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13/02/11 Sleep tight

It’s Saturday today and I have just checked out the Sleep Matters web site.  They tell me that 54% of people slept badly last night, although Saturday is one of the better nights for us all in general.  Perhaps it is biased, maybe only people who sleep badly are looking at their web site (together with people interested in sleep like me), so the figures may be exaggerated, but I don’t think so. On our rounds of busy workplaces we are often in contact with employees who simply don’t sleep, and are beyond themselves to know what to do.  According to the latest figures, over 30 per cent of the UK population currently suffers from insomnia or another sleep disorder.

Lack of sleep should be treated as a major health issue, if has an impact on our health and wellbeing, can lead to a lowered immune system and also have implications in our mental state of health as well as contributing to poor relationships.   As an employer what can you do?

Education can be effective, simple and free! Many people get to the end of their tether without trying some simple natural techniques.

Here are our top 10 tips:

1. Stimulants have to go

Avoid Nicotine, Alcohol and Caffeine.  The later can be enjoyed, simply cut it out at least 3 hours before you are due to go to bed, this includes coffee, black tea, hot chocolate and fizzy drinks such as cola.  As for the alcohol, well it may help you fall into a slumber but it is a stimulant, you may find yourself waking during the night feeling dehydrated, and not being able to get back to sleep again.  Enjoy a drink to relax you, be aware that it doesn’t become a crutch for falling sleep.  Now for the smoking.  Your body may wake itself when it is ready for a nicotine fix, especially in the morning hours, try and reduce the amount you smoke before you go to bed.

2. Eat lightly

A belly full of food before bed time is a disaster for a good night’s sleep.  Your body will be busy digesting food, when it should be using that time for restorative procedures, there are lots of them and it doesn’t have a great deal of time, so give it a break and eat lightly before sleep.

3. Run around the block

Skip up the road, dance around the house, dig the garden; all exercise is reported to help us in slumber land.  Especially aerobic exercise a few times a week.  Make sure you don’t do it just before sleeping though, allow 3-4 hours before bed time.

4. Keep a tidy routine

Go to bed and get up at the same time (roughly) every day, even at weekends.  If you feel tired, have a cat nap in the afternoon (when you are not at work!) but make sure you stick to the routine as it helps to reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle and can help you to get to sleep easily in the evening.

5. Comfort and space

I sit on the fence with this one.  Many people sleep on the floor and don’t have the troubles we do in the western world with sleeping, however, it can be an issue for some.  If you are able, make sure you have a mattress that is comfortable and also limit the 10 in a bed syndrome ie 2 cats, 1 dog, 2 of us and 5 children!

6. Our bodies need routine

If you start a relaxing activity pattern and keep to it  every day, your body will train itself to understand the signals.  Good ideas are:  a warm bath, a herbal tea, listening to music (relaxing bedtime music not nirvana) or reading a book (careful with this one some can be so captivating they will keep you us all night, or kick your adrenal response if especially scary!).  Do the same pattern for 26 days and you will have started a healthy habit.

7. Banish the tele

I could have put this in point one, as television acts as a stimulant, yet so many people use it to fall asleep to and switch off to.  The flickering light of the screen is not natural for us and does not give our bodies the ‘sleep’ message.  Banish the tv and play relaxing music if you find it difficult for the first few nights.

8. Stress Less

Easier said than done I know.  Stress and worry can be a major sleep inhibitor, when we are ready to fight a tiger the last thing our bodies are set up to do is sleep.  Worries can all trigger the stress response in us, our modern day tigers come in many forms, money worries, work problems, teenager troubles or sick parents, they can all give us enough worry ammunition to stop us sleeping.  There are things you can do if you can’t sleep and find yourself lying awake thinking of your worries.  There is a visualisation technique which I find useful, imagine in your mind’s eye a big box, it can be wooden, metal, however it comes to you.  You can lift the lid and place your thoughts in there until the morning, knowing that they won’t be gone, but that you deserve a rest from them so that you can deal with them more effectively with  a clear head.  Another thing that helps is to write things down, keep a pad by your bed and scribble away.  Even if things don’t make any sense and they are jibbery, it doesn’t matter, just write down how you are feeling and what your worries are.  No solutions, no one to judge you, just your deepest feelings, crazy as they may seem.

9. Panic supping

Drinking 8 glasses of water a day is a requirement for your health, however getting to 6 o’clock at night and realising you haven’t drunk anything and supping the full 8 in a short space of time is sure to have you pulling yourself up at 2am for a trip to the bathroom.  Space your water out, 2 glasses on rising is the best way to start your day and rehydrate from your night’s sleep (your body has been busy you know!).

10.  Gentle help

Try some alternatives before reaching for the pills.  Some natural remedies can work, hops promotes sleep, in fact the hops pickers used to regularly be found fast a kip on the job!  You can buy readymade lavender and hops pillows, or buy dried herbs and make your own.  There are homeopathic, herbal and flower remedies that have helped people, do a little research or watch for our future articles which will go into more detail on the remedies.  We have a great sleepy slurp product that has passiflora in it, thoroughly sleepy within 10 minutes.  Many of these products can be purchased at your local health food shop.

Happy sleeping.