6 steps to a better night’s sleep

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Did you know that an estimated 30 to 50% of the general population are thought to be affected by insomnia? And a further 10% are believed to have chronic insomnia? That’s a lot of sleepless people!

There’s nothing worse than tossing and turning all night, desperately trying to get to sleep. And the trouble is, the more you fret about not sleeping the worse the problem gets. Insomnia is a problem that troubles me from time to time, so this month I’ve been doing some research into natural ways to treat it. Here are some ideas I’ve found:

Still your mind
If you find that you can’t switch off your thoughts while you’re trying to sleep then meditating for 20 to 30 minutes before you go to bed should help to still your mind. Whilst lying in bed place your hands on your stomach and become aware of the sensation of your in and out breaths. Concentrate on the rhythm of your breathing and the movement of your stomach as it rises and falls. This should help to distract you from your thoughts and bring about a sense of calm.

Watch what you eat
What you eat and drink at night can have a significant impact on your quality of sleep. Try to avoid eating a large meal two to four hours before you go to bed as the digestive process raises the body’s metabolic rate, which in turn delays the onset of sleep.

Another tip is to avoid refined carbohydrates as they tend to raise blood sugar levels, causing a surge of energy followed by a dip – the last thing you want when you’re about to hit the sack!

Say no to booze!
Most people know that drinking caffeine before going to bed will prevent you from sleeping, but another thing to avoid is alcohol. Although it might have an initial sleep-inducing effect, as the alcohol levels in your blood fall this creates a stimulating effect, which disturbs sleep. A better choice would be a warm, milky drink as this contains tryptophan – this is the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter which regulates the sleep/wake cycle. Other foods containing tryptophan include bananas and turkey, which could explain why we tend to fall asleep after our Christmas dinner!

Set the scene
Make sure that the temperature in your bedroom isn’t too cold or too hot as this can cause sleep disturbances. Also, try to make sure that light isn’t coming into the room from streetlights or other lights in the house as this also affects your slumber. The reason for this is that exposure to light can trigger a chemical response in the brain which disrupts the body’s sleep/wake cycle. Perhaps you might want to invest in a sleep mask or blackout curtains. Check how comfortable your mattress is too. This can be a common reason why people wake up a lot during the night. It might be time for an upgrade to a new one.

Distract yourself
Sleep experts say that if you are awake in bed for more than 15 minutes then you should get up and do something distracting until you feel sleepy again. The idea is to avoid a negative association with the bedroom being a place in which you struggle to sleep. Don’t turn to your computer though – instead try reading a book or listening to some soothing music. Do something relaxing that won’t stimulate your brain too much.

Try acupressure
Acupressure is closely linked to acupuncture in that both of these therapies are used to restore the proper flow of energy (or chi) around the body. (The belief is that if your body’s energy is blocked then this may lead to health problems or imbalances in the body, such as insomnia.) But whereas acupuncture requires needles and can only be done by a trained practitioner, acupressure involves the use of gentle finger pressure to specific points on the skin and you can do it yourself. The following acupressure exercise is said to help ease insomnia. Locate the point on the inside of the ankle that’s level with the tip of the ankle bone in the depression between the Achilles tendon and the edge of that bone. Apply a light pressure in a circular motion for five to 10 minutes on each ankle.

Lastly, if your sleeping problems persist, then it might be worth having a chat with your doctor to see if they can shed any light on the problem.

Sweet dreams!

About the author: Liz Parry is a writer specialising in holistic health and wellbeing, personal development and spirituality.

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