Ask Dr Libby: How I can improve my sleep and kick the pills?
Q: I've been having huge sleep challenges for the past six months or so. I've had to resort to sleeping pills just to get a good night's sleep every once in a while but they make me quite groggy the following day and I know they're not a long-term solution. Do you have any suggestions for how I can improve my sleep? Thanks, Di.
A: You're definitely not alone in your struggles Di – a quarter of New Zealanders have chronic sleeping issues according to the World Association of Sleep Medicine. And those results were published five years ago, so that number may have increased by now. It's safe to say that most people would have experienced the frustration of a sleepless night regardless of whether it's an ongoing issue for them or not.
We all know how important getting quality sleep is, so when we do have ongoing challenges the worry begins to compound. We worry about the consequences of this lack of sleep to our health on top of how we're going to get through yet another day feeling less than refreshed. When we're in this challenging cycle, it's important to reduce the amount of worries circling in our heads as it generally (as a stress) only makes sleep even more elusive.
Whether you're having trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night, there are several ways to improve your sleep cycle. It can be helpful to get your body into a regular routine of getting up and going to sleep at a similar time each day. A morning and/or evening ritual such as yoga or meditation can reduce your stress and prepare your body for deep rest.
Avoid movement, especially anything energetic, at the end of the day as it typically activates the sympathetic nervous system which can decrease your melatonin (sleep hormone) production and leave you feeling alert and awake. Leave the evenings as time to slow down and stimulate your sleep neurotransmitters. To do this, it helps to keep the lighting to a mimimum and avoid devices for around 60 to 90 minutes before bed. You might like to do some light reading or meditation.
If you consume caffeine, keep consumption to a minimum (stick to one coffee if you can) and remember that caffeine can stay in the body for around eight hours so try to avoid drinking it after midday at the latest. Alcohol is another substance to be mindful of. It tends to make you feel sleepy but often results in a 2-3am wake up call, disrupting some of the deepest sleep stages you will have through the night.
You might also find it helpful to plan your upcoming day before you go to bed to stop you waking up through the night thinking about that thing you forgot to schedule in your diary and to have pen and paper beside the bed in case you wake up with a thought that can then be addressed in the morning.
Join Dr Libby for her upcoming Sort Your Sleep New Zealand tour, for more information or to purchase tickets visit drlibby.com
Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional. Visit drlibby.com.