Yes, you desperately need and deserve those “me” minutes, but doing something good for yourself can actually backfire when your evening is as full as a workday (dinner prep, eating, story time with little ones, homework with bigger ones). Once the house is finally quiet, you’ll want to catch up on your emails, do more of that creative hobby you enjoy, watch some TV, call your sister, or just talk to your husband. You should! Just be more strategic about it.
Small bites of scheduled “me” time throughout the day can satisfy the yen the same way that five to 10-minute bouts of exercise throughout the day can add up to fitness. Every morning, make a point to get up 15 minutes before your family, listen to a recorded book on your commute, or set aside 15 minutes at lunch.
Set an alarm on your mobile phone for a predetermined amount of time for the chores that eat up your nights, and get the whole family involved. Your kids can unload the dishwasher; your husband can make their lunches for tomorrow. When the timer dings, you’re done – and ready to decompress.
Tablets, mobile phones, laptops – whether you’re using them for work, social media, an addiction to Candy Crush, or streaming videos via a lit-up screen, they can be next to impossible to turn off at night. They keep you up because they’re stimulating, and the short wavelength (blue) light suppresses melatonin, your body’s sleep-inducing hormone. Now e-readers have been added to the list of sleep saboteurs too. A US study found that, compared with those who read printed books, users of e-readers that emitted light felt less drowsy in the evening, took longer to fall asleep, and were sleepier and less alert the next morning – even after eight hours in bed!
To prevent the sleep-quashing effect of blue light, you should power down all of your electronics at least an hour (ideally two hours) before bedtime. After you’re exposed to two hours of blue light, your melatonin drops by 23 per cent, according to research.
Alternatively, you can buy a pair of glasses that block blue light. In a study published in Chronobiology International, people who wore these glasses before going to bed every night for two weeks enjoyed a three-point jump (on a 10-point scale) in sleep quality, and their daytime moods were happier.
Allergies and congestion
Lying down can start a cascade of sleep disruptions in sufferers. The mucus draining from your nose (postnasal drip) collects in your throat, causing you to cough, while your nasal passages become congested, making it hard to breathe. You toss and turn (and snort and snore) through the night, waking up feeling dopey (and perhaps facing a grumpy bed partner).
You may need to be referred by your GP to an allergy specialist to identify your triggers. If you’re sensitive to pollen, keep your bedroom window closed when your particular offender is in bloom. But if indoor allergens bother you – dust mites, pet dander, mould – you need to encase your mattress and pillows (with no feathers) in protective covers, vacuum your bedroom with a machine that has a HEPA filter, and wipe down surfaces frequently.
Using a saline spray during the day and before bed may be enough to thin secretions, but, if not, a prescription nasal spray (possibly in combo with an antihistamine) can help you breathe freely.
Although it’s called “silent”, the telltale signs are an annoying cough and a need to keep clearing your throat when you lie down. It can disrupt your sleep as much as regular heartburn, which also causes indigestion and a burning sensation in your throat and chest.
Both types of heartburn are the result of stomach acid backing up into the oesophagus and throat (reflux).
If you’re overweight, then losing a few kilos can make a difference to night-time symptoms. Quitting smoking will help too. Plus, eat dinner at least three hours before bedtime, so there’s time for digestion. Avoid fats, citrus fruits, spicy or tomato-based foods, chocolate, mints, fizzy drinks, alcohol and caffeine. Elevate the head of your bed 10-15cm, or sleep on a wedge-shaped pillow. Gravity will help keep stomach acids where they belong.
Get the car serviced. Call the vet. Make cupcakes for the school fete. When you turn out the lights, do you turn on your list, churning over how you’re going to fit three days’ worth of to-dos into a three-hour slot?
Or do you replay regrets. Worrying about things that need to be done – or what you wish you hadn’t done – fuels insomnia in many women. And it can become self-reinforcing. The more you agitate, the less you sleep; the less you sleep, the more stressed you feel. Stress creates a negative cycle that’s hard to break.
Meditation helps you get off the worry treadmill, shifting your brain from wakeful beta waves to the slower, more restful type that come on as you’re getting drowsy, says research scientist Dr Bruce O’Hara. Any type of meditation that focuses on breathing can help you fall asleep, and if you wake in the night, “You can do it again,” he says. You don’t need a lot of time or training either. Dr O’Hara speculates that even five minutes of meditation can shift the brain to a relaxed state more conducive to sleep.
If you can’t “turn off your head enough to override your internal chatter,” try a little music, says sleep expert Dr Helene Emsellem. “Download a short, soothing playlist, and listen on an MP3 player in the dark,” she says. “It’s the only exception I make to the ‘no electronics at bedtime’ rule.”
If you sleep with a dog or a cat, you would already know that its whimpering, nudging, snoring and peculiar hours interfere with your rest. One US survey found that 63 per cent of pet owners who slept with their pet more than four nights a week said they slept poorly.
A dog will be easier to train than a cat. Set up a separate dog bed, and lavish your pet with attention when it lies down on it. You’ll probably have to banish your cat from the bedroom altogether. Lure her to another part of the house with a special bed and toys.