800px-Jackie_Martinez_in_B&W_sleeping_with_a_book

800px-Jackie_Martinez_in_B&W_sleeping_with_a_bookInsomnia is a strange concept to me: I seem to be able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, because I’m a mum and we are chronically sleep-deprived! However, I do occasionally suffer from sleepless nights (that are not because of waking up for littlies) and I did suffer from mummy insomnia when my babies slept poorly, finding it difficult to fall asleep after multiple wakings, and feeling anxious at bedtime because of the anticipation of a wakeful night.

For those of you who suffer from insomnia on a regular basis, here are some evidence-based recommendations for you. There is no magic bullet for treating sleep problems, but perhaps there’s something here that you haven’t tried consistently. Give it a go. Some medical problems can cause insomnia, so see your GP if you’re concerned.

Change your bed associations

I’m pretty bad at this – you’re supposed to only be in bed for sleep (and sex!) but I spend a lot of time in bed reading. Apparently this is a no-no as the bed is then associated with being awake. If you’re feeling insomniac, try only getting into bed when you feel sleepy, and avoid spending longer than twenty minutes lying awake in bed. If you can’t fall asleep quickly, get out of bed, sit somewhere quiet and dark and listen to some music or boring talkback radio (avoid the temptation to start surfing the internet or watch TV).

Restrict your sleep

This sounds completely counter-intuitive for me, but I’m sure it works. If you’re struggling with insomnia, calculate how much sleep you’re actually getting each night (eg 6 hours). Then subtract this from your waking time, and only get into bed at that time. You can then start moving bedtime back by 15-20 minutes every night if you’re falling asleep easily. Try not to catch up on sleep during the day – save your sleep for night times. You should, however, aim to be in bed at least five hours before you’re supposed to be awake.

Sleep hygiene

1. Avoid caffeine six to eight hours before bedtime
2. Avoid nicotine before bed and throughout the night
3. Avoid alcohol before bed – it actually disrupts sleep more than it promotes sleep.
4. Exercise regularly but avoid exercising within 30 minutes of going to bed.
5. Keep your room slightly cool, and dark.
6. Allow an hour to unwind before bed – and try to ensure dim lighting or relative darkness during this time.
7. Maintain a regular sleep schedule – go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

Practise relaxation strategies

These help reduce adrenaline and help you sleep. Relaxation strategies might include progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness meditation, or whatever takes your fancy. Listen to a meditation or relaxation podcast and snooze away!

Do natural medicines help?

The evidence isn’t very strong for the use of natural medicines for sleep, but you could try lemon balm and valerian. Be aware that valerian can cause paradoxical agitation in some people. Melatonin seemed like a promising treatment for insomnia, but hasn’t quite met our expectations yet. However, you can boost your natural melatonin release at night by keeping the lighting down, getting some daylight exposure during the day, and eating foods high in tryptophan (the precursor of melatonin) – such as dairy, oats, turkey, fish, and pork. (This might be the reason why drinking a glass of warm milk helps you sleep!)

References:

Goodie, Jeffrey L., and Christopher L. Hunter. “Practical Guidance for Targeting Insomnia in Primary Care Settings.” Cognitive and Behavioral Practice (2014).
Photo credit: By mark sebastian (Flickr: Laziest. Model. Ever. (#6228)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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It’s true – possibly the easiest way to facilitate weight loss! You all know by now that I’m serious about healthy eating and exercise, but I also believe there is more to maintaining health than just what you put in your mouth and how active you are. Sleep is a big part of this; and a study has shown that women who get less than 6.5 hours sleep a night weigh more than women who get 8-8.5 hours a night. Sleep restriction may affect the hormones that control your metabolism and appetite. So if you’re struggling with weight loss, why not try fixing your sleep habits? Go to bed at the same time every day and aim to get your quota of sleep every day (for most people it’s probably eight hours, but this may vary. Be wary of overtiredness masking how much sleep you need – chronically sleep deprived people often feel like they need less sleep but actually their bodies are all out of whack). Getting enough sleep may also mean that you finally feel energetic enough to do some exercise! :)

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puppiessleeping

puppiessleepingAre you waking up exhausted? Finding it hard to make it through the day without multiple coffees? Feeling irritated and moody? Suffering from “brain fog”? Frequently sleepy? Finding it difficult to wind down at night? You might not be getting enough sleep.

We all need a certain amount of sleep every day. Accumulating a “sleep debt” results in chronic overtiredness, reliance on stimulants, mood problems, cognitive problems, excessive sleepiness (or sometimes the opposite – insomnia), and can also lead to more serious problems like heart disease and cancer. Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things we can do for our health, but in our modern society with its fast pace, multitasking, and use of electronic devices, we often find it difficult to get the zzz’s that we need. If you need more convincing, here’s a great TED talk by Russell Foster, a circadian neuroscientist.

I have started a 30 Day Sleep Challenge on Facebook but am aware that many of you do not use Facebook – so I’ll also be posting on my blog. Here are some of the reasons to take part in the Sleep Challenge, and how to do it:

  • improved energy and wellbeing
  • improved creativity
  • more positive moods
  • less carbohydrate cravings
  • weight loss
  • reduced risk of chronic disease (cancer, heart disease)
  • increased sex appeal (ok I made this up but I am sure there has been a study on it!!!)

How to take part in the Sleep Challenge

1. Estimate how much sleep you need each night. (Hint: it’s the amount of sleep you get on holidays, when you don’t wake to an alarm clock; or it’s the amount of sleep if you’ve woken naturally in the morning).
2. Estimate what time you will get woken up in the morning.
3. Subtract the number of hours of sleep you need.
4. Go to bed at that time!
5. Start your night time routine at least half an hour before your chosen bedtime. (That allows you some time to faff around with brushing your teeth, checking Facebook one last time etc… LOL).
6. If your sleep is broken, that’s ok… Try and get at least the amount you need in the separate blocks.
7. Naps are ok – if you need a nap, and can take one, then do it! But see it as a sign you need more sleep at night. And be aware that it will interfere with your ability to fall asleep that night.

If you have a late night or two, aim to “catch up” on this sleep during the week i.e. go to bed earlier during the week to repay your sleep debt. Don’t let sleep debt accumulate – you will get chronically overtired.

I’ll be posting on sleep science, how to develop sleep habits, the benefits of sleep, and of course more photos of cute sleeping animals!!! Good luck and don’t forget to sign up for the blog so you don’t miss any posts on the Sleep Challenge!!

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