Source: Best Health magazine, October 2015
Experts say that women need between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. But don’t get too hung up on the number, says Dr. Meir Kryger, a Canadian physician and professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT. ‘You’ll know you’re sleeping enough if you feel awake and alert.’ Try one of these five tried-and-true tips to get a good night’s sleep. Or, try a few tips in combination for even better results.
1. Book an appointment with your doctor
If you think you might have a sleep disorder, book an appointment with your physician to discuss it. In the meantime, use a sleep diary or a sleep-tracking app, such as Sleep Cycle, so you can provide your doctor with details to help with a diagnosis.
Make it work: Use your sleep diary to track what time you go to sleep and when you wake up in the morning and whether or not you had a good night’s sleep. And don’t forget to make note of your sleep habits on weekends. ‘What happens on the weekend is probably the most useful information,’ says Dr. Kryger. ‘If your doctor sees that you go to bed at 2 a.m. and wake up at 7 a.m. on weekdays but you sleep until noon on weekends, that’s helpful because it tells him that you have a big sleep debt and a circadian rhythm that’s different from other people’s.’
2. Practise good sleep hygiene
Sleep in a cool, dark room, avoid caffeine after midday, skip alcohol at night and banish all electronics from the bedroom. At the end of the day, make sure to give yourself a chance to unwind. ‘Women need to baby themselves,’ says Dr. Kryger. ‘When you get your baby ready for bed, you give her a bath and read her a story to help relax and destress her. Women need to do the same thing for themselves and create an environment that helps them sleep.’
Make it work: Sitting in a warm bath before bed not only relaxes you but also helps promote a good night’s sleep, says Dr. Kryger. When your body gets warm, it tries to cool itself down, and that lower body temperature makes you drowsy. Add a little lavender oil to the bath. The smell of lavender has been shown to slow heart rate and lower blood pressure, which may also help you relax and lead to a deeper sleep.
3. When you can’t sleep, get out of bed
If you’re tossing and turning, get up after 20 minutes, go somewhere else and do something that won’t stimulate you, such as reading, knitting or even dusting, until you feel sleepy, says Dr. Driver. ‘You’re out of bed and a little more active, so when you lie down again, your body temperature will drop and help resettle you, so you’ll sleep better.’
Make it work: If you’re hungry when you get out of bed, grab a snack that contains carbohydrates and the amino acid tryptophan, such as whole-grain crackers with cheese or a glass of milk. There’s some evidence that combining the two may induce drowsiness.
4. Set your alarm clock
You should set your alarm clock so that you wake up at the same time every day, even if you’ve been up until 3 a.m. or it’s the weekend. ‘If you have insomnia, when you wake up in the morning is more important than what time you go to bed,’ says Dr. Driver. ‘Then you’re up and getting morning sunlight and that helps reset your clock. When you wake up with a sleep debt, it builds up while you’re awake, so you should be good and tired by the time you go to bed.’
Make it work: After a couple of weeks of using your alarm clock religiously, your body’s internal clock will hopefully kick in. You may start to notice that you’re waking up on your own right before the buzzer and craving a predictable bedtime, too.
5. Learn to relax
Research has shown that relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, yoga and mindful meditation, can improve sleep quality. Yoga has helped Jane Peters, 53, cope with her RLS. ‘I do a yoga class once a week and 15 minutes of yoga stretches before bed every night, and I visit an osteopath once a month for a massage,’ she says. ‘Now I don’t need to put my head on my desk anymore.’
Make it work: Visit the National Sleep Foundation for relaxation exercises for falling sleep. Or download an app to your smartphone, such as The Mindfulness App, which features guided meditations to help you relax.