Part 1 of 3 Sleep Series
Insomnia and lack of restful sleep
Who hasn’t from time to time suffered a sleepless night? Then there are those of us whom sleep seems so elusive we wonder if it exists at all. Other times we sleep but are haunted by nightmares night after night.
First and foremost I would like to say that you should seek a medical professional for persistent sleep issues. There are many real sleep disorders that should not go untreated. If you believe you have a sleep disorder you should also seek medical advice from a professional. Some sleep disorders are very serious and can be life threatening. A serious sleep disorder is sleep apnea. This is when the sleeper actually stops breathing for long periods of time and treatment requires a CPAP machine that you can only get with a prescription and that needs to be calibrated by a specialist.
Chronic insomnia is another very serious disorder. I have gone days without being able to sleep and that leads to hallucinations among other things. When in doubt see your doctor or professional medical practitioner. You may be sent for a sleep study.
In this part we will discuss the physical and mundane things we can do to get better quality sleep.
Keeping your room a peaceful and tranquil space is pertinent to getting a good rest. Bedrooms should be only used for sleep and sex. Studies show how electronics including TV’s have a detrimental effect on our sleep. Even alarm clocks can disrupt sleep cycles. Keep your cell phone, computers, laptops, TV, tablets, e-readers etc. out of your bedroom. When we play with our devices at night, we are conditioning our brains to associate the bedroom with those activities instead of sleep. Even reading a book in bed can disrupt our sleep. Read in another room until you are ready to actually go to sleep. It can take some time to re-condition our brains to associate the bedroom with sleep.
The room itself should have soft colours and dark curtains. The curtains are important especially if you have light coming in at night. The tiny bit of light from a streetlamp can cause problems with falling into deep sleep. Try your very best to have a comfortable bed. I know buying a new bed is not feasible for some folks, but you could add a mattress topper that makes it more comfortable.
Also, try to buy the best quality sheets you can afford. Soft sheets of quality cotton makes the body feel comfortable and keeps your body temperature at an optimum level. Not too hot but not too cold. Try to find an alarm clock with a softer light setting so your room stays dark and you don’t have bright red numbers on your bedside table. Also the clocks that feature an alarm that starts off with a low sound and gradually gets louder is great because you are not jolted awake which can be shocking to your system and kick in adrenaline.
If you live somewhere where there is a lot of outside noise, you can get a white noise sound machine. This blocks out the other noise allowing you to sleep peacefully.
Keep your room at the optimal sleeping temperature at night. 65-72°F is recommended. The reason why is because our bodies naturally cool off just before sleep and keeping the room cool allows the body to regulate temperature to encourage deeper sleep. This is a general overview. There are many resources that explain in greater detail.
Following your circadian rhythm is important as well, however, few of us are able to do it. Scientists say that our bodies will naturally start to cool off and get ready for sleep before 10pm. Going to bed at 10pm is supposed to be the optimal time to get the best quality sleep, ensure REM and deep sleep.
However, in this day and age many of us cannot be in bed by 10pm. We have too many chores to do after work and then the dishes need to be done and by the time we can actually sit down to decompress from the day it is 11pm or later. Shift work is also a reality that wreaks havoc on our sleep cycles.
I do find that having a routine every night and going to bed at the same time every night has improved my sleep quality. You should also try getting up at the same time every day as well. This regulation is helpful to tell your brain when it’s awake and when it should be preparing for sleep.
Some people may also benefit from aromatherapy. Lavender is purported as a wonderful sleep aid. May use a little oil in a diffuser in their rooms before bed, or tuck dried lavender in a sachet and place it under the pillow.
Lavender is not for everyone. Some people are groaning right now at just the thought of smelling it. Bergamot is my favourite alternative to lavender. Bergamot has a beautiful citrus aroma without being stimulating like other citrus scents. In place of a sachet you can put a few drops on a cotton ball and tuck that under your pillow or inhale the scent through a diffuser. You can even just smell it straight from the bottle as you prepare for bed. A cup of chamomile tea is also helpful before bed as it calms the nerves and shakes off the stress that might keep us up.
Lastly, put your electronic devices down an hour before bed. Using our phones, tablets etc. disrupt our sleep as well as delay when we get sleepy to start with. Try reading a real book or even a magazine. The only thing I recommend here is that you don’t read a book that is a page turner before bed. You know how hard it is to put down, so read something a little less interesting. Even a book of short stories is great because you can get to the end of one without staying up too late.
If you have any other tips to share for better sleep please leave them in the comments!
May your sleep be restful.