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Does sleep come naturally to you? If you answered “No”, welcome to the sleepless
club! Millions of people across the world suffer from insomnia and have trouble getting
good quality sleep almost every night.
Chronic sleep deprivation is no laughing matter. Medical research shows that it can
lead to a number of potential health problems ranging from hypertension to diabetes
to weight gain, just to cite a few. Therefore, there are more good reasons than ever
to overhaul your sleeping habits.
You know you have to avoid sleep saboteurs such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol
because they disturb your natural sleep cycle and rob you of deep restorative sleep.
And, you might have probably heard from a reliable source that vigorous exercise
and eating a large meal too close to bedtime are big no-nos. Or, you may have drug
yourself to sleep with over the counter medications and herbal teas. Despite following
all recommended advice, you simply cannot snooze. So what else can you do when you
just can’t fall asleep at night?
What Helps You Sleep Naturally?
Many of us have our own set of worries – financial concerns, relationship problems,
work pressures – in life but if you are able to let those negative thoughts go away,
it can help you sleep a whole lot better.
Worries and anxieties trigger the “fight or flight” mechanism in your body, releasing
chemicals (stress hormones, such as cortisol and norepinephrine) that prepare you
to be alert and ready for action. If this stress response, also known as hyperarousal
of the nervous system, continues over a long period of time, it can lead to chronic
insomnia and take a high toll on your physical health and mental well-being.
In this case, the best way to beat insomnia and get refreshing sleep is to allocate
some time, say 15 minutes, and write down any issues that are running through your
head. They may include work assignments and deadlines or to-dos. Writing your tasks
down before hitting the pillow not only makes them feel manageable, it can actually
help you to think more clearly and manage your problems more effectively.
Light stretching as well as gentle exercises like yoga and pilates relieves tension
and will help promote more restful sleep at night. Half inverted poses, reclined
clobber, yogic deep breathing and rolling your body into a ball are some examples
of simple yoga poses that help your body relax and get a good night's sleep.
You can also do these relaxation exercises. Stand with your feet hip-width apart,
and bend at your waist. Let your arms and head dangle while releasing the tension
in your neck and shoulders.
Or, lie down on your back in a comfortable position and do progressive muscle relaxation
by tensing and then releasing your body parts. Start with your lower body first (feet)
and slowly progress towards your forehead.
Aside from exercise, anything that makes you feel relaxed will also do wonders for
both insomnia and stress. For example, have a warm bath to prepare your body for
bed, or ask your partner to give you a relaxing body massage, or have sensual sex.
But avoid getting too athletic sex before bedtime as it may leave you revved up instead
of feeling relaxed.
Your insomnia may be due to environmental factors including light, noise and temperature.
To encourage deep and restful sleep, your bedroom should be a cocoon. Try to make
it as dark and as quiet as possible. Use blackout curtains to block from any light
from windows and create a dark environment that is conducive for sleep. Alternatively,
use an eyeshade to keep out early morning light, or use clips to keep curtains closed.
Also, avoid bright lights that signals the brain to be awake. It’s a good idea to
use no more than 45 to 60 watts of light in your bedroom when winding down and no
more than 30 to 40 watts of indirect light when you are trying to sleep.
If noise from an adjacent room is keeping you wide awake, then shift your bed to
another wall. If the source of noise cannot be eliminated, such as road traffic noise,
or your neighbor’s barking dogs, then mask the noise with recordings of soothing
sounds of nature – rain, waterfall, ocean waves – or use earplugs. If you use earplugs,
be very sure that they do not block out important noises like an alarm clock or fire
Things like sagging mattress, deflated pillows, scratchy sheets or unsuitable comforter
might also be disrupting your sleep in the middle of the night. Replace them and
choose soft, breathable cotton sheets and flannel sheets for the winter months.
Cold feet may also contribute to poor quality sleep. If it sounds like you, slip
on a pair of soft socks when you go to bed. This helps improve blood circulation
and warm up cold feet so you fall asleep faster.
Also, don’t forget to adjust your thermostat for better sleep. The best sleep-inducing
temperature is comfortably cool about 20 to 22 degrees Celsius.
If you can’t fall asleep in about 20 minutes, get out of your bed and do something
else in another room until you get drowsy. Whatever you choose to do, avoid electronic
media or activities that require concentration such as video games and television
since lit screens are highly stimulating and make it harder for you to fall asleep.
Do some light reading or listen to soft music instead.
Rather than relying on prescription or over the counter sleeping aids, you might
want to use natural ways that are proven to encourage deep peaceful sleep. Certain
foods such as turkey, milk, bananas, sunflower seeds and peanut butter contain tryptophan,
an amino acid that your body turns into sleep-inducing melatonin and serotonin. Serotonin
acts within your body to boost feelings of sleepiness, calm, and relaxation while
melatonin helps regulate sleep and wake cycles.
Have a light snack that has a concentrated dietary source of tryptophan along with
a healthy carbohydrate-rich food. A snack of cheese and crackers, or a small banana
sandwich, or plain yogurt sprinkled with sunflower seeds not only get you sleeping
like a baby in no time, it also keeps you comfortably full until breakfast.