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Overcome… Insomnia: advice to beat resetlessness

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by Samantha Wong

The most well recognised cause of insomnia is… you guessed it, stress. Both acute insomnia, which lasts a few days, and chronic insomnia, which renders you unable to get a good night’s sleep for a month or more, are often the result of long, demanding working hours, problems at home, or quite simply an overly busy lifestyle.

Studies show that women are more likely to have insomnia than men. Older people, those in pain and people suffering from depression are also particularly susceptible.

Doctors will tell you that a great many medications can cause insomnia as a side effect. Cold medications are the most common culprits. Certain anti-depressants can also cause wakefulness if taken at night, and several of the antihypertensives (used to treat high blood pressure) can result in poor quality of sleep.

Lifestyle changes

To combat the problem, step one is to regulate your lifestyle. Our circadian rhythms vary throughout the day, causing us to feel sleepy at certain times and awake at others. Irregular habits disrupt that, so try to regulate what time you go to bed and what time you get up.

Take a look too at what you eat and drink and when. Avoid eating late at night because this will mean your body is active (busy digesting) right when you want to rest. And take care with alcohol. Although it will make you feel sleepy initially, it can lead to poor sleep quality and tiredness in the morning.

Of course, caffeine can keep you up at night, so have your last cup of coffee at 6pm or even earlier if you are sensitive to it. Substitute with natural teas – try chamomile which is commonly regarded as a mild tranquiliser or sleep inducer. Be sure to drink a glass of water right before bed, and keep a jug of fresh water on your nightstand.

Interestingly, the old wives’ tale about warm milk making you feel sleepy holds true. Milk contains tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin, a neurotransmitter which can help with sleep.

But back to what you should and should not eat. Reduce your meat intake, eat more vegetables and clear sugar from your diet. Sugar makes adults hyper – not just kids – so sleeplessness is another good reason to cut it out.

Carbohydrates like rice and cereal will aid sleep, but if you’re after a healthy night-time snack, try cherries. They contain melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

Tried and-tested remedies

And what about sleeping pills? Although night sedation is very effective, the more recent medications don’t last very long and you’ll find you wake early in the morning. The older medications, like benzodiazepines and sedating antihistamines, have a risk of morning sedation or hangover. In general, you should take sleeping pills as seldom as possible and in the smallest dose that will work. Some sleeping pills are addictive and most tend to work less effectively the longer you use them.

It’s important, of course, that you’re sufficiently tired physically (not just mentally weary) to need a full night’s sleep. Insomniacs often benefit from regular exercise, which allows them to burn off excess energy.

There’s some truth too in the sedative power of counting sheep. If you find yourself unable to drop off, don’t just lie there fretting – think about something else, or get up and walk around for 10 minutes or so.

Any technique that involves creating a relaxed environment (internally as well as externally) is worth a try. Many insomniacs find meditation beneficial since it clears and quiets the mind, and helps regulate breathing and overcome stress. Alternatively, treat yourself to a massage a couple of evenings a week, sign up for a course of yoga, or book in for some reiki healing.

Whatever you do, don’t resort to watching TV in bed, or switching on your phone or computer when you wake in the night. Your gadgets will stimulate your brain and make you feel energised; they will not help you sleep. In fact, it’s a good idea to make your bedroom a tech free zone.

Bedroom makeovers

Speaking of the bedroom, invest in a quality mattress and some new pillows. Install blinds or even shutters to shut out any light from the street. Take a look at the decor too, and change things up a bit. Moving the furniture around, or giving the walls a fresh coat of paint will help create a new atmosphere which you may find is more conducive to sleep.

Better still take a look at your bedroom’s feng shui – this comprehensive ‘rule book for living’ has been around for centuries, so by following its advice, you might well find some relief.

Feng shui says that your bedroom is the space that symbolises you and affects you the most. It follows then that if the feng shui isn’t right, if the positive energy isn’t flowing, your ability to sleep will be compromised.

First step is to get your bed in the ‘command position.’ This means placing it so you can see the entry door (anyone coming in) when you are lying in bed. But don’t place your bed so that it directly faces the door, do this and you’ll be lying in the position of the dead – you’ll be ready ‘to go feet first.’ Generally speaking, when you face your bed west, you create the best conditions for a good night’s sleep.

If the bedroom is big enough, leave a space on both sides of the bed. Energy needs to flow all around you when you’re sleeping, so keep the space under your bed clutter-free too.

In terms of what you want to see in your bedroom, go with restful, earthy tones. Feng shui masters will tell you that stark white walls are too mentally stimulating. Off-white, cream and chocolate brown spaces promote peaceful vibes.

You want your bedroom to be a sanctuary, somewhere that makes you feel relaxed, somewhere you are happy to sleep in. You’re seeking harmony and balance, so be sure to nourish your senses. Play some soothing tunes, layer soft and inviting fabrics and burn sweet-smelling essential oils. Putting a few drops of lavender or rosemary essential oil on your temples and on your pillow before you go to bed can help you get a good night’s rest.

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