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Ways to sleep better

Friday, January 13, 2012

Before fatigue wreaks havoc on your health, pinpoint what's keeping you up so you can get a solid night's sleep. By Erin Kisby.

Do you constantly use the word 'tired' to describe how you're feeling? More than 1.2 million Australians feel the same way. This statistic is worrying as experts suggest a healthy amount of sleep goes well beyond making you feel on top of your game, improving your mood and preventing under-eye circles.

Adequate sleep is a key part of a healthy lifestyle, and can help reduce stress, increase your energy, boost concentration, reduce accidents, help maintain a healthy weight, improve heart and immune system health, and may even add years to your life.

The good news is there are plenty of ways you can beat a bad night's sleep. We've identified the most common sleep challenges and reveal how you can get a satisfying 40 winks — starting tonight.

"I can't fall asleep"

Ideally you should fall asleep within 30 minutes of your head hitting the pillow. However, if sleep eludes you this can be stressful, which makes your sleeplessness worse. "It's perfectly normal for it take between 15 and 30 minutes to fall asleep, but if it takes any longer than 30 minutes, three times a week over four weeks, this is defined as chronic insomnia," says Dr Delwyn Bartlett, psychologist and insomnia specialist at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney.

What you can do: An inability to fall asleep quickly is often caused by people teaching themselves to think in bed, says Bartlett.

"People who sleep well let sleep happen, and don't go to bed and start thinking or worrying," she says. Remember your bed is a place for sleep and sex only. Before you go anywhere near it at night write down tomorrow's to-do list. This gets anything you're concerned about out of your head and will help you rest easy as you've let go of the day's worries.

"I'm too wired to sleep"

Stress is just one side effect of feeling under the pump. And if you're constantly burning the candle at both ends, worrying about making ends meet, and multi-tasking household and work priorities, your sleep may suffer as a result. Long-term activation of the stress-response system — and overexposure to stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline — puts you at an increased risk of numerous health problems, including disrupted sleep, reports the Mayo Clinic.

What you can do: Take time to wind down before you hit the sack at night as this will give your body time to transition from the full-throttle speed you've been going at all day to a slower pace, ready for sleep. You can do this by turning your TV, computer and smartphone off and having a relaxing bath by candlelight; listening to soft music; reading by a low light; or doing some gentle stretching and deep breathing.

"I can't stay asleep"

Waking throughout the night or in the early hours of the morning is a common complaint. If you suffer from frequent waking you may be experiencing sleep maintenance insomnia, which suggests you're not getting enough deep sleep and are likely to be tired during the day. According to the Mayo Clinic, these mid-sleep awakenings often occur during periods of stress, and depression may also be a factor.

What you can do: Waking during the night is normal, reassures Bartlett. "On average we wake between three and four times a night." Waking up isn't the problem — it's if you start thinking or become wired that causes an issue, she says. If you find your mind starts racing, get up. Sit on your bedroom floor in the dark and do nothing. This may help calm a racing mind, but the main aim is to become bored and uncomfortable so sleeping in your bed will feel like a much better option.

For the full story, see the February issue of Good Health. Subscribe to 12 issues of GoodHealth for only $59.95 and receive an Invisible Zinc Pack, valued at $34.90.


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