Health

Magnificent 7……steps to super-sleep

Even if you’ve suffered from insomnia for years, there are ways to transform your slumber. Follow these expert tips to help you fall – and stay – asleep

1 Set the perfect atmosphere

‘Your bedroom should be comfortable, not too bright and strongly associated with sleep,’ says Penelope Lewis, director of the Sleep and Memory Lab at the University of Manchester. ‘Sliding into a bed in which you only ever sleep (or make love) sends the right signals to your brain when it’s time to switch off. But one used for TV or your laptop may cause you to feel more awake.’ Check room temperature too: the ideal is 16- to 17°C. ‘Your body cools slightly when you sleep,’ says Lewis. Trick it into a state of cooling by artificially heating it first with a warm bath. It’s also vital to keep the room dark and quiet; try an eye mask and earplugs, if all else fails

2 Tweak your routine

Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience at Oxford University, advises getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, and having some daylight exposure early in the morning. ‘This helps reset your body clock,’ he says. There’s evidence using an alarm clock that simulates daylight could help play this role, as well as making you feel more alert first thing (see the Lumie range of dawn simulators at www.lumie.com)

3 Reach for herbs

Herbs often recommended for insomnia are chamomile, hops and valerian. They’re thought to have sedative, anti-anxiety effects, though scientists aren’t sure exactly which components help induce sleepiness. Unlike prescription medicines, they’re non-addictive and won’t leave you feeling drowsy the next day. They don’t have the same knockout effect as sleeping pills, and it may take several weeks before you notice changes, but some studies confirm herbal remedies can help improve sleep quality, and may be useful in people withdrawing from sleeping medication (talk to your GP for guidance before stopping or changing any medication)

4 Eat to snooze

‘What you eat in the three-to-five hours leading up to bedtime has a strong impact on sleep,’ says Lewis. ‘Foods contain proteins and chemicals that can promote or interfere with sleep.’ The best recipe? ‘A medium-sized meal of sleep-inducing foods four to five hours before bed, then a snack an hour before,’ says Lewis. ‘Sleep-promoting foods include camomile tea, soy milk, plain yoghurt, honey, turkey, potatoes, bananas, oatmeal, almonds, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, peanut butter and tofu.’ Avoiding certain foods and drinks is also crucial, adds Lewis. ‘These include alcohol and coffee/anything with caffeine, including chocolate. Foods with the amino acid tyramine, which inhibits sleep, (eg peppers, smoked fish or meat) are also on the naughty list’

5 Have a go at CBT

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) teaches techniques to help you rebuild a healthy sleep schedule. Trials show it helps 70 percent of those with poor long term sleep. It helps you challenge thoughts such as ‘I won’t cope with work if I can’t sleep’, replacing them with more rational ones such as ‘I’ll be tired, but I’ve coped before’. You might practice sleep techniques (e.g. only going to bed for the hours you’re actually asleep). Vist your GP or see www.sleepio.com for an online programme

6 Reach for herbs

Herbs often recommended for insomnia are camomile, hops and valerian. They’re thought to have sedative, anti-anxiety effects though scientists aren’t sure exactly which components induce sleepiness. Unlike prescription medicines, they’re not addictive and won’t leave you feeling drowsy the next day. They don’t have the same knockout effect as sleeping pills, and it may take several weeks before you notice changes, but some studies confirm herbal remedies can help improve sleep quality, and may be useful in people withdrawing from sleeping medication

7 Opt for some alternative tricks

In China, acupuncture, where fine needles are inserted into particular points on the body associated with sleep, is used to treat sleep disorders. It’s thought to work by allowing the body’s ‘chi’ energy to flow smoothly, boosting feelings of relaxation. In Western thinking, acupuncture is thought to have an effect on the central nervous system, which may be how it induces sleepiness. Visit www.acupuncture.org.uk for a practitioner in your area. Or you could try hypnosis, which puts you into a deeply relaxed state. Try hypnotherapist Georgia Foster’s Sleep Well mp3, which you can download from www.georgiafoster.com

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