Many of us have a sleep problem. There are several distinct disorders of our circadian rhythm which can affect our sleep patterns and therefore control how we function during the day, including jet lag and shift work. The human body functions according to a circadian rhythm, thought to be controlled by a biological clock located in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
Adults, on average need 8 hours sleep a night, but around 1 in 10 people in the UK suffer from insomnia and more than 10 million prescriptions for sleeping tablets are written out every year. Although sleeping pills can provide a short term solution it is definitely worth looking at more permanent methods to help you get to sleep.
The most important thing we can do to help ourselves to a better night’s sleep is to create a sleep friendly environment. So start by making your bedroom a calm and tranquil space. It helps to open your bedroom window a few hours before you sleep and to keep your room on the cooler side. This can make a big difference to your quality of sleep. But light can have a huge impact on sleep patterns and the darker you keep your bedroom, the better you’ll sleep. So cover up electrical displays and block light from windows with heavy curtains or shades. Alternatively you could try a sleep mask to cover your eyes.
Set your body clock by going to bed at a regular time. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late. And if you do want to change your bedtime, help your body adjust by making small daily changes, such as 15 minutes earlier or later each day.
If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. However, if you find you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime. But as with your bedtime, try to maintain your regular ‘wake-time’ even on weekends. Napping can disrupt your normal sleep levels so avoid napping during the day. If possible try skipping the nap and see if your regular sleep pattern improves.
Steer clear of alcohol before bed. That nightcap may make you fall asleep faster but alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up later in the night. So swap it for a warm glass of milk to help you sleep. It's not just an old wives' tale! The fact is dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps increase the production of the sleep inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin.
Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening avoiding heavy, rich foods within two-hours of bed time. Alter your eating habits, fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and could keep you up. And be careful when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause stomach trouble and heartburn.
Try to expose yourself to sunlight and fresh air as much as you can during the day. Exercise regularly because activity helps the body and mind stay healthy and balanced. Go outside during your lunch break, try to exercise outside and walk your dog during the day instead of at night. However, be sure to avoid vigorous exercise right before bedtime.