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Top 10 tips for a good night's sleep

"The worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not to," lamented F. Scott Fitzgerald, and anyone who has spent restless nights wrestling with the frustration of not being able to fall asleep, stay asleep, or sleep until the desired waking time, might be inclined to agree!


5% of the Australian population suffers chronic insomnia (1), and many more experience intermittent bouts due to disruptions to daily routines, or periods of stress. Insomnia worsens as we age, especially for women. For far too many of us, trying to get enough sleep to feel refreshed in the morning and have the emotional and physical stamina to get through each day, feels like a losing battle.

Sleeping pills are too dangerous for me to recommend, so I have developed an integrated Sleep Restoration Program for my insomniac clients, which comprises good sleep hygiene, nutritional excellence, and my favourite 'secret weapon', EFT.

Top ten tips for a good night's sleep:
1.    Maintain a regular sleep schedule: get up at the same time, and go to bed at the same time each day, even on weekends, to set your body clock. It is preferable to wake with the daylight, but If you don’t, ensure you’re exposed to daylight or a full-spectrum light such as those used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder, for 30-45 minutes within an hour of waking.

2.  Avoid caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and sedatives. Caffeine is a stimulant: it suppresses slow wave sleep (the most restful, rejuvenating part of the sleep cycle), and its effects last up to 14 hours – so even one coffee or tea in the morning can still affect your sleep at night. Nicotine is also a stimulant. Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant which suppresses rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, then as it wears off, evokes a rebound increase in REM sleep along with adrenalin secretion. This inhibits slow wave sleep, meaning you wake up still feeling tired. Sedatives also suppress deeper levels of sleep.

3. Exercise as vigorously as your fitness level permits, 4 hours before bedtime. You need to work out hard enough to feel hot and raise a sweat. The normal drop in body temperature during the late afternoon, is one of the cues for secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. If you raise your core temperature through exercise, the drop in body temperature is more dramatic, triggering more melatonin release. But don't exercise any closer to bedtime than this, or the adrenaline from your workout will still be circulating when you're trying to wind down. (Gentle exercise, such as the slower forms of yoga, is OK close to bedtime.) If you can't exercise at this time, a warm - not hot! - bath 2 hours before bedtime has a similar effect on body temperature.

4.    Lower the light level in your home at night. Turn off the TV, laptop, iPad, mobile and anything else that emits bright light. Use lamplight, candlelight or a dimmer switch to lower the light level in your environment. The intensity of light is the primary trigger for secretion of melatonin. Bright lighting tells your brain it's still daytime, keeping levels of the alertness hormone cortisol too high, while pushing down levels of sleep-inducing melatonin . A good old-fashioned book, read by lamplight, will help you go to sleep, but the light emitted by an e-reader or anything else with a screen, will keep you awake.

5.    Eat magnesium-rich foods throughout the day, especially in the evening, and minmise animal protein. Magnesium is a nervous system and muscle relaxant. It's found in abundance in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. Avoid eating an evening meal based on animal protein, with little to no carbohydrate: this blocks the uptake of tryptophan, which is converted into melatonin, into the brain. Plant protein sources such as legumes (lentils and dried peas and beans), supply both the tryptophan and the carbohydrate needed to speed its passage through the blood-brain barrier, ensuring you'll have enough melatonin production to drop off and stay asleep.

6.    Use the bedroom only for sleep and sexual activity, not for watching TV, talking on the phone or texting! Aim to associate the bedroom with sleep, not waking activities.

7.    Make your bedroom as dark, cool and quiet as you can. Overheating stops you from going to sleep, and aggravates restless legs syndrome (as does caffeine). Light (including that emitted from digital displays such as clock radios) and noise also hinder sleep.

8.    Wind down and relax before bedtime. Take a warm bath with lavender and clary sage oils added; avoid watching or reading violent or disturbing material; do EFT (see point 10 below); and do a relaxation technique in bed with the lights out, even if you’re already sleepy – this helps relax your mind and body, ensuring that you’ll fall asleep quickly and easily. Repeat the technique if you wake during the night. A CD or mp3 with verbal instructions that lead you through the sequence is ideal – buy one, or make your own.

9.  Don’t go to bed until you’re sleepy – but don’t do stimulating activities at night just because you’re not tired. Instead, choose relaxing activites such as gentle yoga, light reading (no crime or horror fiction at bedtime!) or craft; or even boring, low-energy chores such as ironing. If you can’t get to sleep after 20 minutes in bed, get up, go to another room and do something relaxing e.g. listen to relaxation music, do gentle yoga or tai chi, or read using a low light source, until you feel sleepy. Repeat the muscle relaxation technique when you get back into bed.

10.  Use EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to deal with thoughts, feelings, beliefs and body sensations that interfere with sleep. I teach my insomniac clients to do EFT ('tapping') on EVERYTHING that is, or might be, keeping them awake. Chronic insomniacs have usually developed beliefs that interfere wih their ability to sleep, such as

  • "No matter what I do, I just can't sleep!"
  • "Nothing works for me."
  • "I have to take pills to get any sleep at all."

In addition they're plagued by fears about their performance the next day if they don't sleep; and the effect their insomnia is having on their health, relationships and sanity.

EFT is perfect for addressing all these fears. I help clients discover and address their limiting beliefs and fears about sleep, and teach them how to use tapping at home, starting in the late afternoon, to deal with their anxiety about the night ahead. I advise using EFT before going to bed (or sitting up in bed, before you lie down to sleep), to put to rest any leftover tension from events of the day: upsetting incidents at work, conversations that left a sour taste in your mouth; mistakes you made or criticism you received; as well as anything you're facing in the near future that's bothering you: upcoming exams, performance reviews, big decisions you have to make, and so on. Doing EFT in this fashion 'clears the decks' of all the things that might keep you awake, and also physically relaxes you so you're ready to drop off to sleep easily and without struggle.

Using this Sleep Restoration Program has helped many of my clients - some of whom couldn't even remember their last good night's sleep - to reinstate a normal, natural pattern of rejuvenating sleep. And when you've slept well, the rest of your life is so much more enjoyable!

References here.

RobynRobyn Chuter is a university-qualified naturopath, with a Bachelor of Health Science (and the Dean's Medal for Outstanding Academic Achievement) from the University of New England, and a Diploma of Naturopathy from the Australasian College of Natural Therapies. Robyn runs the website Empower Total Health; and she has a naturopathic practice in Sydney, Australia where she specialises in chronic, medically 'incurable' health problems such as IBS, CFS, migraine, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

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