Choosing Better Sleep Habits
By: Beth McHugh 2006
Getting a sound night’s sleep is crucial to mental and physical health. Studies show that even one night of broken or poor sleep lowers our IQ by up to 5 points. If you think that you “just can’t think straight” after a restless night in bed, you are right!
Lack of sleep also exacerbates pre-existed emotional problems such as anxiety, mood disorders, and depression. So it’s important to regularly get those eight hours of regenerative peace in. Here are some tips on inviting Mr. Sandman to call on you.
- Heavy meals encourage poor digestion as the body
is called upon to focus on the energy-consuming act of digestion,
which keeps the body unnecessarily alert and thus makes sleep more
elusive. Four course meals that linger on into the night are no-nos.
Try to complete your evening meal by 8pm.
- A light snack an hour before bedtime which includes
carbohydrate and tryptophan-rich foods can improve sleep quality.
An example would be a low-fat cracker with cheese and a glass of milk.
Warm milk is even more effective that cold milk as heating releases
sleep-promoting chemicals. If you don’t like the taste of warm
milk there are many delicious products available to add to milk. If
you are prone to chronic insomnia do not choose one rich in caffeine,
such as coffee or chocolate.
- Avoid overstimulating T.V. shows or DVDs that keep
you on the edge of your seat. Watching violent crime shows, disturbing
documentaries, and horror movies late into the evening will leave
you with a sea of stress hormones to deal with in the bedroom. Watch
these shows earlier in the day when they will have no effect on your
- Massage is an excellent stress-reducer and sleep-inducer.
Muscle tension is reduced and the rhythmic movements of massage are
both comforting and relaxing. Having a massage once a week will significantly
reduce your stress levels which in turn will promote longer, deeper
sleep. If you cannot access a masseur or persuade a family member
to give you a massage, give yourself one!
Although not quite as relaxing as the real thing, you can still loosen tight muscles and knots throughout your body. Try rubbing your neck and shoulders, the tops of your thighs, the sides of your ribs, and the solar plexus area just beneath your breastbone. Lastly, massage your feet. Ten minutes on each foot while lying in bed will provide considerable relaxation to the whole body.
- Light exercise such as walking or yoga will help
to reduce body tension and encourage a full night’s sleep. Avoid
heavy exercise as this has a tendency to actually wake the body up
and re-set the body’s internal clock. In either case, keep exercise
to early in the evening, not immediately prior to bedtime.
- Write down any problems that are bothering you.
Often during the day the distractions of our work can help us to dismiss
our problems. But as night closes in, often so do the walls of our
minds. Many a sleepless night has been caused by relentlessly going
over our problems and sleep becomes impossible.
Take time out during the day to think about your problems. However, if you are still plagued by endless thoughts of worry at day’s end, spend time before you get into bed and jot them down on a piece of paper. Doing this won’t solve the problems of course, but it will help you to get them out of your head once you can see them written down in front of you. This simple technique is very useful for reducing the well-known phenomenon of problems going “round and round” inside your head.
Tidying up at the end of the day, whether it’s the kitchen or workspace at home will also assist in getting a good night’s sleep. The act of cleaning and tidying provides gentle exercise. The feeling of a sense of control on completion of thee tasks will help you drift off to sleep knowing that all is well in your working world. The knowledge of being able to wake up to an organized, uncluttered environment will also impart peace of mind.
Listening to relaxing, peaceful music is calming at any time of day, but particularly at night. Because music addresses one of your primary senses, it has a very powerful effect on mood. So choose quiet, relaxing music to help you to switch from harried to harmonious.