Expert advice for when you’re having trouble sleeping
-Oct 11, Caroline Blight, Health -
There are few situations more infuriating than lying awake for most of the night. Not being able to sleep at night or randomly waking up and failing to nod off again can leave you exhausted and anxious. But turning to prescription sleeping pills can be a worry too, so we asked a leading sleep author fo advice on natural ways to nod off.
“In this day and age the two main causes of sleeplessness are worry and or anxiety and not taking sleep seriously,” sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley, author of How to Sleep Well tells Lumity. “Sleep has become the thing you have to do at the end of the day rather than something good in itself. We have so many distractions which all superficially seem more exciting than going to sleep and so our sleep can suffer.”
Not sleeping can lead to more sleepless nights
Once you have endured several sleepless nights it can feel like you will never sleep again. And if you feel not sleeping leads to more not sleeping you would be right. “Many people with sleep troubles have basically ‘forgotten’ how to get a good night’s sleep,” confirms Dr Stanley. “Something triggered and then that poor sleep behaviour became a habit. This is why Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can work, it helps people learn how to sleep well again.” There are now apps which can help you with this therapy, try CBT-I app sleepful.me
What could be causing you not to sleep?
The best way to begin treating sleep issues is attempt to understand what is causing it in the first place. There are many variables which can cause you to not sleep well : stress – including worrying about if you will sleep, environmental factors like noise or temperature, medication side effects, hormones, or disruption to your regular sleep pattern perhaps from travelling or shift work. Depression, chronic pain and other health issues can also cause a problem sleeping.
First think about your environment, are you physically uncomfortable in bed? A mattress which is too firm or soft, pillows which don’t support your head properly or a room which is the wrong temperature can all make sleeping deeply for long periods difficult. If your bedroom is noisy at night ear plugs or a white noise generator can be helpful so nothing suddenly stirs you.
If you are getting up in the night because you need the bathroom and finding it hard to get back to sleep then it’s worth cutting out caffeine and alcohol in the afternoons and evenings as both increase bedtime urination. Perhaps you just can’t stop thinking and your overactive mind is keeping you up, in which case relaxational breathing techniques and stretching or yoga before bed can help calm the mind as much as the body. Also think about banning screens for at least an hour before bed, so you are not mulling over emails and new information just before you try and sleep and also because their blue light can prevent your body from getting ready for sleep.
Your diet and sleep
Stress and bad dietary habits often go hand-in-hand and then feeling tired is added into the mix which can lead to more bad eating habits. And so the cycle begins again because poor nutrition can make sleeping tricky. “A normal healthy diet provides every vitamin and micronutrient that you need is needed to get good sleep,” says Dr Stanley.
Eating a large meal at bedtime can cause your body to go into overdrive trying to digest it so try and eat at least four hours before bedtime and keep your biggest meal of the day to lunchtime.
Natural cures for sleeplessness
“Essentially what you think works for you, works,” says Dr Stanley. “There is limited scientific evidence for most natural cures but if you feel that by taking this or doing that helps you sleep that I am not going to tell you otherwise!”
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic herb which is thought to help the body deal with stress. Valerian is a sedative herb with a long history of being used to combat insomnia.
Relaxation techniques can be highly beneficial. From breathing techniques to repeating a mantra over and over which can block out all the thoughts which are keeping you up. Taking time to switch off with a bath or some quiet me time can make a massive difference.
It’s important not to get hung up on whether these cures are working or not because that won’t help matters. “There are many ’rules’ about what you should do and what you shouldn’t do with regards to getting good sleep but we are all individuals and so we all need to find what works for us,” explains Dr Stanley. “Some people are very sensitive to the effects of caffeine and so they should find the time from which they should avoid coffee. Other people can have two double expressos every night and sleep like a baby. Listen to your body and do what is right for you.”
One of the leading causes of not sleeping is worrying about is not sleeping so accepting it’s happening and is miserable but not life threatening, is important too. One of our experts told us once that whenever she can’t sleep she tells herself she will close her eyes for ten minutes and if she’s still awake she will get up and do her taxes. Apparently it always does the trick and she’s asleep within minutes!