4 Steps to a Good Night’s Sleep

There are many reasons why some people don’t sleep. Are you a natural born lark or owl?  Do you need twelve hours of sleep or five? Do you fall asleep but wake up several times at night or do you have trouble even falling asleep?

It’s first helpful to identify the problem(s) keeping you awake. By looking at a combination of several things you can start to build a strategy for bedtime and sleep.

Common reasons for not sleeping

    1. Thyroid problems
    2. Stress or depression
    3. Side effects from medication
    4. Allergies
    5. Sleep apnea (Lack of oxygen or breathing incorrectly, especially while sleeping).
    6. Jet lag
    7. Menopause
    8. Clock watching
    9. Too much caffeine or alcohol
    10. A snoring or restless partner
    11. Smoking
    12. Shift work
    13. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
    14. An over active bladder or prostate issues
    15. Lack of physical exercise
    16. Cramp or restlessness

Step 1: Develop Better Daytime Habits

  • Don’t nap during the day. Napping during the day will throw off your body clock and make it even more difficult to sleep at night. If you’re feeling especially tired and absolutely have to nap, do so for less than 30 minutes and keep it early.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol. Although alcohol may initially act as a sedative, it can interrupt normal sleep patterns. Some people are so sensitive that even one cup of tea or coffee during day can affect their sleep. There are some herbal teas that help relax the body and don’t have the stimulating effect of caffeinated drinks.
  • Don’t smoke. Nicotine is a stimulant and can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. Smokers often has difficultly sleeping due to nighttime withdrawal symptoms.
  • Medication Many medications can have the side-effect of disrupting sleep patterns, so always check the small print and keep yourself informed. Famous culprits include antidepressants, heart and blood pressure medications, allergy medications, stimulants (such as Ritalin) and corticosteroids. Some OTC medications, including some pain medication combinations, decongestants and weight-loss products contain caffeine and other stimulants. Antihistamines may initially make you groggy, but can worsen urinary problems, causing you to get up to pee more at night!
  • Expose yourself to bright light/sunlight soon after waking up. This will help regulate your body’s natural biological clock. On the flip side, keep your bedroom dark while you’re sleeping so the light won’t interfere with your rest.
  • Exercise early in the day. Twenty to thirty minutes of exercise every day can help you sleep, but be sure to exercise in the morning or afternoon. Exercise stimulates the body and aerobic activity before bed may make falling asleep more difficult.
  • Check your iron levels. Iron-deficient women tend to have more problems sleeping, so if your blood is iron poor, a supplement might help your ability to sleep.
  • Magnesium is the mineral to help your body release tension and relax. Cramps, tight muscles and insomnia are all signs you may need to add supplemental magnesium into your day.
  • B vitaminsResearch has shown that maintaining sufficient levels of Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B9 and B12 may help achieve good sleep. B vitamins help regulate the body’s level of tryptophan, an amino acid important for maintaining healthy sleep. Vitamin B3 (niacin) often promotes sleep in people who have insomnia caused by depression and increases effectiveness of tryptophan and is an important nutrient to help people who fall asleep rapidly but keep waking up at the night. A deficiency of B5 (pantothenic acid) can cause sleep disturbances and fatigue, so keeping good levels can support your body in time of stress and anxiety. Vitamin B9 (folic acid) deficiency has been linked to insomnia. Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is reported to help insomniacs who have problems falling asleep, as well as promoting normal sleep-awake cycles.
  • Eat to enhance sleep. Some foods are more conducive to a better night’s sleep than others. You already knew about warm milk, chamomile tea and turkey, but bananas, potatoes, oatmeal and whole-wheat bread are great food too. Avoid food with additives like MSG, colours, aspartame, or food/drinks that cause you digestive problems
  • The power of herbs. Some herbs are classified as nervine herbs and are known to help tone, relax and strengthen your nervous system  They’re generally considered safe and non-addictive. These herbs are not hypnotics and will not “put you to sleep”, but rather help relax and assist the body in preparing for sleep. These include; chamomile, red bush, valerian, lemon balm, passionflower and skullcap.

Step 2: Create A Better Sleep Environment

  • Make sure your bed is large enough and comfortable. Disturbed by a restless bedmate? Switch to a queen or king-size bed. Test different mattresses and try therapeutic-shaped foam pillows that cradle your neck or extra pillows that help you sleep on your side.
  • Be careful of allergies. Some people are allergic to feathers and down, wool, nylon or dust, so make sure that materials used on your bed are right for you.
  • Make your bedroom a place for sleeping. Don’t use your bed for paying bills, doing work or watching movies. Help your body recognise that this is a place for rest or intimacy!
  • Keep your bedroom peaceful and comfortable. Make sure your room is well-ventilated and the temperature consistent. Keep it quiet. You could use a fan or a “white noise” machine to help block outside noises.
  • Hide your clock. A big, illuminated digital clock may cause you to focus on the time, making you feel stressed and anxious. Place your clock so you can’t see the time when in bed.
  • Electromagnetic smog.  Electro-smog is the collective term for all artificially generated electrical, magnetic and electro-magnetic fields. Electro-smog is invisible, inaudible and odorless, but omnipresent. Examples of its sources are all kinds of domestic electrical installations, cordless telephones, mobile phones, baby intercoms, TV, radar and radio communications. It’s been estimated that a small percentage of people may have sleep disturbance, fatigue, increased concentration of stress, headaches and skin irritation linked to influences like electromagnetic smog, and eliminating these devices from your sleep area may help.
  • Blocking out noise and light. A dark room is an important part of regulating Melatonin ( the natural sleep hormone) levels. Having trouble falling or staying asleep may be due to an environmental issue like too much light. Eye masks or blackout curtains can help.  Also make sure to turn off mobile phones, fans and machines that create noises that could disrupt you.     

Step 3: Do These Things When You Wake in the Middle of the Night

  • Get out of bed if unable to sleep. Don’t lie in bed awake. Go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy. Worrying about falling asleep actually keeps many people awake.
  • Don’t do anything stimulating. Don’t read anything job related or watch a stimulating TV program. Don’t expose yourself to bright light as this gives cues to your brain that it’s time to wake up.
  • Toilet breaks. If you need to go to the bathroom, don’t switch the light on. Consider a dim night light that can light your way and will automatically switch off.
  • Get up and eat l-tryptophan.  Some people get tired after eating a turkey meal as it is a major building block for making serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps promote sleep. We don’t always have turkey in the fridge, but another common source is pumpkin seeds and dairy products.
  • Consider changing your bedtime. Some people need more sleep than others. If you suffer from sleeplessness or insomnia consistently, think about going to bed later so that the time you spend in bed is actually spent sleeping. If you only get five hours sleep every night, figure out what time you need to get up and subtract five hours (for example, if you want to get up at 6:00 am, go to bed at 1:00 am). This may seem counterproductive and at first but it can help train your body to sleep consistently while in bed. When you are spending all of your time in bed sleeping, you can gradually sleep more by adding 15 minutes at a time.
  • Owl or lark? People are naturally Night Owls and others Larks! Which one are you? Some people find they are natural Night Owls and work better at this time of day. You might find it best to create your lifestyle around your particular sleep patterns.

Step 4: Keep a Sleep Diary 

Learn about your sleep patterns and habits by keeping a daily sleep diary. Be sure to include:

  • Time you went to bed and woke up
  • Total sleep hours
  • Quality of sleep
  • What is hormonal cycle right now?
  • Times that you were awake during the night and what you did (e.g. stayed in bed with eyes closed or got up, had a glass of milk and meditated)
  • Amount of caffeine or alcohol you consumed and times of consumption
  • Types of food and drink and times of consumption
  • Feelings – happiness, sadness, stress, anxiety
  • Drugs or medications taken, amounts taken and times of consumption
  • Did herbal teas (chamomile, peppermint, valerian, passionflower or skullcap) before bed help?
  • Does B vitamins help?
  • Taking Magnesium before bed time work for you.
  • Try a combination of herbal teas, B vitamins and magnesium?
  • Check your room for noise and light issues
  • Check your room for gadgets that would give off electro-magnetic fields
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