Sleeplessness makes you tired, irritable, depressed and overweight, it also make you ill. Erratic sleep schedules because of work, travel or lifestyle can cause heart disease, insulin resistance that leads to diabetes, and frequent infections because of lowered immunity even if you are otherwise healthy.
If you struggle to nod off or get up frequently in the night for no apparent reason, here’s what you need to do to get the sleep that’s been eluding you.
No gadgets at bedtime
Smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions and digital gadgets emit a blue-light wavelength that affects your body’s levels of melatonin, an essential hormone that kicks in the sleep cycle.
Melatonin, which controls your sleep-wake cycle, is regulated by light and is released when it gets dark to wind you down and prepare the body for rest. Light, including backlit screens, disrupts its release and keeps you alert. This will not only make it harder for you to nod off but also lower the quality of rest when you finally sleep.
Get some exercise
Regular exercise improves sleep quality as long as you don’t do adrenalin-pumping work-outs too close to bedtime. A post-workout burst of energy can keep you awake, so aim to finish vigorous exercises at least two hours before you head for bed.
Chronic sleeplessness adds to weight by making you eat more and choose foods that are higher in fat and sugar. Exercise also helps ward off junk food cravings triggered by short nights’ sleep and counters the effects of chronic lack of sleep, reported a recent study.
Go for comfort
Like Goldilocks, you will have a tough time sleeping in mattresses that are too soft or too hard, so get one that’s just right for you. Microscopic dust mites and other allergy triggers in bed linen, pillows, blankets, duvets and mattresses can make you sniffle and sneeze, which again affects sleep quality. Keep your bedroom free of dust, wash bed linen in warm water and air pillow and mattresses regularly.
Pillows that are too cushy or too flat can give you a stiff neck, so choose one that supports your neck in a neutral position. If you sleep on your side, you will breathe best when your nose is aligned with the centre of your body. Avoid sleeping on your stomach as it twists the neck.
Mild low back pain may not wake you but can disrupt deep, restorative sleep. Placing a pillow between the legs lowers stress on the low back. Those who sleep on their back can tuck a pillow under their knees to help ease the pain at night.
Get a schedule
Adopt a sleep pattern. Go to sleep and wake up at about the same time every day, including on weekends, to set your brain and body on a regular sleep-wake cycle. Over time, it’ll help you fall asleep quickly, sleep soundly through the night and get up at the same time. Going out in natural light within a few minutes of getting up further helps regulate the body’s biological clock.
Start winding down about an hour before bedtime by reading a book, listen to music, or taking a shower. Avoid activity other than sleep and sex in the bedroom so that your brain associates the space with rest and relaxation. It’s best to not use the phone, laptop or watch television in the bedroom, so step out if you can’t avoid use.
Most people sleep best at room temperature between 20 and 22 degrees Celcius.
Big dinners and rich meals late in the evening stress the digestive system and make it hard to get high-quality sleep. Try to have your as early as possible, at least three hours before you go to bed.
Dinner should be your lightest meal, so opt for vegetables, complex carbohydrates like lentils or dairy foods instead of oily curries and meats. Do not snack in bed.
Alcohol makes you sleepy, but keeps you up after the initial effects wear off. People who drink a lot at bedtime get up frequently through the night and have less restful sleep.
Nicotine is a stimulant, like caffeine, and keeps you from falling asleep.
Winding down and other bedtime rituals help most people fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep. However, if your insomnia persists for more than four weeks, it may well be a symptom of an underlying physical or mental disorder, such as depression, diabetes, acid reflux, asthma or arthritis, so it’s best to get medical opinion to rule out the cause.