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26 May 2014

Know how to nod off

Set your (body) clock
The human body comes with its own internal alarm clock; all you have to do is know how to set it. The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular waking and sleeping pattern. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day sets the body’s internal clock to expect sleep at a certain time night after night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends as well to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover. Waking up at the same time each day is the best way to set your clock; even if you did not sleep well the night before, the slight sleep deprivation will help you sleep better the following night.
Keep out the clutter
It may help to limit your bedroom activities to sleep. Keeping the computer, TV and work-related material out of the room will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep.
Create a sleep-inducing environment
A quiet, dark and cool environment can help promote sound sleep. If light in the early morning bothers you, use heavy curtains, blackout shades or an eye mask to block light — a powerful cue that tells the brain that it’s time to wake up. Any distracting sounds that might make it difficult to fall asleep or cause awakening during the night should be eliminated. Keep the temperature comfortably cool/warm and the room well ventilated. And make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
Develop sleep rituals
It is important to give your body cues that it is time to slow down and sleep.
Indulge in some relaxing activities an hour or so before bed. Light reading before bed is a good way to prepare yourself for sleep; taking a bath (the rise, then fall in body temperature promotes drowsiness), practicing relaxation exercises or having a cup of caffeine-free tea (chamomile is ideal) are some ideas. Engaging in the same ritual each evening prior to going to bed can actually train the body that it is time to fall asleep.
Avoid stressful, stimulating activities, for example doing work or exercise or discussing emotional issues, etc right before bed. Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness.
Don’t go to bed unless sleepy
Just lying in bed and trying to sleep for hours and hours simply creates a more stressful situation making it more difficult to fall asleep. If you’re not asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, engage in some activity that might help you relax, like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.
Nap early or not at all
Many people have a habit of taking a nap during the day. However, if you find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep through the night think again — your afternoon nap may be one of the culprits. This is because late-day naps decrease sleep drive. If you must nap, it’s better to keep it short and early. If you didn’t sleep well the night before, a nap during the day may seem a good idea but it can actually make the situation worse by continuing to disrupt a routine sleep-wake cycle.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine and other chemicals that interfere with sleep
Caffeine and nicotine are stimulants that interfere with your ability to fall asleep. Coffee, tea, cola, cocoa, chocolate and some prescription and non-prescription drugs contain caffeine — a stimulant that can keep you awake. So avoid caffeine for four to six hours before bedtime.
Similarly, refrain from using tobacco products too close to bedtime.

Can’t go to sleep and spend half the night tossing and turning in bed? Thinking of getting a prescription for sleeping pills? Then read on to discover the secrets of sleep hygiene and enjoy a good night’s sleep; wake up refreshed, ready to take the next day head on

Take care what you eat
If your stomach is too empty, that can interfere with sleep. However, if you eat a heavy meal before bedtime, that can interfere as well. Finish dinner several hours before bedtime and avoid foods that cause indigestion. If you feel hungry at night, snack on food that won’t disturb your sleep, perhaps dairy foods and carbohydrates. But remember, chocolate has caffeine.
Balance fluid intake
Drink enough fluid at night to keep from waking up thirsty — but not so much and so close to bedtime that you will be awakened by the need for a trip to the bathroom.
Exercise early
Regular exercise is recommended to help you sleep well, but the timing of the workout is important. Exercise stimulates the body by secreting the stress hormone cortisol, which
helps activate the alerting mechanism in the brain. So, try to finish exercising at least three hours before bed or work out earlier in the day. However, a relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, May 25th, 2014

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