Sleep tight

When the alarm goes off in the morning do you spring out of bed, eager to face the new day? Or maybe you linger a little longer mentally building yourself up to the challenge of leaving blanketstreet? Or do you press the snooze button and go back to sleep?

We spend around a third of our lives asleep yet many of us complain about not getting enough shut-eye.

It is estimated that two out of three people in Ireland suffer from insomnia, mostly linked to stress and personal worries. Women are more likely to suffer from sleepless nights than men and those most severely affected are aged between 25 and 34 years. Persistent lack of sleep can lead to irritability, tension, inefficiency and even accidents.

World renowned naturopath, author and broadcaster Jan de Vries, who has lectured in Galway, says quality sleep seems to be beyond a lot of people.

Falling asleep can take as long as an hour which robs the body of time when the brain should be at rest and the liver busy detoxifying, he says.

“Drinking a cup of hot milk at bedtime to help you get to sleep has been recommended for years. We now know it’s the tryptophan, an amino acid, in milk that does the trick. When tryptophan-rich foods cross the blood-brain barrier it makes agents in the brain perform like a natural tranquilliser.”

Other tryptophan-rich foods include cheese, eggs, meats and tuna. In American tests insomniacs who usually needed an hour or more to fall asleep cut this time in half and extended their total sleep time by nearly an hour when they had taken tryptophan, he says.

“However, these tryptophan-rich foods are also rich in protein and other research shows that the amino acids in these foods slow down the work of tryptophan. They advise eating something high in carbohydrate but low in protein to stimulate insulin to remove the competing amino acids from the blood allowing tryptophan to reach the brain quicker.”

Mr de Vries stresses that everyone is different and people may need to experiment to find out what works best for them.

How to get a good night’s sleep

* Do not go to bed either stuffed or starved. A stomach that is either too full or too empty may cause physical discomfort making it difficult to sleep through the night. It may be a good idea to keep a midnight snack beside your bed. Jan de Vries says Tahini (stone ground sesame seeds ) mixed with a little honey works wonders.

* He also advises people to keep tabs on the amount of calcium they take. It is the body’s natural tranquilliser but is often lacking in older people and children’s diets.

* Avoid stimulants, such as coffee, tea, cola drinks and highly spiced foods after 5pm. They may make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try a warm milky drink instead.

* Valerian at a dose of 25 drops in a little water half an hour before going to bed may help you sleep.

* If you want to remember your dreams try vitamin B5 which helps your body 100 other ways during the day and also eases insomnia, he says.

* Exercise for 20 to 30 minutes at least three days a week. A brisk walk will do, but not too close to bedtime.

* Taking long afternoon naps can interfere with night-time sleep patterns. If you need to nap, do not do so for longer than 30 minutes. Ideally, try to avoid napping as it lessens the need for nocturnal sleep.

* Get out in the fresh air. Research indicates that people who get adequate natural daylight tend to sleep better at night. Experts say natural light can be up to 30 times more intense than the brightest artificial light and our biological clocks need daylight to trigger the melatonin which helps us sleep.

* Create a good sleep environment. Sleep in a cool, dark room on a comfortable, supportive mattress.

* Check medications. Some may cause daytime drowsiness while others may cause sleeplessness. Ask your doctor.

* Do not worry about falling asleep. Stay relaxed. The more you worry, the less you will sleep.

* Monitor how much you drink. Limit drinking liquids a few hours before bedtime to prevent you having to visit the bathroom during the night. And remember, while alcohol may inititally help you to relax and sleep it may keep you awake later in the night.

* Keep regular hours. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Going to bed at irregular times prevents the biological clock from synchronising with the awake system.

* Have a bath. A relaxing soak before bedtime may help you unwind and therefore sleep better.

* Sleep in a darkened room. Close curtains or blinds before going to bed. If necessary, buy thicker curtains. These will be especially useful during the summer months when it gets brighter earlier.

* If you are having trouble sleeping try not to watch television in bed - it can stimulate the brain and keep you awake. Also, avoid reading, studying or snacking there otherwise your bed and bedroom may become associated with wakefulness not sleep.

* Try to avoid exciting or emotionally upsetting activities too close to bedtime. They fire up the awake system, may induce muscle tension, and prepare the body for action, according to the book Beating Insomnia by Chris Idzikowski, a leading expert on sleep related disorders.

* Do not sleep on an uncomfortable bed with a poor mattress or inadequate blankets.

* Make sure your bedroom is not too bright, noisy, hot, cold, stuffy or cluttered. The atmosphere should be conducive to relaxation and sleep.

* During the day drink more filtered or mineral water and less stimulants.

* If you have a late night or a very early start make up for it by taking more rest and sleep in the next 48 hours.


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