Thirteen tips for a great nights sleep
By Blake Graham, BSc (Honours), AACNEM
If you find yourself tossing and turning every night or you are waking up before the birds you may want to try this list of recommendations for overcoming insomnia and achieving a great nights sleep. Insomnia is caused by a vast array of physical and emotional components so no one of these recommendations helps everyone. Overcoming stubborn cases of insomnia may require combining a number of treatments at once to achieve results. I suggest working your way through this list and sticking with anything that appears to help.
1. Medical causes.
There are many different causes of insomnia. See our page on Insomnia which lists the many possible causes of insomnia. Find and work with a professional who can help you identify the cause(s) of your sleep problems. A few considerations:
If symptoms persist ask your doctor for a referral to a 'sleep medicine specialist'.
Exercise is a great tool to improve sleep, although to be effective it can't just be any type or any amount. In my experience the most effective program of exercise to improve sleep is as follows:
Exercise should ideally be approximately 3-4 hours before going to bed and at roughly the same time every day.
3. Temperature reduction and optimisation.
A slight lowering of body temperature which occurs at night time plays a very important role in modulating the chemical signals which induce sleep. In one study a group of insomniacs were instructed to have a hot shower approximately 3 hours before bed. Many reported this had a dramatic effect on improving their sleep. If this doesn't helping you try combining it with a cold shower right before going to bed. While trying to fall asleep in bed always take steps to achieve a comfortable temperature as being too hot or too cold can inhibit sleep.
4. Dietary salt intake.
In a long forgotten study from the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1945, a group of patients with insomnia were treated with a severely restricted salt intake. After 4-7 days the majority of individuals began to fall asleep easier. A few weeks later most noticed big differences in their ability to fall asleep.
Most people think they follow a low salt intake but in fact are wrong. On average 90% of our salt intake comes from packaged foods, while only 10% comes from the salt shaker. Cutting way back on salt involves not only avoiding the salt shaker but avoiding packaged food and cooking meals from scratch. Check labels of foods to see if they contain salt. NOTE: Some people feel unwell on a very low salt intake, for example feeling fatigued and light headed. People with adrenal problems should not attempt a low salt diet.
5. Bright light therapy and night time light minimisation.
When we wake up in the morning light hits our eyes and sends a signal to the pineal gland in our brain, which is a major regulator of sleep in the body. This signal regulates our circadian rhythm ('body clock'). This process can be utilised to improve sleep in the following ways:
There is often a connection between the type and size of the meal you eat prior to going to bed, and your sleep. Everyone responds differently to different meals, with some people reporting a high whole grain meal helps them fall asleep, while others report a high protein or high fat meals helps them sleep. Try experimenting with the following:
The following are general dietary recommendations that everyone trying to improve their sleep should follow:
7. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT).
A very large subset of those suffering with insomnia respond very well to EFT. The Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) are based on the same principles as acupuncture, although involve tapping on selected points rather than using needles. EFT is particularly effective if insomnia is related to any stress/depression/anxiety, however if there is no emotional cause using EFT focusing purely on the insomnia itself is still often very effective. See www.integrative-clearing.com.au for an introduction to EFT and quality EFT consultations and workshops in Perth, Western Australia. Visit the official EFT website for more information and for a worldwide listing of EFT practitioners.
8. Meditation audio tracks.
Relaxing meditation or hypnosis audio tracks work very effectively for some people. Listen to them with while lying in bed trying to go to sleep. The following are examples of tracks available.
9. Basic Sleep hygiene.
These steps are basic 'sleep hygiene' recommendations. They are rarely enough alone to cure serious insomnia, but should be followed as part of a basic foundation of sleep guidelines.
Sexual activity directly before bed helps some people nod off easily.
There are many nutritional and herbal supplements that can help people sleep better. Unfortunately no one supplement helps everyone. Among the most effective in my opinion include melatonin (which is a supplement of this sleep inducing hormone produced by the pineal gland) and 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP – a precursor of serotonin). Supplements should be individualised and guided by a knowledgeable professional. Avoid any potentially stimulating supplements/herbs (e.g. many B-vitamins, fish oil, tyrosine, phenylalanine, glutamine, ginseng, DHEA, licorice, etc.) in the evening or late afternoon. As a general rule if you have insomnia take the bulk or all of your supplements with breakfast.
12. Electromagnetic fields and chemical avoidance.
Some people are sensitive to electromagnetic fields (EMF's) to a point where it can inhibit sleep. Try minimising all EMF's near your sleep area for a week or so and see if it makes a difference. Consider sources near your bed and keep them as far as possible from your body: power boxes [other side of wall], clock radios, mobile phones, electric blankets, coils of cable, waterbed heater, phone charger, etc. Keep electrical devices in your bedroom as far away from you as possible and ideally unplugged. Avoid other major sources in the hours before going to bed: operating microwave ovens, operating electric toothbrushes, etc. You may even wish to turn the power off at the mains for a night and see if this make a difference.
Some individuals are also sensitive to environmental chemicals, molds, dust mites, cat/dog hair, etc. which can potentially impair sleep. Keep your bedroom very clean from dirt, dust, mold, etc. Follow the guidelines below to minimise synthetic chemical exposures in your bedroom:
13. Other therapies to consider:
Blake Graham, BSc (Honours), AACNEM
Perth, Western Australia