Is a good night’s sleep just a dream?

  • Discover the health benefits of good sleep
  • Why should you have a dark experience every night?
  • Find out the five secrets of restful sleep

Every so often we all struggle to get to sleep.

It’s usually because we are fretting about something, or we may have overdone the rich food and wine at a party.

But for some night time is a series of short naps and long periods of tossing and turning, watching the clock slowly tick through the small hours with the speed of an asthmatic snail.

This broken sleep pattern affects their waking hours too, making them lethargic, grumpy and more likely to contract infections.

Sleep is a very important part of our physiological processes, for it is during the time when we are fully relaxed and deep in dreamless sleep that our bodies heal themselves and build up immunity.

It also tends to be when we are able to sort out some of the emotional muddle in our lives. The old phrase “if you have a problem it’s best to sleep on it rather than act rashly” is based on this attribute of our mental processing.

We can be troubled by any number of problems as we go to bed, but provided we can get into a deep sleep state we usually wake with a clear decision about what our next action might be.

The amount of sleep each of us needs depends on our activity, age, sex and neurological make up – but traditionally between 6 and 8 hours is the norm.

So, knowing how important it is for us to sleep, what can we do if we are part of the estimated 5% of adults who suffer from insomnia?

Well the first thing is not to worry about it. If the fact that you can’t get to sleep is the focus of your mind you’re creating the ideal conditions to STOP you getting to sleep.

Every time you look at the clock and begin to worry about time passing you build anxiety which is a sure fire way to stay awake.

The problem is we all do it. We know we have to get up at six for work so we count down to hours of potential sleep we have left; usually we drop into a deep slumber just before the alarm goes off!

In times like these you are better off getting up for a while and doing something that requires no thought – I like to think that this is the reason why all computers have solitaire on them.

Sitting quietly trying to make stacks of cards is a really soporific activity, and, if accompanied by a nice warm glass of milk, can create the ideal conditions to lull you to sleep once you get back into bed.

Sleeping pills are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs which shows that the medical profession recognise how important good sleep is to our well being. However, the side effects of these medications are often overlooked.

In addition to a high risk of addiction, these drugs can cause tingling in hands and feet, digestive upsets and, bizarrely, tiredness. Yes that’s correct, you take the pills to sleep then wake up feeling tired! I can’t help feeling that there is something wrong there.

Natural sleep – the easy way

There are some basic dos and don’ts when it comes to trying to get a good night’s sleep which include;

  • Only use the bedroom for sleep related activities. Don’t eat in there, don’t watch TV in there and certainly don’t work in there.
  • Block out all sources of sound and light as far as possible. Use ear plugs and masks if necessary, especially if you sleep with a snorer!
  • Try to avoid sleeping during the day. A nap in front of the TV in the evening might be the sole reason you can’t sleep at night.
  • A warm, deep bath with the addition of a few drops of roman chamomile, marjoram or rose oil helps to relax you just before you turn it. The combination of the aromatic oils and the warmth will make you very drowsy.
  • Avoid coffee, tea, alcohol and the dreaded nicotine six hours before bed as these act as stimulants.
  • Regular exercise can help, but avoid working out within four hours of trying to sleep.
  • Routine is important to get the body into a rhythm, so go to bed and get up at regular times – apart from a traditional lay in at the weekend that is!

One thing you do need to consider though is the dramatic effect that your diet can have on sleep.

Some foods actively promote sleep, whilst others will keep you counting sheep until the cows come home – if that’s not mixing too many metaphors!

The five secrets of a deep sleep

The list below highlights five natural ways to promote sleep, including what to eat and avoid;

  • Eat eggs, turkey, chicken and fish as well as drink milk. These all contain an amino acid called tryptophan which is thought to have a calming effect and induce sleep. Avoid cured meats, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines and spinach because they contain the stimulant tyramine.
  • Attaining an alkaline state is believed to promote a restful state. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds as most green vegetables will provide an alkaline balance; so a teaspoon of wheat or barley grass powder in water will help. In ancient times lettuce was used to treat insomnia, so a lettuce sandwich for supper may be all you need.
  • Place a drop of lavender, camomile or extract of passion flower oil on a tissue under your pillow as they are all shown to quieten and soothe you. Also, for the beer lovers among us, fresh or dried hops in the bedroom also has a relaxing effect – just as long as you don’t suffer from hay fever that is. Other natural herbs that can put you in a sleepy mood include Lime Tree, Melissa, Camomile, Lemon Verbena and Hibiscus which are all found in a remedy called Calmophytum.
  • Valerian root capsules taken before bedtime act as a natural tranquiliser, in addition vitamin C and B6 supplements are known to help the body generate serotonin a neurotransmitter which promotes sleep.
  • Lastly, don’t overlook the benefits of a relaxing massage or reflexology to help to achieve the state of comfort and reduction in stress which is conducive to sleep. Don’t worry if your partner isn’t the perfect masseur, you can have a massage in the afternoon which will dramatically improve you sleep that night.

It is really important to avoid the stress of insomnia as this just creates a mental turmoil and increases anxiety all of which will prevent you from getting your 6 hours in.

Sleep well.

Yours, as always