The feeling of desperation that a sleepless night can bring is something one in three adults knows too well. That’s how many of us have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep or feeling refreshed by sleep—all symptoms of insomnia.
Women tend to have more difficulty than men, especially during menopause when hot flushes and night sweats can disturb slumber. New research also suggests genetics play a role and insomnia conditions can actually be passed down through families, with XXs more influenced than XYs. Enough background info, though: you’re here for solutions. Read on for easy ways to take back the night. Sweet dreams!
Get consistent sunlight
A happy bedtime starts at dawn. Sunlight sets your body clock, which determines when vital sleep hormones like melatonin trigger a nighttime drift towards dreamland. Get up at the same time, regardless of what day it is or how much you’ve slept, then head outdoors for a brisk walk or brekkie to get some sunshine within an hour of waking up.
Seriously, skip the lie-in
Social jetlag. Put simply, this describes the discrepancy between your body and life clocks – when things like a late night movie or dinner throws the first out of whack. “If you regularly stay up later, your body clock gets used to that,” says Professor Dorothy Bruck from the Sleep Health Foundation. “You accumulate a sleep debt in the week, then sleep in on the weekend. It’s not a healthy way to treat your body clock.” Keep your wake-up time consistent, even on Sunday, and have a short nap later, if needs be.
Pick smart bedtime snacks
It’s all about mixing carbs and protein. About an hour before hitting the hay, eat a small bowl of low-sugar (less than 5g) wholegrain cereal with milk. Cereal’s carbs boost sleep-inducing serotonin in the brain, milk’s tryptophan converts to serotonin, while its calcium and magnesium are calming. A dream combination.
Manage your expectations
It’s actually okay if you wake in the night. In fact, it’s to be expected. “People think a good night’s sleep means being dead to the world the entire time, but sleep occurs in cycles and the second half of the night is often a lot lighter,” explains Bruck. The secret is tapping into how you feel. Wide-awake? Rather than continually clock-watching, get up (keeping the lights low) and read until you’re sleepy again. Lying there but still dozy? Try this, says Bruck: “Slow your breathing and count your breaths one to 10, picturing each number in a different colour.” Chances are you won’t even make it to 10!
Make friends with yoga
Go on, unroll that mat. Studies show the deep breathing and meditation of yoga facilitate sleep. Actually, any kind of moderate exercise, including simple walking, done for 30 minutes five days per week promotes more sound Zs. What better reason to stroll home this eve?
Freshen your sheets
About 75% of people say they sleep better with fresh sheets, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Wash linens weekly and freshen the mattress by laundering its cover in hot water, then sprinkle the mattress with baking soda. Wait a few hours, then vacuum.
Turn off those devices
Yep, this advice again. Avoid computers, phones and tablets for an hour before hitting the sack. Light-emitting devices suppress sleep hormones and disturb deep sleep. Instead, pick up that paperback you’ve been meaning to finish—people who read printed books before bed drop off faster and are sharper the next day.
Try the smart sleep light
Tech-lovers, you’ll adore this. Prepare your body for quality sleep with the Drift Light bulb (around $34.50, drift-light.com). How it works? When you flick your light switch twice, it starts slowly dimming over a period of 37 minutes, mimicking the setting sun. Now that’s genius!
In Australia, supplements of the body clock-regulating hormone are available on prescription. “These can help people who need to shift their body clock or whose levels have decreased, but it doesn’t work for everyone,” says Bruck. “Behaviour change is really the most important thing when it comes to [rectifying] sleep problems.”
The SHUTi (Sleep Healthy Using the Internet) program helps people with insomnia using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In trials, participants fell asleep 40% faster after six 45-minute sessions. It’s run by a US company (shuti.me), but Aussies can order and get a discount via blackdoginstitute.org.au. Or, take an online sleep evaluation at sleepio.com.
These can help temporarily but don’t address the root cause. “They’re good for a short-term fix if people are struggling, because of illness, pain or bereavement,” says Bruck. There can be issues with dependency, though, so get advice from your GP first.