Do you stay awake all night and sleep all day? Do you lie around all the time but never get rested? Do you have trouble getting to sleep? Are you able to get to sleep, but wake up frequently throughout the night? Do you believe you are sleeping long enough, but you still wake up tired?
We are continually stressed and running short on time and it would seem logical that after running around all day we would have no trouble getting to sleep at night. But that is not the case. Many of us are finding it increasingly difficult to get to sleep at night. To further complicate matters, we tend to depend upon caffeine, cigarettes and sugar as a substitute for what only a good night's sleep can provide. Sleep patterns, thinking processes and mood are intimately related. Sleep deprivation makes us irritable, unable to think clearly and depressed. Many of us become so desperate to get a good night's sleep that we resort to medications, but are they really necessary? Perhaps the best medicine of all is to start really listening to your body instead of working against it.
How to Establish Good Sleep Patterns:
1. Establish a sleep schedule. Calculate a bedtime that will allow you to get this many hours and wake up at a reasonable hour (for example, when you need to get ready for work). Determine the number of hours you need to feel rested. Don't worry if you don't fit into the "norm" of eight hours. A good guideline to start with is how many hours you sleep when you "sleep in" on the weekends. The first day, wake yourself at the time you would like to be your usual waking time, whether you are rested or not.
2. Exercise. With many of us working in offices all day, we never actually do enough physical labor to tire our bodies so they can get a good sound night’s sleep. A good hard work out will make you tired a few hours later. Admittedly, most people find it easier to fit a workout into their morning schedule and be consistent about it. But if you can manage to workout a few hours before bedtime, it may help “wear you out” and make you tired. Weight lifting and swimming, or a really tough cardio workout can be great for inducing sleepiness afterwards. If you belong to a gym, indulge in a few minutes of sauna time after your workout. This will warm up and relax your muscles and further relax you and prepare you to rest.
3. Establish a bedtime ritual. A couple of hours before bedtime begin to allow you to wind down. A regular evening ritual can help you relax and will signal your body that it's time to rest. (By the way, this works great with small children too.)
4. Avoid naps. Do not take a nap during the day, no matter how tired you get. This only makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep at night. It may also offset your nightly routine and sleep schedule since you won’t get tired until much later.
5. Avoid caffeine. Limit your intake of caffeine. Do not consume any caffeine after mid-afternoon. Its effects can take hours to wear off. You will eventually find that you are getting enough rest and don't need an extra boost in the morning to wake up.
6. Try natural sleep aids. Melatonin supplements taken near bedtime help the body fall asleep. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone associated with the sleep cycle. Your body starts to produce it when the sun goes down to signal the system that it’s time to sleep. As we age we produce less and less melatonin. Melatonin supplements work best if you take them about 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep, then lie down in a dark room to replicate the natural processes. If you continue to move around in a lighted room they will not be as effective. Melatonin can be purchased rather inexpensively over the counter at most pharmacies.
Kava Kava, Valerian or chamomile tea produce calming effects. A hot bath or a massage is great for warming and relaxing the muscles. This can be particularly helpful for someone who can’t sleep due to stress or anxiety.
7. Avoid sleeping pills. Avoid artificial sleep medications, tranquilizers, or alcohol. Although you may fall asleep, your sleep will not be gentle and natural. You will feel groggy in the morning. Many of these aids produce only light sleep, not the deep, RAM sleep that we need in order for our bodies to repair themselves and to feel rested in the morning. Most tranquilizers and alcohol have a tolerance effect – it takes more and more of the chemical to get the same effect.
8. Get up. If you are unable to get to sleep, get up and do something else until you become tired. Lying in the bed tossing and turning just frustrates you further and reinforces that the bed is for tossing and turning instead of sleeping. If you are troubled by racing thoughts that just won't stop, get up and do something to keep you occupied until the thoughts subside. They'll pass much more quickly if you don't lie in bed worrying about worrying, or worrying about not getting enough sleep.
9. Only use the bedroom for sleep. Try to do other activities in another area of the house so your body learns that the bed is for sleeping and nothing else.
10. Practice yoga, meditation and other quiet practices. Yoga not only calms the mind, but exercises the body so both are ready for a good night's sleep. Meditation also quiets the mind and slows it down, preparing it for sleep.
11. Try to sleep with the sun. When the sun goes down, so should you. When the sun comes up, so should you. Read #6 above more information about Melatonin production. Your body was made to rise and sleep with the movement of the sun. If you are staying out all night then sleeping until noon to compensate, this may be disturbing nature's sleep rhythms. (This is why they pay extra for working the graveyard shift. They know how hard it is on you.) This is also another reason to maintain the same sleep pattern on the weekends.
12. Use sound. Sounds strongly affect mood. Soothing music or natural sounds of rain or rhythmic ocean waves can quiet your mind and signal to your body that it is time to sleep. White noise can also be used to drown out street noises, the neighbors, the dripping faucet and other distractions that can annoy or irritate your mind. You don't have to buy a white noise machine. Turning on a fan, vent or other humming noise can sometimes do the trick.
13. Make sure the bedroom is dark. Use draperies or curtains which darken the room. This further communicates to the body that melatonin production should increase in preparation for sleep.
14. Avoid graphic movies, television shows or video games just before going to bed. If nightmares are a problem, check what you are watching. Computer programmers have an acronym, GIGO, which means "Garbage In, Garbage Out". I once had a client who was experiencing nightmares every night. We eventually determined that she was watching horror flicks every night before bed. When the horror flicks stopped, so did the nightmares.
1. Don't despair if you have to go sleepy for a couple of days to get back on track. For most people, these steps will work if followed faithfully.
2. Keep a regular schedule, even on weekends. If you do, every day will feel as glorious as "sleeping in" on the weekends.
3. If keeping a regular sleep schedule is not working for you, consult an expert for further assistance. Certain sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, have been associated with depression.
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