Thursday, 4 June 2009

Healthy Sleeping Guide - How We Can All Rest

With the change in seasons comes change in my sleeping patterns. It's just one of those things I become aware of each year. I notice this in spring when the hay fever 'season' begins. Again, when summer approaches and the morning sun light reaches us earlier and earlier.

Naturally at other times of year, my normal sleep may be interrupted for a variety of reasons.

Photo: bitzcelt

Below you will find hints and tips to encourage better sleep and habits conducive to a more peaceful shuteye - downtime. Sleep and bedtime is not surprisingly, a vast area with as many unique features as there are people. So I can only write a short article which I hope is useful to you. Please let me know.

Sleep - What is it all about?
The answer should be obvious to us all. It is essential to our well being and health. We rarely live a day without sleep of some variety. Everyday, we gracefully move into sleep naturally. The after effect is refreshment, recuperation and energy. There is nothing it seems, that can replace this natural benefit.

When we experience sleep on a daily basis for many years, we can dispense with the scientific theories or research results. We know what the benefits are. We live well with the results of regular sleep.

My daily patterns of sleep and activity are so common they appear trivial. Until my sleep is interrupted. Then sleep becomes a wonder to be cherished and appreciated, as one of the most important functions of the human body. I expect sleep to be a pleasure. I regard it as a priority within my leisure time.

What happens when we can't sleep?
  • Waking in the night. Sometimes accompanied by thoughts or images that are stressful.
  • Difficulty in sleeping shortly after going to bed.
  • Easily disturbed during sleep and waking up as a result.
  • Not refreshed after sleep.
  • Night terrors (mainly in the young).
  • Waking up earlier than expected.

There's more. What happens if you are sleep deprived? No rest for the wicked!
  • difficulty waking up in the morning
  • lower concentration resulting in reduced performance at work, school, sports.
  • poor co-ordination leading to increased risk of injury or accident
  • reduced reasoning skills with difficulty making decisions
  • falling asleep at sociable moments
  • Irritable, unhappy and unsociable

The Research - What happens during sleep?
Sleep is obviously necessary. We don't need research to tell us that. I think it's important to highlight that we already know many of the effects from sleeping. We live it, experience it every day. We notice how good we feel or not upon awakening. Over the years we can associate our experiences with particular patterns of sleep. We share common attributes that allow us to recognise or assume similar effects in other people too.

  • We dream. Sometimes we remember them. Sometimes we wish we didn't.
  • Sleep helps our brain perform it's biochemical housekeeping. Good functions from our body's immune system and central nervous system rely upon the brain's performance.
  • Link between sleep and the immune system.
  • Your body's weight may be controlled in your sleep.
It seems our brains stay active in sleep. In REM (rapid eye movement) sleep the body appears paralysed. It's OK because the heart, blood, eyes, diaphragm and intestines carry on as normal. Which I think is a good thing.

Regulated by your body clock, your sleep is made of cycles with vital stages for your well being. Different things happen during each cycle. Some help us feel rested and energetic, other cycles help us learn or make memories.

Helping You to Sleep
These are some of the practises I have used to assist me in a good nights sleep. Often referred to as 'Sleep Hygiene' some may be new to you, others I'm sure you've read before. The attitude I prefer is one of exploring to find what works naturally. Then being willing to change it for something more effective when necessary. There is a lot you can do to get a good nights sleep. You have control.

Your dreamy attitude
  • Make sleep a priority. During the waking day imagine yourself later at night enjoying a wonderfully deep, refreshing sleep.
  • Use a regular sleep schedule even if you work on a shift pattern. For example: Same time to bed each night and same time to rise in the morning. Be flexible because over time you may need to change patterns for optimal rest.
  • Plan ahead. Design a flexible system to move you toward greater sleep and health.
  • Ritualise your preparation for night time sleep. Invest your attitude for good sleep into your activities 1 hour or even 30 minutes before going to sleep. This may involve book reading, bathing, chill out music, turning off the computer and TV, meditation, self help techniques to visualise an ideal day tomorrow.
  • Happily engage your mind, body and emotions on a daily basis that is conducive to your well being. Fantasise, visualise if need be. Some research suggests the brain does not distinguish between visually rehearsing things and the real thing itself.

Design the bedroom for you
1. Remove as much clutter as possible from your bedroom.

2. Turn your sleeping space into a relaxing, soothing environment. People often find a clean, cool, pleasant, spacious and dark bedroom environment is best for healthy sleep.

3. Take out any work related materials especially if your job is demanding and stressful.

4. Consider investing in a new mattress every 5 years. Test different mattresses in showrooms and decide if you really need the change.

Enjoying restful habits
  • Reduce social and recreational drug use if you feel it's negatively impacting your sleep. That includes caffeine, tea, alcohol, speed, cocaine. General recommendations are to avoid these substances from 4 - 8 hours before sleep. You decide what's good for you.
  • At home finish eating your main evening meal 2 - 3 hours (or more) before you go to sleep. I feel far better when eating lighter evening meals.
  • A light snack to replace feelings of an empty stomach can aid sleep too.
  • Exercise frequently during the week. Walk more, run, swim, play racket games whatever you decide, do something. Many of us have mentally stimulating daily patterns and less physical. So exercise all aspects of your being (including your emotional well being).
  • Avoid napping after your evening meal. Do something else, stay awake and sleep longer, later.
  • Have a relaxing, hot bath before bed. Indulge yourself with books, chill out music, candles if necessary.
  • If you're in bed without sleep for 30 minutes get up and do something else until you feel sleepy enough to return. Maybe best to avoid work related activities at this time.
  • Turn off the computer or TV. Sometimes I have found listening to radio discussions or audiobooks (not music) helps me to sleep. The less interesting the more likely you will sleep. Remove the laptop and TV from your bedroom.
  • Practice a relaxation technique before going to bed and/or when in it.
  • Be prepared to seek out specialist (like CBT - cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnotherapy) or medical advice if you become concerned about your lack of sleep. I recommend doing your own research first.
  • Shortly after awaking go outside into the sunlight for a few minutes or longer if you can (people in the northern hemisphere will prefer this during the spring and summer months).

Finally, to ensure you get a good nights sleep here is a link to 40 facts about sleeping. Yawn.

Have you experienced any sleep disorders? What have you done to return to normal sleep?
Thanks for reading and not nodding off.


  1. Hi Jens,

    Thanks for the great post. Personally, I find meditating before sleep helps me to sleep more soundly.

    Reading, on the other hand, largely hinges on what you read right before sleeping.

    If I read a book that is packed with a lot of new information, I find that my sleep will be affected negatively as my brain will be actively processing the new data.

    So, if you want better sleep, make sure you pick something that is meant for light reading.


  2. Hiya wp

    Excellent point.
    Something I did not emphasise sufficiently. The lighter, more casual the reading material, the easier the sleep. The less processing the better.