Sleep is ultra important: the health benefits of getting a good night's rest are well researched. Sleep improves your memory, spurs creativity, lessens the chance of a heart attack and helps with depression.
Getting a good night's sleep can be a dramatic experience for insomniacs. Dr Kirstie Anderson, a Consultant Neurologist says: "people who have chronic insomnia dread climbing the stairs and going to bed. Insomnia a life-altering condition that has a massive health and wellbeing impact."
So it's worth trying to get a good night's sleep. But if it were that easy to get a good night's sleep, we'd all be doing it. Unfortunately insomnia is rife, and most of us have suffered from sleep deprivation at some point.
But all is not lost. With these tricks you'll be sleeping again in no time.
Read up on sleep hygiene
There's a lot of buzz around sleep hygiene for insomniacs. Sleep hygiene isn't having a bath before bedtime; it's an umbrella term for all the tips people have found to aid sleep.
- Maintain a regular sleep pattern seven days a week. Try going to bed, and getting out of bed, at the exact same time each day.
- Limit yourself to 7 hours in bed to consolidate your sleep.
- Avoid napping during the day. Power naps have lots of benefits, but they are counter-productive if you are struggling to sleep at night.
- Reduce your caffeine and cigarette intake, especially in the afternoon and evening.
- Consider a dry spell. Alcohol speeds the onset of sleep, but it disrupts your sleep in the second half of the night as your body begins to metabolize the alcohol. It also reduces the amount of REM sleep you encounter. Drinking on a regular basis to get to sleep is a false economy as you end up with less sleep overall. This Medscape article can give you more information about the effects of alcohol on sleep.
- Set up a regular exercise routine, preferably in the morning so you aren't pumped up too close to going to bed.
- Eat your large meals earlier in the evening (avoid large meals just before you go to bed).
- Ensure that you have exposure to natural light.
- Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid anything emotionally upsetting just before you go to sleep.
- Don't use your bed to watch TV, listen to music or read. Use it just for sleep (or sex) so you start to associate your bed with just sleep.
Get a bio alarm clock app or sleep tracking device
Sleep technology has come a long way, baby. There are for example apps available that make use of the accelerometer found inside smartphones to measure your sleep. These so called Bio Alarm Clock apps can be used to smooth out the waking-up process.
The idea behind such bio alarm clocks is to wake you up when you're already in a light sleep phase. People have different phases of sleep, and you move between deep sleep and light sleep. (People sleep in four different waves interspersed with REM sleep).
According to the NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) "It is very difficult to wake someone during stages 3 and 4, which together are called deep sleep. There is no eye movement or muscle activity. People awakened during deep sleep do not adjust immediately and often feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes after they wake up."
This is why you can sometimes wake up feeling refreshed and find, even after a few hours sleep; or wake up feeling wrecked after a long sleep. It's not about how much sleep you've had, but when you wake up.
This is where the bio alarm clock steps in; you tuck the phone under your pillow, and it monitors your movement to detect patterns between deep sleep and light sleep. And it slightly adjusts the wake-up time to ensure that it wakes you up during the correct cycle.
If you want a more dedicated solution, there are permanent devices like the Withings sleep tracking mat.
This device is placed under your mattress and tracks your sleep, snoring, sleep heart rate, sleep cycle analysis (deep, light & REM), sleep breathing patterns and disturbances, and other sleep metrics. All the sleep data is immediately available in the accompanying free app. This data allows you to make a medically-informed decision on your sleep by sharing an automatically-generated sleep diary with your doctor.
Use meditation apps (or videos) to get to sleep
Meditation is a time tested and proven technique for getting to sleep and there are plenty of apps for that as well. A typical meditation app combines audio and spoken word to build a new soundtrack when you go to sleep. You can choose how much audio to speech and how long you want the soundtrack to run for. A trendy feature typically included with these apps is to use Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) with binaural beats to create a unique aural soundscape each night.
It's worth pointing out that scientists are somewhat skeptical about the science behind binaural beats. Even so, these apps are an enchanting way to fall asleep.