If waking in the small hours is your sleep problem, just relax and unwind…
Did you know insomnia may be in your genes? A recent study of the genes of over 450 000 people found 57 gene regions that are linked to insomnia, meaning the sleep disorder could be inherited.
And according to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group, “insomnia affects almost one third of the population at some time in their lives, and may present symptomatically as trouble falling asleep, having trouble staying asleep or both.”
Additional bad news is that insomnia has been linked to health problems: a 78% risk of coronary artery disease, a 22% risk of depression, 18% risk of type 2 diabetes and 50% risk of developing colorectal cancer. “Our findings suggest that depression and heart disease are actually a result of persistent insomnia,” says researcher, Dr Samuel Jones, of the University of Exeter.
There are, however, other reasons we wake up at night…
1 Hormones: Puberty, periods, pregnancy and especially menopause affect our sleep.
2 Age: Sleep gets lighter and more fragmented the older we become.
3 Needing the Loo: The system that shuts down urine production gets less efficient with age.
So how do you get the rest you need? We take a look at the top tips from Kevin Morgan, a professor of psychology who specialises in the causes of and treatment for insomnia, and Kathleen McGrath, a nurse and specialist in sleep management…
The Dos and Don’ts of Good Sleep
DON’T wind down with the TV on or send e-mails before bed – this stimulates the mind, and the light suppresses melatonin production.
DO listen to music or an audio book, or do relaxation exercises.
DON’T eat before sleep! Digestion requires energy, which can elevate your metabolic rate and reduce sleep quality.
DO make lunch your biggest meal of the day.
DON’T wear yourself out at the gym at night. Daytime exercise improves sleep quality, but evening exercise triggers adrenaline, raises your heart rate and boosts energy levels for several hours.
DO try yoga or meditation, instead.
DON’T drink cocoa or a shot of brandy just because a friend does. Caffeine acts as a diuretic, while alcohol will wake you in a few hours as the body metabolises it.
DO get up and go to bed around the same time.
DON’T try catching up on lost sleep at the weekend – the body likes consistency.
6 Ways to Get Back to Sleep
1 Stop worrying
Worry is the number-one sleep saboteur. The worst thought you can have is, “I hope I can get back to sleep”. Reframe your thoughts to, “I’ve woken up. It’s normal.”
2 Breathe deeply
Try relaxing instead of sleeping. Close your eyes and breathe slowly, deeply and rhythmically – notice your abdomen rise and fall. Focus on your toes and work up your body, tensing each muscle for a few seconds, then releasing. Visualise a peaceful place.
3 Get up
Leave the room, have a herbal tea (don’t raid the fridge!) and try a quiet activity such as reading (not in bed – bed is for sleeping.) Avoid screens. When you yawn, return to bed.
4 Set your alarm
Set your alarm before you normally experience your unwanted waking. Have some water, go to the loo then return to bed and lie with your eyes open. Keep them open, open, open… you WILL drop off!
5 Boost your melatonin
You need total darkness to boost melatonin – the natural hormone that regulates our biological clock. Ban electronic items from the bedroom and black out any light.
6 Keep cool
We sleep better at 16°C to 18°C. Ventilate your room, don’t have too many blankets, and wear cotton.
By Health Writer Belinda dos Santos