If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, you know what a debilitating condition it can be. It would be nice to think that a lack of sleep just made you grumpy the following day, but consistently having problems sleeping doesn’t just affect your sleep patterns – it affects your whole life, from being unable to function quickly and efficiently to feeling depressed, emotionally unstable and restless. It can also exacerbate clinical depression and lead to weight gain – in short, if you’re not sleeping well, it’s a complete disaster!
Fortunately, most of us might have a bad night’s rest, but it is generally a short-lived affair and we’re back to sleeping well after that. But for some, being sleepless is a constant state and they’re forced to seek alternative solutions, often in the form of prescription medication.
Good Sleep Hygiene
How much can your environment really affect your sleep when you’ve got your eyes closed? The answer is: dramatically. Sleep hygiene is one of the leading non-medical ways to treat insomnia and is often the first port of call if you visit your GP. After ruling out underlying medical conditions, chronic insomniacs will generally be advised to visit a sleep clinic, which may involve an overnight stay.
But if you’re just looking for a better night’s sleep, there’s plenty you can do to encourage a healthy sleeping environment.
Firstly, your sleeping environment needs to be conducive to sleeping. This means it should be dark, quiet and cool. Your mattress needs to provide adequate support without being so hard that it causes discomfort or rigidity in the morning. Make sure your blinds block out all the light, and if you have problems with noise near your house then you may wish to use earplugs.
Next, the sleeping environment needs to be reserved for sleep. This means that you shouldn’t keep a television in the bedroom, nor should you read or use a computer in bed. Learn to associate that area with sleep.
Good Sleep Behaviour
Of course, it’s also about when and how you’re sleeping. Optimum sleep patterns include 7-9 hours every night; our bodies are programmed to sleep at night so it is not advisable to try to ‘make up’ the lost hours during the day, as this will only cause wakefulness during the evening. It’s important to get adequate sunshine during the day as this promotes a healthy sleep cycle.
Avoiding stimulants too close to bedtime is another important factor. Things like coffee, cigarettes and alcohol should be avoided, as should spicy foods for dinner. You might feel sleepy after a glass of wine, but once the body begins to metabolise the alcohol it will cause wakefulness.
Maintaining general overall health is an important part of good sleep health. Getting adequate exercise is important as it will not only help relieve stress and tire you out, it will also help you to control your weight and boost circulation.
If you have established good sleep hygiene but you are still experiencing sleeplessness, you may wish to consult your GP for further advice.