Deborah Cohen on five ways to get to sleep

1 Avoid stimulants and alcohol: getting to sleep is as much about what you don't do as it is about what you do. You should avoid all the usual suspects - alcohol, heavy meals, caffeine and nicotine - just before you go to bed. Also try to deal with your worries before you get ready to go to bed - stress can keep you awake.

2 Establish a bedtime routine: give your body cues that it is time to slow down and sleep, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading. Just as you shouldn't go to bed with a full stomach, neither should you go to bed hungry. Have a light snack or a hot milky drink.

3 Get the conditions right: use comfortable bedding and try to keep your bedroom quiet, dark and cool - but keep your hands and feet warm. Don't use your bedroom as an office. Let your body know that the bed is associated with sleeping.

4 Do gentle muscle relaxation: although you shouldn't do strenuous exercise immediately before bedtime, gentle exercise, such as yoga, can help you fall asleep. There is some evidence that relaxation techniques can make you feel less anxious and sleep better. One technique involves tensing and then relaxing the different muscles in your body one at a time. Start with your toes and work your way up your body to your face. Deep breathing can also help.

5 Don't go to bed just because you think it's time to; go to bed when you are sleepy. This helps to reduce the amount of time you are awake in bed. If you can't sleep after about 15 or 20 minutes, get up and go to another room. Try reading with a dim light or take a warm bath. But don't do a challenging activity, such as housework. Nor should you watch television: this gives off bright light and gives cues to your brain that it's time to wake up. Return to bed when you feel sleepy.

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