Most small children can fall asleep anywhere, almost instantly. Why then, do so many adults experience issues with sleep disturbance? Ongoing stress of modern life can result in people having difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or feeling refreshed when waking.
For some people, a night of deep, restful slumber is an impossible goal. More than 50% of my clients over 40 experience sleep disturbance. Some find it difficult to fall asleep while others wake up several times each night. Lack of sleep can reduce work performance, often affecting men more than women, who seem to bounce back quicker. Insufficient sleep can also lower a person’s immune system, opening the way for colds or influenza.
Sometimes life circumstances interrupt normal rest patterns. The arrival of a new baby in the house, caring for a sick child or living with an elderly relative can make it difficult to switch off at night. However, after circumstances revert to normal, often the new disturbed sleep pattern remains.
Excluding ongoing medical issues such as sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy or the effects of PTSD, there are some simple techniques to improve sleep. These include some vigorous exercise during the day, avoiding caffeine and other stimulants after sunset and ensuring the bedroom is comfortable, quiet and dark. It’s also important to develop a smooth, simple routine for going to bed at night. This might involve listening to white noise, soft classical music or using ear plugs.
Jennice experienced difficulty falling asleep at night despite being extremely tired. She avoided coffee, tea and chocolate after 4:00pm but mentioned that she loved to read before sleep. She had formed the habit of reading her news feed on her tablet. Stories of war, economic instability and rising international tensions are not suitable bedtime reading so Jennice decided to read children’s stories (but not fairytales from the brothers Grimm) to see if this improved her slumber.
Many people count the hours of sleep each night but a long night’s dozing doesn’t always mean restful slumber. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep quantity doesn’t always equate to quality. It’s important to pay attention to the sleeping environment. Rest can be influenced by the amount of light in the room, the temperature and noise levels. It’s not easy falling asleep with a barking dog nearby.
A darkened room triggers the body to release melatonin, a hormone that helps people to fall asleep. Sometimes it is necessary to close the bedroom door, especially if a pet is likely to push it open throughout the night. During winter, an open door can significantly change the room temperature, affecting body temperature and rest. People who are naturally sensitive to surrounding sounds might benefit from ear plugs at night and individuals who sleep on one side (most of us) might benefit from using a higher pillow that supports the head, neck and shoulders. In brighter environments, night shades might be required to block out street lights. There are many factors within a person’s control that can positively affect refreshing sleep.
Sometimes, if possible, arrange for a free morning the following day and plan a sleep-in the night before. Not having to be up early allows the mind to rest, without deadlines and demands. A successful day begins with a good night’s sleep. Recently I was exhausted after teaching all day and found myself nodding off during dinner. Before bed, I rearranged the following day so that I had no tasks before 1:00 pm. That night I fell into a deep sleep at 11:20 pm and awoke the following morning at 10:45 am. As a result of this extended sleep, my mind was clear, focused and sharp all day, despite my physical tiredness from the previous day.
Regular positive sleep patterns help but when they’re broken, it’s time to consciously re-set them. Recently after an interstate trip, Nicolas arrived home mentally hyped up but physically tired. Listening to a short, guided-meditation before bed helped him switch off from the demands of the journey and he slipped into a deep, refreshing sleep. A good night’s sleep is an essential part of a positive day and with a bit of planning and a few simple processes, it’s possible to enjoy cozy, revitalizing sleep.
© Copyright 2019 Paul Fenton-Smith