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Sleepy head



We all need between about 6 and 8 hours sleep a night to maintain good health and for our mental wellbeing. We are told we should get up each day at the same time each day and have our breakfast not too long after, breaking the night's fast. Erratic lie-ons and different times for breakfast can seriously affect our health from just being sluggish, to migraines and bad headaches to more serious conditions.


But do you sleep well? I drop off easily, but can have very disturbed patterns of rest either being awake long periods of the night or regularly from about 4:30 to 5 o'clock. It is a joy in the light morning and sunny days but not so great in the cold, wet and darkness of the Winter. Do you do better than me?


For most of us when we are worried and stressed about things in our lives, eg a family illness, Covid-19, a big decision to make etc our sleep patterns change again. I know after my mother and father died immediately I slept much better for the worry was removed, but when worried about David, things changed again. There are so many people who with the virus are not sleeping, because they are fearful and worried.


It is important to have a bedtime routine which we should try not to alter or change. This is of course ok for those of us who can just drop off, but not clever for those who really struggle to go to sleep. There are all manner of guides to help us, to offer a daily pattern which just might work for us, but which can be hugely difficult to stick to. the NHS suggests these things:


Make sure you wind down


Winding down is a critical stage in preparing for bed. There are lots of ways to relax:

  • a warm bath (not hot) will help your body reach a temperature that's ideal for rest

  • writing "to do" lists for the next day can organise your thoughts and clear your mind of any distractions

  • relaxation exercises, such as light yoga stretches, help to relax the muscles. Do not exercise vigorously, as it will have the opposite effect

  • relaxation CDs work by using a carefully narrated script, gentle hypnotic music and sound effects to relax you

  • reading a book or listening to the radio relaxes the mind by distracting it.


There are a number of apps designed to help with sleep. See the NHS Apps Library

  • avoid using smartphones, tablets or other electronic devices for an hour or so before you go to bed as the light from the screen on these devices may have a negative effect on sleep.


Other things which do effect us are our bedrooms. Are they places of peace or are they just another room in the house? Are our bed linen or duvets old and seen better days or do we invest in good quality cotton that is smooth to the touch and gives an aura of rest to our rooms. Are our bedrooms, dumping grounds for our clutter both daily and of our lives? If we answer yes, to some of these maybe we need to plan for ourselves a "puddle of peace", with light colours, good bed and bedding and tidy the clutter of things away. Our rooms should not feel clinical, like a hospital or an anonymous hotel room, but still reflect our personalities: some nice art work on the walls, smell inviting, curtains or blinds which block light or if you like me sleep with your curtains open, tone in with the restful room. How our room is and how we feel about going there does affect our quality of rest. In recent years I have discovered the joy of better quality sheets and duvets, (though I only buy them in the sales,) and do find it helps me.


The sleep foundation also suggest things which can further help but of course some of these we have thought about.


Healthy sleep habits can make a big difference in your quality of life. Having healthy sleep habits is often referred to as having good sleep hygiene. Try to keep the following sleep practices on a consistent basis:

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule of the same bedtime and wake up time, even on the weekends. This helps to regulate your body’s clock and could help you fall asleep and stay asleep for the night.

  2. Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual. A relaxing, routine activity right before bedtime conducted away from bright lights helps separate your sleep time from activities that can cause excitement, stress or anxiety which can make it more difficult to fall asleep, get sound and deep sleep or remain asleep.

  3. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid naps, especially in the afternoon. Power napping may help you get through the day, but if you find that you can’t fall asleep at bedtime, eliminating even short catnaps may help.

  4. Exercise daily. Vigorous exercise is best, but even light exercise is better than no activity. Exercise at any time of day, but not at the expense of your sleep.

  5. Evaluate your room. Design your sleep environment to establish the conditions you need for sleep. Your bedroom should be cool – between 60 and 67 degrees. Your bedroom should also be free from any noise that can disturb your sleep. Finally, your bedroom should be free from any light. Check your room for noises or other distractions. This includes a bed partner’s sleep disruptions such as snoring. Consider using blackout curtains, eye shades, ear plugs, “white noise” machines, humidifiers, fans and other devices.

  6. Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure your mattress is comfortable and supportive. The one you have been using for years may have exceeded its life expectancy – about 9 or 10 years for most good quality mattresses. Have comfortable pillows and make the room attractive and inviting for sleep but also free of allergens that might affect you and objects that might cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night.

  7. Use bright light to help manage your circadian rhythms. Avoid bright light in the evening and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning. This will keep your circadian rhythms in check.

  8. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals in the evening. Alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine can disrupt sleep. Eating big or spicy meals can cause discomfort from indigestion that can make it hard to sleep. If you can, avoid eating large meals for two to three hours before bedtime. Try a light snack 45 minutes before bed if you’re still hungry.

  9. Wind down. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour before bed doing a calming activity such as reading. For some people, using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.

  10. If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something relaxing until you feel tired. It is best to take work materials, computers and televisions out of the sleeping environment. Use your bed only for sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your bedtime routine.

  11. If you’re still having trouble sleeping, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor or to find a sleep professional. You may also benefit from recording your sleep in a Sleep Diary to help you better evaluate common patterns or issues you may see with your sleep or sleeping habits.


The final thing which has not been mentioned and I feel is important, is use prayer time at the end of the day or if you awaken in the night to soothe you off again and to place all those worries and concerns into God's hand. It is something you have control over and like the Jesus prayer we talked about several week ago, can and does really help. Use this time to strengthen your relationship with God and rest in His peace.


Lord,

it is night.

The night is for stillness.

Let us be still in the presence of God.


It is night after a long day,

what has been done, has been done:

what has not been done, has not been done;

let it be.


The night is dark.

Let our fears of the darkness of our world

and of our own lives,

rest in you.


The night is quiet.

Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,

all dear to us

and all who have no peace.


The night heralds the dawn

Let us look expectantly to a new day,

new joys,

new possibilities


In your name we pray,

Amen.


from The New Zealand Prayer book



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