Get the physical essentials for a good night’s sleep sorted

We are all creatures of habit and the first essential is to get the physical essentials in place.

  • A regular pre-bedtime routine – your “alarm” should go off at 9pm at which point you drop all activity and move into your bedtime routine.
  • A regular bed time – 9.30pm latest! Perhaps earlier in winter.
  • Learn to recognize the sleep wave – one comes every 90 minutes
  • Your day needs the right balance of mental and physical activity.
  • Do not allow a bed fellow who snores – you need different rooms!
  • Small carbohydrate snack just before bedtime (eg nuts, seeds) helps prevent nocturnal hypoglycaemia – often manifests with vivid dreams or sweating or waking in night.
  • Perhaps restrict fluids in the evening if your night is disturbed by the need to pee.
  • No stimulants such as caffeine or adrenaline inducing TV, arguments, phone calls, family matters or whatever before bed time! Caffeine has a long half life – none after 4pm.
  • Dark room – the slightest chink of light landing on your skin will disturb your own production of melatonin (the body’s natural sleep hormone) – have thick curtains or blackouts to keep the bedroom dark – this is particularly important for children! Do not switch the light on or clock watch should you wake.
  • A source of fresh, preferably cool, air.
  • A warm comfortable bed – we have been brainwashed into believing a hard bed is good for you and so many people end up with sleepless nights on an uncomfortable bed. It is the shape of the bed that is important (see section on posture). It should be shaped to fit you approximately and then very soft to distribute your weight evenly and avoid pressure points. Tempur mattresses can be helpful (if expensive) as are water beds.
  • If your sleep is disturbed by sweating then this is likely to be a symptom of low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia).
  • Another common cause of disturbed sleep is hyperventilation which often causes vivid dreams or nightmares. This can now be tested for by measuring a Carbonic anhydrase studies in red blood cells However I often use a benzodiazepine such as diazepam 2-5mgs at night which reduces the sensitivity of the respiratory centre.
  • If sleep is disturbed by pain, try to find the cause of the pain. If not possible then one must just take whatever pain killers are necessary to control this. Lack of sleep simply worsens pain.
  • If one wakes in the nights with symptoms such as asthma, chest pain, shortness of breath, indigestion etc then this may point to food allergy being the problem with these withdrawal symptoms occurring during the small hours.
  • Some people find any food disturbs sleep and they sleep best if they do not eat after 6pm.
  • If you do wake in the night do not switch the light on, do not get up and potter round the house or you will have no chance of dropping off to sleep.
  • Learn a “sleep dream” to train the subconscious to switch on the sleep button!

By Dr. Sarah Myhill