We spend up to a third of our lives asleep, but many of us don't get enough good quality sleep. So when you're struggling to slumber, you might have tried "counting sheep" to help you drop off.
Visualising woolly sheep trotting one by one before your mind's eye is calming and many people find it helps them to relax and drift off to slumber. But is counting sheep the best tip for falling asleep and are there any other techniques that can help?
American researchers found that around one in five adults sometimes used prescribed medication to help them fall asleep, despite unpleasant side effects such as drowsiness during the day. Others turn to alcohol in the mistaken belief that it will help them get a good night's sleep.
Whether your problem is not being able to fall asleep, not getting enough good quality sleep or feeling exhausted during the day, the first thing to consider is sleep hygiene. This term refers to habits and behaviours that promote quality sleep. Here are some techniques that you may find helpful:
Following a calming, relaxing routine before bedtime helps to slow down your thoughts and prepare you for a restful night.
Make sure your bedroom is dark - use blackout blinds if necessary. It should also be quiet and at a comfortable temperature (between 15 - 18 degrees suits most people). Treat yourself to some pretty new bed linen or even a new mattress if yours is old and saggy. Don't do any work in bed but keep your bedroom just for sleep and sex. Doing anything else will keep your brain active and discourage sleepiness.
Set a sleep schedule by getting up at the same time every morning, even at the weekend. A regular time for waking makes sure that you don't sleep too long and helps to maintain your body's circadian rhythm. If you try to catch up on lost sleep by getting up later at the weekend, you might find you have more trouble falling asleep on the following night.
Switch off all your devices at least an hour before you want to go to sleep. Tablets, phones and laptops emit a blue light that can interfere with the body's production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel sleepy. If you have to look at a screen, use the nighttime setting to create a warm yellow glow that won't upset your body clock as much.
Listen to your body! You'll feel sleepier at certain times of the night than at others. If you try to go to sleep while your mind is still active, you won't fall asleep quickly. Instead, try relaxation techniques such as yoga or slow breathing before bedtime. If you're anxious about things, set aside half an hour earlier in the evening for "worry time". Write a list of the things that are bothering you, then throw the paper away. This technique helps to detox the mind and prepare you for sleep.
What you do in the daytime can also affect your sleep, so follow these tips, and you'll soon be sleeping better:
Caffeine stimulates the brain and helps to keep you awake. So just a few cups earlier in the day can prevent you from feeling sleepy in the evening. As well as enjoying decaffeinated versions of tea and coffee, try sipping herbal infusions such as chamomile, ginger and mint.
Exercise helps you sleep, but some people find that exercising during the evening can disrupt your sleep pattern. So try to schedule time for your workout earlier in the day.
Alcohol might help you to fall asleep more quickly, but it can also disrupt your sleep cycle. For example, after sleeping heavily at first, you may wake up after two or three hours and then be unable to go back to sleep. Drinking during the evening can also lead to more bathroom trips in the middle of the night.
Digesting a big meal can sometimes stop you from getting to sleep. Many people find that eating earlier, no later than two hours before bedtime, helps them to sleep better.
Many medical problems, such as sleep apnoea, can interfere with your sleep. This condition means that you wake yourself up many times a night by snoring and gasping for breath. It's essential to address problems such as sleep apnoea, chronic pain or anxiety by discussing them with a physician.
There are sometimes factors affecting our sleep that are beyond our control. Working shifts and trying to sleep at different times can be very challenging. Strategies such as changing meal times, napping before starting a shift and minimising exposure to blue light before you plan to sleep may help.
If you're having trouble getting to sleep, Bach Flower Mix 87 can help to reduce worries and anxiety, feel calmer and more confident, and so enables you to fall asleep more easily and sleep soundly.
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