Sleep is one of your most precious daily experiences. So much so, that when you fail to get a good night’s sleep over just a few days you can feel lethargic and lack alertness. Insomnia is considered chronic when it occurs on most nights for more than a month.
Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) is the most common sleep disorder in Australia, which, if left untreated, can have consequences that vary from tiredness and mood disorders to premature death. In its mild form, OSA is characterised by snoring resulting in daytime tiredness. In more severe cases, it can lead to obesity, hypertension, bladder problems and death from cardiovascular disease. Please get an assessment from your medical practitioner if unsure.
There are many ways to improve the quality of your sleep by making some simple changes to your approach. Make your way through this checklist to discover what changes you may need to consider.
· I make sleep a priority.
Sleep is not a luxury, but a priority. It has the power to restore alertness, rejuvenate, energise the mind, and improve mood, bodyweight, perception, memory, reaction time and creativity.
· I sleep at regular times each night.
Sleeping and waking at the same time each day is crucial to keep your biorhythms ‘in sync’. Research has shown that even a small change of a few hours in your sleep schedule can significantly impair your mood. That’s why shift workers are prone to anxiety and depression. To determine how much sleep you need, try going to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual and waking at the same time for a week. Then assess whether you feel more alert and refreshed. If you do, repeat this process until you feel totally energised and are able to sleep soundly and awaken spontaneously without an alarm clock.
· My bedroom is relaxing and free from stimulation and clutter.
Your bedroom needs to be your exclusive haven for rest, recovery and sleep.
· My bedroom is dark and quiet.
Keep it dark and quiet, as this sends a signal to the brain that its time to sleep.
. I close down electronic devices like ipads and pc's as they radiate a bright blue ray which disturbs the pineal gland and your secretion of melatonin. Alternatively, download f-lux on your device to keep the nrain thinking its nighttime!
· My bedroom is cool.
Check the temperature. An overly warm room can disrupt sleep. A cool room promotes a decline in body temperature, which is critical for a good night’s sleep. Keep in mind however, that your feet need to keep warm.
· I go to bed when I am sleepy.
Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy. It is common for people who are stressed or depressed to go to bed too early and spend too much time lying in bed.
· I manage my stress.
Winding down mentally as well as physically is essential prior to sleep. Get a regular massage or reflexology session. Join a yoga class to learn some helpful breathing techniques. Purchase a relaxation CD to use prior to sleep (visit www.yogalinks.net for Somnologix, a clinically proven relaxation CD).
· I avoid paying bills late at night or spending hours on the internet before bed.
Engaging in bedtime rituals like making a camomile tea or reading prepares the mind and body for a restful winding down. Try practicing candle gazing meditation for 2 minutes only to relax the mind. Download f-lux onto your computer to reduce blue rays disturbing your melatonin production.
· I avoid worrying all the time.
Give the worries you have in your head to God, the Universal Divine Energy or whoever … As the saying goes ‘god is up all night anyway’. Indulging your worries by feeding them attention will only serve to strengthen your tendency to worry. Try reading, listen to soothing music or practise a meditation.
· I avoid late night studying or watching television.
· I avoid caffeine drinks within 6 hours of bedtime.
· I avoid intake of alcohol 3 hours prior to sleep.
While alcohol may help you get to sleep, it causes sleep fragmentation and can leave you feeling like you have a hangover.
· I avoid smoking prior to sleep.
Apart from its carcinogenic properties, nicotine is an even stronger stimulant than caffeine. Research has shown that two pack a day smokers who quit cut the time they lay in bed awake by almost half.
· I exercise regularly.
Regular exercise improves sleep for two reasons. Firstly, it raises your endorphin levels, which in turn relaxes muscles, suppresses appetite and reduces pain. Secondly, exercise elevates your core body temperature. Five to six hours after a workout your temperature drops, inducing drowsiness. The ideal time to exercise for good sleep is midday or early afternoon. Morning exercise does little to improve sleep. Avoid strenuous exercise within 3 hours of bedtime, as the release of adrenaline can keep you alert.
· I follow a diet low in sugar, salt, preservatives and toxins.
In Chinese Medicine, insomnia results from an excess in heart-spleen deficiency or excess heart fire, because the kidney yin is unable to cool the fire. To clear the fire and promote good communication between heart and kidneys, introduce the following foods into your diet: asparagus, chicken, oysters, egg, wheat, bamboo shoots, bitter endive, royal jelly and pork. If you can’t get to sleep (and can tolerate dairy) get up, have a mug of warm milk with a pinch of saffron and nutmeg, then go back to bed. Also, checking you have enough magnesium in your diet is essential.
· I avoid food additives and some natural food chemicals.
Sleep disturbance, including difficulty settling to sleep and frequent night waking, is one of the main behavioural effects of artificial colours and other additives. People who are sensitive to additives may also be affected by some natural food chemicals, including salicylates, amines and glutamates. See scientific references below.
Which food chemicals?
Reactions to food chemicals are a pharmacological – or food intolerance – reaction, not an allergic reaction to the proteins in foods.
The foods and food chemicals that can be associated with sleep disturbance include:
· Artificial colours, natural colour annatto, preservatives, synthetic antioxidants, flavour enhancers and flavours (more details below).
· Naturally occurring chemicals called salicylates, amines and glutamates.
· Dairy foods are less likely to be a problem than additives and salicylates, although dairy foods as well as the food chemicals above may be strongly implicated with stuffy/runny nose, snoring and sleep apnoea.
· Wheat or gluten are less commonly a problem. However, wholegrain wheat in products such as wholemeal bread and cereals like Weetbix are likely to be more of a problem than refined wheat products.
· Sleep disturbance can also be the unintended side effects of the additives or active ingredients in medications, dental products and supplements.
· Some people are affected by VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) such as perfumes, fragranced toiletries (hairspray and air freshener), pesticides, household cleaners, renovation chemicals, and especially chemicals such as flame retardants in new mattresses and pillows.