If you find it hard to get a restful nights sleep then follow our hour-by-hour guide on how to ensure some satisfying shut-eye
Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, a 59p app for the iPhone, maps your sleep patterns and then determines, within a 30-minute window, the best time for the alarm to go off so that it doesnt disturb you in the middle of a deep-sleep cycle. Genius.
This mineral ensures the body produces optimal levels of serotonin and melatonin, two feel-good hormones that ensure you fall asleep and stay that way. Most women barely meet half their 1200mg daily requirements, so supplement mid-morning and afternoon with a chewable 500mg dose, available at most chemists.
A recent study in the journal Sleep showed that an online CBT programme helped most people sleep better. The cognitive part of the process teaches you to change anxiety-producing thoughts that interfere with your ability to sleep, says Gregg Jacobs, an insomnia specialist at UMass Memorial Medical Center in the US and creator of cbtforinsomnia.com. The behavioural part of CBT, meanwhile, aims to change actions that impair your ability to sleep, such as not exercising at all during the day. It typically takes four to five sessions over six weeks to learn the therapy and reap the benefits. Visit moodgym.anu.edu.au or livinglifetothefull.com.
Exposure to sunlight is essential for maintaining a healthy circadian body clock, the mechanism that causes drowsiness at night and wakefulness during the day. For great sleep, you need a lot of light in the day and a very dark bedroom at night, says Dr Rubin Naiman, director of Circadian Health Associates. I always suggest patients take a daytime walk, even if its raining, to expose their brain and body to full-spectrum daylight.
The most common underlying causes of insomnia are anxiety and depression. This is where exercise can help. Last year, Dr Astrid Bjørnebekk of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, revealed that exercise, particularly running, has a similar effect to antidepressant drugs. Where your exercise takes place is also important. A report called Ecotherapy, which was conducted last year by the mental health charity Mind, indicated that outdoor activity offers more of a mental boost than gym workouts.
If you want your Zs, go the decaf route after 3pm. It takes six-plus hours for your body to eliminate caffeine (if you take the Pill, its as much as ten hours). If you consume a double-shot cappuccino (which has 200mg of caffeine) at 3pm, at least 100mg of that caffeine will still be in your system at 9pm, and your body will almost certainly miss out on the benefits of deep sleep.
Drinking before bed causes limb movement to increase, temperature fluctuations and dream disturbances, as your body works to remove the extra toxins from your bloodstream while you sleep. To minimise these effects, always finish drinking at least three hours before you go to bed, dont drink more than one or two glasses in an evening, and always follow the one-for-one rule (drink one glass of water for every glass of alcohol).
The blue spectrum of light (found in laptops, televisions and even digital clocks) can seriously delay the natural release of melatonin, the hormone responsible for causing drowsiness. Melatonin isnt just important for triggering drowsiness, its also thought to regulate dreams, which may be the best weapon we have against anxiety and depression. Dreaming plays a critical role in learning and the formation of certain kinds of memory. It also helps us to heal from emotional losses, explains Dr Naiman, who suggests investing in blue light-eliminating bulbs for the bedroom and only allows patients to watch TV in bed if they are wearing blue-filter glasses (both available at lowbluelights.co.uk). He also discourages watching or reading the news in the hour before bedtime because its too stimulating, but feels sitcoms are OK. Im convinced there is a link between laughing and good sleep. If The Office makes you chuckle then, by all means, watch it.
A recent publication in the British Medical Journal concluded that regular users average only 25 minutes of extra sleep a night and incur side effects such as daytime fatigue and impaired thinking. Consider amino acid L-Theanine instead: just 300mg per day helps reduce tension and stress and aids sleep without side effects. Or speak to your doctor about a melatonin prescription.
With your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth, exhale completely. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for seven counts. Then, exhale while mentally counting to eight. Repeat three times.
A report in Critical Care Nursing Clinics of North America has shown that a steady, monotonous stream of this frequency-rich sound can help the brain filter out distracting noises. You can download free white noise MP3s of everything from ocean waves to heartbeats at cantonbecker.com.
Try the Sona Pillow (about £45, at sona-pillow.com). Developed by a Harvard-trained neurologist, its shaped to stop snorers from rolling onto their back. The pillow decreased or eliminated snoring in nearly every patient studied and reduced sleep interruptions from an
average of 17 an hour to fewer than five.
If you wake in the night, after 15 minutes of lying in bed, you need a change of venue. Go to another room. You dont want to become too alert, so make sure you have a nightlight on in your hallway to prevent accidentally exposing yourself to bright lights. Listen to relaxing music or white noise on your iPod, advises Dr Naiman. If you keep waking at night over several days or weeks, Ask yourself: What is emerging at this time that Im not allowing myself to think about during the day? Write down whatever comes up. You can also speak to your GP to discuss next steps, such as medication or referral to a sleep clinic.