Thursday, May 6, 2010

10 Things You Need To Know About Sleep

Do you get enough sleep? Many people don't. 10 Things You Need to Know About Sleep reveals the science behind why so many find it difficult to nod off, and offers practical tips on the best ways to get a good night's sleep.

BBC - Health - click on title to go to BBC

(Lavender works for me! J)

1. Bath Before Bedtime

A hot bath has been a much-quoted remedy for sleeplessness for years, but how does it work? The body's normal core temperature is about 37.4 degrees Celcius. You might think that raising this temperature in a hot bath is what tricks your body into feeling sleepy. In fact, it is the cooling down that occurs when you get out of the bath that facilitates sleep. It is only recently that the drop in body temperature has been recognised as a trigger for sleep. If you're having trouble sleeping, try having a warm bath about an hour before bedtime.

2. Insomnia
Insomnia plagues people in huge numbers, and once the body has asserted an erratic sleeping pattern, it can be very hard to break. Sleep restriction therapy is one potential method of breaking such patterns. A sufferer is restricted to spending less time in their bedrooms, whether they sleep or not. But it's not easy, as Professor Colin Espie from the University of Glasgow Sleep Centre explains: "People with insomnia will typically spend longer in bed to try and catch up. What we do with sleep restriction is drastically reduce the amount of time they spend in bed. That's a difficult thing to do." The aim of this treatment is to make the subject so tired that their body will be forced to re-establish a normal sleeping pattern. If you're struggling with insomnia, a sleep restriction therapy programme is definitely an option to consider. The key is to stay in the bedroom only to sleep, and always get up at the same time each day. Consulting your GP is always a good first step towards tackling insomnia.

3. The Art Of Napping
The nap can be a great way of boosting energy levels, as long as you observe the rules over when you nap, and for how long. Naps are most effective when taken in the afternoon between two and five. The optimum nap duration is 30 minutes. Your body will naturally resist attempts to nap between seven and twelve o'clock in the morning, and between six and eight o'clock in the evening.

4. How To Stop Snoring
It's estimated that 15 million Britons snore. Snoring can be linked to serious health conditions and as it can affect the sleep of more than just the sufferer, it can have a negative effect on relationships. But what causes snoring? During sleep, the muscles controlling our airways can relax, causing the air passage to narrow. As a result, when we breathe, the soft tissues in the mouth, nose and throat vibrate, which we then hear as snoring. Help is at hand though, with a number of over the counter remedies available. Moistening strips can be employed that are designed to reduce the vibration of these soft tissues. Alternatively, mouth guards can prevent the tongue from falling to the back of the mouth. However, such remedies are not guaranteed, and if your sleeping and snoring is more serious, do consult your GP.

5. Don't Mess With Your Sleep Cycle
A good night's rest is usually an indicator that the body has undergone five specific stages of sleep, which together, form one sleep cycle. At stage one, a person will feel drowsy. Stage two is where someone drops off to sleep. The third and fourth stages constitute deep sleep. The final fifth stage is REM sleep, signified by Rapid Eye Movement, an indication that we are dreaming. Sleeping soundly requires that we go through four to six cycles in one night, and anything less will be detrimental to our performance when awake. The best way to ensure you have the right mixture of sleep stages is to avoid caffeine and alcohol before sleeping, as they can distort the natural sleep pattern, and ensure that you sleep for between seven and nine hours every night.

6. The Power Of Daylight
If sleeping isn't an issue for you, then how about waking up? Research into daylight reveals that it can be used to help us wake up more effectively. In 2002 scientists identified a group of receptor cells in the eye that regulate the production of a hormone called melatonin. This hormone determines how sleepy or awake a person feels. At night, the body's supply of melatonin will increase, causing us to feel sleepy. At daybreak, even with the eyelids closed, the receptor cells are triggered by the increasing light to signal the brain, and in particular, the pineal gland, to reduce the amount of melatonin in the body. This allows us to feel more alert and awake. By mimicking the qualities of natural light that trigger the receptor cells, scientists can use 'blue' lamps to fool the body into thinking it's naturally awake. These blue lights can help early risers to feel more awake. But for anyone struggling to sleep during daylight hours, dark heavy curtains could help.

7. Eat To Sleep

Did you know that different types of food can affect how you sleep? Meals rich in carbohydrates set off a chain reaction which makes us sleepy. When carbohydrates are digested in the stomach, they trigger the release of insulin, which in turn, helps the chemical tryptophan enter the brain. There, it's turned into serotonin, and serotonin makes us sleepy. However, eating proteins has the opposite effect to carbs. Proteins break down into amino acids, which reduce the amount of tryptophan entering the brain. So less sleep-inducing serotonin is produced. As a result, we tend to feel more alert. A protein meal at lunch may well prevent you from dropping off in the afternoon, and a carb-heavy meal in the evening should help you sleep.

8. How To Beat Jet Lag
Jet lag affects frequent flyers and holiday makers alike, but scientists believe they may have found a new method to overcome the afflication. The theory is based on the internal food clock which helps animals regulate sleep. In humans, it's largely dormant, but can be activated by controlled fasting. After such fasting, the theory is that eating at the next meal time of the new time zone can help quickly reset the body's internal clock. So if you want to avoid jet lag when you next fly long haul, try to avoid food on the flight, and eat your first meal on arrival at the destination. If the theory is correct, then this should help reset your body clock to your local time, and enable you to get a good night's sleep.

9. Relaxation
One simple and effective method to wind down is to repeatedly tense and relax your muscles, shortly before going to bed. Starting with the feet, tense all the muscles in one foot for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat this tensing, holding and relaxing for the rest of the body. The whole exercise should last for about 15 minutes, and should leave you feeling a lot more relaxed, and ready to sleep.

10. Herbal Remedies
Herbs like lavender and plant extracts like valerian root are just two natural sleep inducers. Valerian can be bought and consumed as a tincture, and lavender can be used to make a herbal tea, although studies indicate that it is the smell of lavender that helps people to sleep. Both are available from all good pharmacies.

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