Getting a good night's sleep

How many hours are you getting? We share six good habits to stop sleepless nights.

With the shorter days of winter, our sleep and waking cycles become disrupted, often leading to a feeling of fatigue. Less sunlight encourages your brain to produce more of a hormone called melatonin, which makes you sleepy.

The release of this hormone is linked to light and darkness, when the sun sets earlier your sleep patterns alter with the lack of daylight.

They also change as we age. The body produces lower levels of growth hormone, reducing the amount of slow wave, or deep sleep, people tend to get. Consequently, we produce less melatonin, meaning we wake up more often during the night.

Despite these biological changes, there are other causes of insomnia and sleep problems:

  • Poor sleeping environment, which can include a poor sleeping routine (going to bed at irregular hours), and falling asleep in front of the television
  • Alcohol and caffeine – drinking stimulants before bedtime
  • Pain – which can interrupt sleep.  Other issues, such as the need to use the bathroom during the night, arthritis or rheumatism, asthma and indigestion, can affect sleep
  • Lack of exercise – if you are too sedentary, you might never feel sleepy, or alternatively, you may feel tired all the time. Regular exercise during the day can help people to sleep well, but do not exercise just before bedtime, as this can have the opposite effect
  • Stress – from major events, such as bereavement, financial difficulties, moving home or problems at work can cause worry leading to poor sleep patterns, often leading to further stress in a vicious circle.

Good habits

Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference to your quality of life. Try to keep the following sleep practices on a consistent basis:

  1. Stick to the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.
  2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity just before bedtime conducted away from bright lights (including computers and electronic devices) helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety, all of which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep, and remain asleep.
  3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.
  4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no physical activity.
  5. Assess your sleeping environment to establish the best conditions for you. Your bedroom should be cool – between 15-19°C. It should also be free from any sounds that may wake you. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.
  6. Make sure your mattress is both comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about nine or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep.

Sleep is equally as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information.

How many hours are you getting? Share your insomniac advice at editor@oddfellowstimes.com.