Most people experience problems sleeping at least occasionally. Lack of sleep has a variety of consequences - all of them negative - ranging from irritability and lack of concentration to a drop in productivity and general health. However, most sleeping problems are more often than not easily overcome with a simple change of routine. The key to getting a good night’s sleep is finding out what works for you, and eliminating the things that don't. The following article details some of the most common causes of sleep deprivation, and some simple ways they can be tackled.
Caffeine, Alcohol and Tobacco – Everyone knows the stimulating effects that caffeine has on the body, and the likely consequences of a strong coffee before bedtime. However, it’s not just coffee that has high levels of caffeine – various teas, chocolate and soft drinks contain caffeine and can produce very similar wake up effects.
The effects of alcohol on sleep are no less disruptive. While an alcoholic drink might induce sleep initially, it results in a restless and unproductive sleep where you’re likely to wake up regularly throughout the night.
Cigarettes can cause various sleep disturbances - nicotine is as potent a stimulant as caffeine, and smokers can also suffer withdrawals during the night. Giving up smoking might not provide immediate relief, but the long-term benefits are obvious.
Eating – As with drinks, there are many types of food that can cause problems when you try to sleep. Common complaints such as heartburn, indigestion and trapped wind can keep you wide awake if suffered during the evening. Of course you will know what effects different types of food have on your body, so it's best to avoid these in the hours before bedtime.
Your bed - It has been found that people who use their beds for activities such as watching TV or working on a laptop find it harder to sleep. If this is an issue, try associating your bed and bedroom with just sleeping, and only go to bed when tired. Condition yourself to consider the bed only as a place to sleep - if you’re not sleeping in it, get out of it!
Relaxing - One of the most effective ways to ensure a good night’s sleep is to make sure you're fully relaxed in the time before you go to bed. Your body and mind aren't built to go from wide awake and alert to fast asleep, so try to ease the transition as much as you can. Again, this is a highly personal choice, but things like a hot bath, reading, aromatherapy or listening to music are common favourites.
Exercise – Exercise can be a healthy way to cause tiredness and achieve a deeper sleep, however, like most things you need to be careful how you approach it. Try not to exercise too close to bedtime as you might find you’re waking your body up at the wrong time. Allow a little 'downtime' before bed where your body can go into a more relaxed state. With this in mind, exercising in the afternoon as opposed to late evening is often a good idea.
Light/Dark - Lightness is a powerful regulator of our biological clock, telling our body when to be alert and when to be sleepy. Therefore it can be a major issue if you're trying to identify causes of sleeping problems. If you're not exposed to much light during the day it could lead to a constant feeling of lethargy and problems sleeping at night as you’re already technically rested. On the other hand if there is too much light in a bedroom at night it can be difficult to sleep - if this is case consider an eye mask or black-out curtains.
Heat - The temperature of the room in which you're trying to sleep is an extremely personal choice, but research has found that a cooler room is generally more beneficial to good sleep. This is related to what happens to the body during sleep, when it goes through a drop in temperature to its lowest levels over a period of around 4 hours.
Noise - Noise is one of the most common enemies of good sleep. While the effects of noise varies massively from person to person, it can be generally agreed that any type of noise when you're trying to sleep isn't ideal. Noise pollution, when it can't be eliminated, can be combated in various ways such as ear plugs, double or triple glazed windows.
Napping - A nap during the afternoon can be a productive and rejuvenating experience, but it can also confuse your body clock and cause issues later on. If you are inclined to regularly nap and suffer problems sleeping at night, try cutting out the napping and going to bed earlier - a far more regular use of your energy.
Getting help - If you've tried to tackle your sleeping problems and are still suffering then it could indicate an underlying problem that requires medical help. There are many sleep disorders that can be successfully treated and controlled once diagnosed.
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