Trouble Sleeping, Princess?

April 4, 2011

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As a general guideline, if there’s something in life that allows me to embrace my inner princess, I’m good with it. And sleep is one of those things. Think about it: have you ever noticed how often fairytales feature people sleeping?  Snow White falls into a deep sleep after tasting the poisoned apple.  Elves cobble shoes while the shoemaker dozes through the night.  Sleeping Beauty slumbers for a hundred years. 

See what I mean?

Trouble is, sleep doesn’t always come easy. Insomnia is a plague in our busy lives.  It’s been estimated to afflict about 30% of adults. If you’re one of them, read on…

Insomnia is a major drag, make no mistake. But the real problem? Consequences of sleep deprivation spiral beyond simple fatigue.  It can affect you in ways that can’t be fixed with a double espresso.

People who are sleep-starved have difficulty remembering and concentrating.  Irritability peaks and sense of humour evaporates.  Work absences and injuries spike.  The risk of vehicle accidents increases.  And if all that weren’t bad enough, recent research has connected chronic insomnia with depression, hypertension and obesity. A study published last week , in fact, found that one of the factors that affected success at losing weight was getting sufficient sleep.

So, if you suffer insomnia, what can you do?  Luckily, there’s a wealth of tricks to help you achieve restful, rejuvenating sleep.  And you won’t need a golden goose or magic beans.

1.  Establish rhythms.  For sound snoozing, you need a regular sleep schedule.  Turn in at the same time each evening, and arise the same time each morning.  Yes, even on Saturday.  And, avoid napping—tends to mess with your internal clock.

2.  Create a haven.  Transform your boudoir into a place that cultivates restful nights.  Reserve it for sleep and sex only—no television, no exercise and, especially, no work.  Your bedroom should be a comfortable temperature and well-ventilated.  Invest in a high-quality, supportive bed.  Run a fan at night if you have noisy street sounds, or unnerving silence. 

3.  Harmonize with daylight.  Work with your body’s response to light and dark cycles.  Exposure to sunlight—as little as thirty minutes, early in the day—encourages sleep onset.  At night, keep things nice and dark; wear an eye mask if necessary.

4.  Limit caffeine.  If you simply can’t imagine your day without your venti nonfat latte, make it a morning treat only.  Restrict other stimulants, too, like cigarettes and cola.  And curb alcohol in the hours before bedtime.  Although it may help you drop off, you’ll pay the price with increased wakefulness later in your sleep cycle.  Unless you have plans for 3 a.m. activity, best skip the nightcap.

5.  Exercise.  Here’s just one more reason to stay active: Regular exercise promotes sounder sleep.  But don’t exercise just before bed—you’ll be extra-alert.  In particular, try yoga.  With its blend of relaxation, focus and stretching, yoga eases your passage to la-la land.

6.  Drink your milk.  Avoid heavy meals before bed—all that churning and digesting tends to keep you awake.  A light snack, however, may help you sleep.  Or, even better, follow your grandmother’s advice and sip a cup of warm milk.  Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid demonstrated to enhance sleepiness.

7.  Wear socks.  Recent research has unearthed some interesting findings on sleep and body temperature.  Improving blood flow to the extremities at night keeps them warm, and the body’s core relatively cool, and this pattern appears to benefit sleep.  Keeping those toes cozy might be just the ticket to the land of nod.

8.  Don’t toss and turn.  If you’re not asleep after 20 min, get out of bed and do something relaxing, like reading or listening to soothing music, until you feel sleepy.  Then, back to bed.  Tossing and turning only serves to increase anxiety and rumination, making sleep all the more unattainable.

9.  Meditate.  Studies have suggested that regular meditation nourishes sleep.  Experiment with various meditation techniques: mindfulness on breathing, focusing on a candle flame, or counting meditation…sheep, perhaps?  If meditation doesn’t work for you, try other relaxing activities, such as reading, knitting, or soaking in a nice warm bath. 

10.  Drink tea.  There’s nothing like a soothing cup of tea to charm the sandman.  But make sure it’s herbal tea—no caffeine.  Certain botanicals, like chamomile and valerian, have a sleep-inducing effect.  Worth a try.

It takes time and dedication to restore healthy sleep habits.  Blending multiple methods usually brings the most fruitful results. 

Take heart—good sleep is an achievable dream, not just a fairytale.  You’ll soon be drifting off, happily ever after.

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