Week 3 - Part 1

WHAT’S INFLUENCING YOUR DOWN TIME?

Despite the widespread assumption that sleep problems are caused solely by stress, other less obvious factors can play a role.  As creatures of habit, we can become so used to ways of doing things that we don’t question the impact on our wellbeing. With sleep, this is especially true.

Some of us always take a cup of tea to bed, whilst others amongst us might prefer a hot bath just before bedtime.  If you experience poor sleep on a regular basis, some of your most cherished bedtime habits might be to blame.

  • A hot bath before bed raises your body temperature, making it difficult to fall asleep quickly 

  • Eating a heavy meal within a few hours of bedtime disrupts your ability to fall asleep because your body is working hard to digest the meal 

  • Caffeine is perhaps obvious, but did you know that the half-life of caffeine, or how long it takes to leave your body, is about 6 hours?  Try decaffeinated products after midafternoon depending on when you typically go to bed

  • Alcohol – even in small amounts 

Other factors which may be influencing your sleep include:

  • Underlying and possibly undiagnosed health problems such as liver damage, or an underactive thyroid

  • Obesity, because aside from the general health risks, obesity is one of the risk factors for Sleep Apnea and snoring, both of which disrupt sleep 

  • Other sleep disorders including restless leg syndrome

  • Menopause 

  • A partner who doesn’t sleep well or who snores 

  • Depression and anxiety 

  • A noisy alarm clock (loud ticking isn’t conducive to a good sleep!)

  • A room that’s too cold or too hot 

  • An old or uncomfortable mattress 

  • Unsupportive pillows 

  • Some prescription or over the counter drugs (some of which contain caffeine)

If you suspect that any of these are barriers to your getting a good sleep, commit to 4 things you’ll change over the next two weeks.  You might ditch the caffeine close to bedtime, or get help from your doctor for any suspected health problems.  Perhaps you’ll buy new pillows or change an annoyingly loud alarm clock.  

Give this a try

The Tension Tamer is a technique developed at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Maryland, USA.  It’s a simple stress exercise which will help you to relax before bed and prepare for a good sleep.  The Tension Tamer takes 10 minutes to complete and involves guided breathing and the use of whatever imagery you choose.  One study showed that using the technique nightly decreased the amount of time it took for the majority of study subjects to fall asleep and improved both the quality and the duration of their sleep.

Here’s how it works:

  • Get into bed, making sure that you’re completely comfortable and not too warm or too cold

  • Close your eyes and focus on your breathing, noticing each time you inhale and exhale 

  • As you feel yourself relaxing, let your mind rest on the most peaceful place you’ve ever been to (a beach, a quiet park, a field of flowers…anywhere you’ve felt totally comfortable)

  • Picture yourself in this place while continuing to notice your breathing.  Allow restful images to wash over you; picture the clouds overhead, the air against your skin, the warmth of the sun, and the sounds around you  

  • Watch the scene as if it were a film.  You’re not emotionally involved, but simply allowing yourself to picture this restful scene noting the finest details.  If you find yourself distracted, refocus on the scene and continue to notice your breathing

  • Simply let yourself drift off while enjoying the feeling of total relaxation

You’ll soon be asleep and can look forward to feeling refreshed in the morning.