Most of us take sleep for granted until we start experiencing sleep problems. We soon realise that our ability to function in our daily lives deteriorates when our sleep becomes poor - we cannot concentrate, feel lethargic, experience aches and pains. We find ourselves becoming cranky, irritable and fall sick easily.
So we take more caffeine to boost our energy during the day and take naps to make up for lost sleep. At night, we put in extra effort and willpower to sleep. The irony is that all these only make it harder for us to fall asleep!
To tackle sleep problems, we need to investigate the cause of the problem, identify the best strategies to use, and practise these strategies consistently for a few weeks. Good habits can promote good sleep, and habits take time to cultivate or change. So consistency is essential.
Good sleep happens when both the body and mind can wind down and relax. The steps listed below can help you sleep better if you practise them diligently and consistently for a few weeks:
Step 1 Set a wake-up time and stick to it daily (including weekends). Remember that consistency helps from good sleep habits.
Step 2 Prepare your body to wind down and relax, starting in the afternoon. Stop your caffeine intake at least six hours before bedtime. Do cardiovascular exercise regularly to help you sleep deeper, but ensure you stop vigorous exercise at least 2 hours before sleep to give your body time to wind down. Reduce alcohol intake and smoking as these can affect the sleep cycle. Do not nap for more than 30 mins during the day as this may affect your state of sleep at night.
Step 3 Prepare your bedroom for better sleep. Imagine your bedroom as a spa - reduce clutter, ensure it's dark enough and the temperature is just right. You can also use aromatherapy scents such as lavender and valerian, and play light ambient music to make it more relaxing.
Step 4 Have a good pre-sleep routine. Spend the last hour of your day winding down by doing simple stretches or light reading. Switch off your computer and TV as the brightness of these devices can make you more awake.
Step 5 Go to bed only when you feel sleepy. If you don't feel sleepy, get out of the bed or leave the bedroom. Do relaxation exercises, such as mindful stomach breathing, or some light, easy tasks until you feel drowsy. Go to bed only when you feel really drowsy. Each time you wake up and cannot sleep during the night, leave the bedroom and do some relaxation exercises until you are drowsy again.
Practise these five steps daily and you should notice some improvements in your sleep after two or three weeks. I also practise these tips to get a good night's sleep. It's really useful for me.
(Reference- Stress-Free Slumber by Dr.Tan Wee Hong, Clinical Psychologist, CGH.)