Counting Sheep

Counting Sheep

The Chinese New Year weekend is a good time to catch up on sleep, which can seem like a distant dream in an age where electronics invade every nook and cranny of our lives.

However, there are ways we can help ourselves sleep just that little bit better with some nifty tips, discipline and practice. According to many experts, healthy – sleep habits – often referred to as “sleep hygiene” can greatly improve the quality of sleep.

Have a good sleep schedule

Going to sleep at the same time and waking up at the same time can work wonders for tuning your internal body clock.  Start by setting an alarm in the morning and ensure that you are in bed by the same time every night. Over time, you will naturally begin feeling tired at the same time and wake up at the same time without even needing an alarm! Additionally, aim for at least seven or eight hours of sleep every night.

Make good use of lighting

Studies have shown that your body’s natural clock works on something known as a circadian rhythm. Part of what supposedly maintains this rhythm is natural light. Because of this, you’ll want to avoid bright lights at night time just before you sleep and ensure that you are exposed to sunlight in the morning. Turning off sources of bright light such as laptops, TV screens and phones at night can help; it is best if you can leave them on silent and outside your bedroom altogether. Additionally, leaving a curtain open to let natural sunlight in in the morning can be beneficial for maintaining your natural rhythm.

Avoid napping

Having proper sleep means avoiding any disruption to your circadian rhythms by taking too many naps and having too long a nap during the day. While there is evidence to show that power napping can help keep you energised during the day; make sure that it is no longer than 45 minutes — or the approximate length of a sleep cycle — or you will be awake up to the wee hours of the morning. In addition, the ideal length of a power nap differs from person to person; some people can nap for 45 minutes without affecting their sleep schedule, while others thrive with a few naps of 20 minutes each spaced out in the day. Find out what’s best for you.

Add a calming pre-sleep ritual to your routine

It’s hard to sleep when your mind’s going a millions miles an hour so everyone needs time to slow down and relax before they can fall asleep. Start at least an hour before you sleep. Avoid strenuous activity such as exercise and put away any work before you climb into bed. Activities such as light reading or breathing exercises can help to calm your mind and body, improving relaxation which is ideal for sleeping. However, avoid using your phone or laptop at least an hour before bedtime especially after the lights are off as the bright lights have been shown in studies to stimulate the brain, reducing your ability to fall asleep.

Have a good mattress and pillow

A good quality mattress has a life expectancy of about 10 years and most trusted mattress brands come with guarantees of 10 to 15 years. Ensure that your bed is not just comfortable but suitable for your body type as well. A bad bed does not only make it harder to sleep but also leads to problems throughout the day such as sore or tired muscles or even headaches. You should also avoid placing anything on your bed that may cause discomfort or get in the way, such as extra unused pillows or even laptop cushions and coolers. In Singapore’s tropical climate, it would make sense to ensure that your mattress, pillows and all the bed linen are made of cool material which aids in lowering your body temperature to prepare it for sleep. If you experience discomfort after waking up or wake up in the night more frequently than you would like, your mattress and pillow or even bed linen may be the culprits.

If you can’t fall asleep, don’t stay in bed

It’s a common thing for most people when they are unable to sleep to simply stay in bed and hope that they will drift off which may not be such a good idea. According to experts, lying in bed when you are not sleepy can disassociate the mental link between the bed and feelings of sleep. In order to avoid this, try to avoid staying in bed unless you are going to sleep and, similarly, avoid falling asleep elsewhere such as the couch in the living room. By strengthening the mental association between the bed and sleep, you can find yourself falling asleep more easily and quickly each night. If you’re in bed and can’t fall asleep, get out and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy and try again.

Cancel the caffeine

Contrary to popular belief, the effects of caffeine are usually felt over a few hours rather than immediately. Even the innocent-looking green tea can contain higher amounts of caffeine than coffee; so avoid anything with caffeine for at least two hours before sleep to avoid disrupted sleep. Because teas and coffees are natural diuretics, they can lead to midnight bathroom breaks which are not recommended!

Keep work out of the bed(room)

Keep work and work-related things out of the bedroom; it can disrupt sleep and sex! Bringing a laptop to bed to attempt to finish a proposal could well create a stressful atmosphere in your bedroom. Designate a place in your house for work only and keep everything work-related in there. That way, any thoughts of work will be confined to the place where it’s appropriate.

Install blackout curtain

For many people in Singapore, light pollution is a big problem. Lights from the street outside or from nearby buildings can light your room up with ambient light pollution that can affect your sleep. A good blackout curtain can block external light sources during the night and help create an environment conducive to sleep for you.

Speak to a professional

If you frequently have trouble sleeping or sleep for only two to three hours at a time, you may be showing signs of insomnia. In this case, it’s best to consult a doctor if the symptoms persist for more a couple of weeks, especially if it interferes with your day-to-day activities. Symptoms of insomnia can include more than just trouble falling asleep. It can also include feeling sleepy in the daytime or frequent tension headaches and trouble concentrating or remembering tasks. Insomnia can be very dangerous as it can lead to other conditions such as anxiety disorder or depression when combined with other stressors.

*all images from shutterstock.com

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