Saturday, 13 March 2010

Time to Get the Rest you Deserve

"A good night's WHAT? SLEEP? What's THAT?" I hear mums up and down the country shouting.

There is nothing like sleep deprivation to make you feel utterly hellish. Even just one rotten night can make you feel disoriented and snappy, and we all know what it's like after weeks or months of getting up in the night.

This post isn't actually about controlled crying, lullabies, bedtime routines or fairy tales; this is about you. Lying awake in bed, looking at the clock and panicking that you can't drop off to sleep. Knowing that you're tired, knowing you've got to be up in five hours, knowing you desperately need to rest.

That was me, last night, so I decided to put a positive spin on it. "I can't sleep even though I'm tired; probably lots of other people are awake right now thinking the same thing. What helps?" I got out my notebook and pen. (In my life, if something doesn't kill me, it usually ends up in a magazine feature.) So here are my top tips for getting a good night's sleep; let me know what works for you. By the way, if you're finding yourself getting past the Shipping Forecast and onto the BBC's World Service most nights, don't continue to suffer; go and see your GP for help and advice.

Avoid gritty dramas, distressing news broadcasts and any other kind of media that isn't going to help you relax and prepare for sleep. Even some books are going to get your mind whirring too much or upset you - I'm thinking of the Nightmare Childhood genre here - so if you want to read in bed, keep it easy-going.

And I know they always say it, although perhaps it falls on deaf ears if you are wedded to coffee like I am: don't drink caffeinated drinks before bed, preferably not at all in the evening.

Just like the experts say: routine is important at bedtime. Adults, like children, benefit from the ritual of going to bed at about the same time each night, and in the same way. Think about what worked for you as a child and what was comforting. A warm bath, low lighting and a milky drink? Maybe you said your prayers with your mum? Or told your dad three good things that happened today? How can you incorporate this into your own evening routine? Come on, be good to yourself; you've had a hard day!

There are loads of meditation practices and relaxation techniques out there to help your body and mind make the transition from a busy day to falling asleep. Some people find simple stretching is enough, or lie down and tense up then relax all the different muscles, working clockwise around the body. One very basic but effective exercise for slowing down is to count each breath you take, breathing slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. At the same time, you can give yourself a mental message such as "I am calm" or "I let myself rest", repeating these affirmations for as long as you like.

You may want to make time to meditate or pray, perhaps looking at a candle flame, but this is obviously extremely risky in terms of fire, so a modern alterative is to switch on an Ultrasonic Aroma Diffuser. This gives you light and fragrance without any flame or heat. All you need is tap water, any essential oils, and a power point to plug the diffuser unit in. Don't worry, Fireman Sam, it has an auto-shut-off mechanism which is triggered when the water falls below the required level.

It may be something more physical that's keeping you awake. I'm sure I'm not the only person who lies awake, knowing I need the loo but refusing to get out of my warm bed. Hunger, thirst and body temperature can also prevent us from getting to sleep. Pay attention to what your body needs and don't lie there ignoring it. I have found that a bowl of muesli for supper is a must if I want to get to sleep. The added bonus for me, as a sufferer of PMS, is that it helps to keep my blood sugar levels stable through the night. For much of the year, I also need a hot water bottle and bed socks in order to feel comfortable!

A notebook and pen by your bed is a useful way of letting go of the day. One way to do this is to write a journal or gratitude book. Or, if you are night owl and have most of your good ideas at night, write them down in your book and mull over them in your dreams, rather than keeping yourself awake with your brainwaves. To-do lists also have their place on the bedside table. Who hasn't sat up in bed ten minutes after switching the light off and thought: "Crikey, it's Father's Day at the weekend!" or "When are the library books due back?" or some other exhilarating thought? This is the time to get your Notes To Self down on paper and then forget about them ‘til morning.

Sometimes, things cannot be left ‘til morning. You know yourself what your triggers are. Maybe you'll find yourself thinking about something over and over; there's no way your mind's going to let you rest. I usually give myself about twenty minutes to drop off, and if my mind's working overtime I get up, and do whatever I need to do. This may be as simple as reading a magazine for a while, or as complex and involved as trying to find out a long ago friend's date of death on the internet. Remember that nearly everything looks worse in the small hours.

We do so much to try and help our children settle down and sleep well; today's challenge is to start creating your own bedtime routine to enable you to get the rest you deserve.

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