty foods and midnight snacks. Fatty foods slow down the emptying of the stomach and can make indigestion worse if eaten within three or four hours of going to bed. Rather than having a dessert of ice cream, tiramisu or cheese, have some fresh fruit or fruit salad instead. You may also like to avoid MSG, which can be found in some types of Chinese foods.

  10. Eat a balanced diet
    Eating well and sleeping well go hand-in-hand. If you're not eating properly, you may be deficient in some of the vitamins and minerals required for a good night's sleep – deficiencies of the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, copper and iron have all been associated with sleep disorders.

    Try not to eat too closely to going to bed – give yourself about two hours to digest your evening meal before you retire for the night. If you are having trouble getting to sleep, a warm drink and a high-carbohydrate, low-fat snack may help, such as a cup of chamomile tea and a banana.

If you'd like more information of sleeping problems, see the following articles:
Sleep apnoea

Last updated: November 18th, 2002

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