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10 tips to help you sleep at night


Larissa Ham

Taking your laptop to bed ain't a great start.

Taking your laptop to bed ain't a great start.

Money worries, endless to-do lists and other concerns can keep the calmest person awake at night. But getting enough sleep is essential, especially if productivity is the only thing between you and your pay cheque.

Up to 80 per cent of people have trouble sleeping at some stage, and about 30 per cent of us struggle over a longer period, according to Dr Timothy Sharp, author of The Good Sleep Guide.

The good news is there are plenty of things you can do to give your zzzz a fighting chance. Here’s 10 expert tips on switching your brain off for a good night’s sleep.

1. To do: get some sleep

‘‘Probably the simplest place to start is to make sure sleep is a priority,’’ says Dr Timothy Sharp, who is also the ‘chief happiness officer’ at the Happiness Institute. ‘‘I think for a lot of people they see sleep as a waste of time, or at least as something that’s not as important as other things. Just like anything else if you don’t make it a priority you won’t get it done.’’

2. Know your AB-zzzzs

Understand the importance of sleep, Sharp says, which is just as crucial for your health and wellbeing as exercise and diet. Poor sleep affects productivity, along with moods and decision-making.

3. Ditch the bad habits

Sharp says improving sleep can come down to cultivating good ‘sleep hygiene’ - aka good habits.

‘‘What we can do is avoid things that disrupt our sleep. Don’t drink too much caffeine in the afternoon,’’ he says. Other no-nos are massive meals late at night or excessive alcohol, which can make you hot during the night, or simply make you wake in need of the loo.

4. Relaaxxx

The key here is to chill out at least an hour before you hit the hay, says Sharp. Soft music, dim lights, a relaxing book, a bath or a chat with your partner could do the trick. Turn off the idiot box and all your techy devices, and halt work.

* Yes, I am going to sleep for Australia tonight

‘‘All that should be turned off and put away because it takes a while for our brains to wind down.’’ Exercising too late can also get you off to a bad start.

5. Deal with your worries

Sharp says one of the biggest causes of insomnia is ‘‘worry and stress, but the good news if we get these strategies right it’s actually very treatable’’. First, recognise that worrying in itself isn’t actually going to get you anywhere. Instead, try and find solutions to your worries, he suggests. ‘‘Set aside a particular period of time earlier in the day. Sit down and write down a list of problems and write down solutions. If you need to, take time to speak to other people.’’

6. Help!

To every problem, there is at least some kind of solution. Some things you may not be able to prevent, such as your business going bust. But Sharp says those worries can also be lessened. In that case you could consider getting expert advice on the best, quickest or most profitable way of letting go of your venture.

‘‘I guess what you want to do is maximise your sense of control. The more we feel we’re taking control, the less anxiety we experience,’’ says Sharp.

7. Think positive

Predicting a bad night’s sleep again, before you’ve even gone to bed, won’t help your cause, says clinical psychologist Erica Frydenberg, who specialises in coping skills.

‘‘If you keep saying ‘oh I couldn’t sleep last night I’m not going to sleep tonight’ ... you’re in a negative spiral.’’ Instead she recommends telling yourself something like ‘‘I am going to give myself the best opportunity to sleep tonight. I am going to do X, Y and Z differently from last night.

‘‘You’ve got to keep saying it to the point you actually believe it.’

8. Be grateful

Frydenberg, who is also a principal fellow at the University of Melbourne, says a ‘gratitude diary’ - where you list a few things you are grateful for each day - can help your perspective and calm the mind. Mindfulness, or focusing on being in the moment, can also help. She recommends reading Goldie Hawn’s book 10 Mindful Minutes or books on the topic of positive psychology by Dr Martin Seligman.

9. Network

Perhaps not the obvious thing to think about before putting your head down, but having supportive people in your life can be a great stress reliever, says Frydenberg. ‘‘Identify a group of people that you are able to relate to.’’ By articulating your problems to others in a similar boat, ‘‘we’re actually offloading rather than internalising", she says.

10. Don’t get trapped

‘‘Many people feel trapped and stuck,’’ says Frydenberg. ‘‘A lot of what I’ve said is about getting yourself untrapped.’’ Organise your time, take action, seek help and don’t forget: your own sleep is a vital part of your business success, says Dr Timothy Sharp.

‘‘If you’re not sleeping and you fall apart, the business is going to fall apart as well,’’ he says.

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  • Tip #11: Drug your kids.
    Did you know that pharmaceutical companies have made some WONDERFUL advances in recent years? Why not try out that "not-yet-released-just-being-trialed" pill on your toddler? Sure, they may come to resemble Cousin It or even Shrek, but at least you can get some rest.

    Date and time
    June 15, 2012, 4:08PM
    • In my experience, exercise is one of the keys to sleep. If you never tire yourself out physically, as many of us don't sitting at a computer all day, you will not sleep well. An over-active mind and an under-active body is sure path to insomnia.

      Date and time
      June 15, 2012, 4:08PM
      • Every single person I work with sleeps poorly, often, because of work worries. Deadlines and impossible workloads have been keeping us all awake severl nights a week for years. It's a lovely idea that 'all' we have to do is address our worries and we'll get a great snooze. If it was that easy, we'd have all done it long ago.

        What's the solution for people whose work stress is unrelenting? For me, so far, it's been accepting perpetual exhaustion.

        Date and time
        June 15, 2012, 4:21PM
        • I did have a period of not being able to sleep well, and I tried everything to resolve it, and I did eventually.

          I either tried the following ideas or found they were good for some people but didn't help me:

          1) getting rid of all electronic devices off the bedside table,
          2) not using electronic devices in bed - the glow disrupts your hormones,
          3) not having a mobile phone beside the bed,
          4) not having the meter/fuse box on the outside wall of the house near the bedroom,
          5) not eating too soon before bed - let your meals digest,
          6) if still wired up from work or other activities, wind down before trying to go to bed, or the worrying about not sleeping makes it worse,
          7) take some natural herbal supplements (ie valerian), etc. Do not take prescription medications or sleeping pills as they do have dangerous side effects, and they don't fix the cause of the problem anyway.
          8) a shower or relaxing bath is good before bed.
          9) sex.

          What enabled me to sleep again was to lose my sunglasses! I read the science behind it - during the day, sunlight in your eyes enables production of the hormone melatonin, which is then released at night to help you sleep. If you wear sunglasses from the second you step outside the house and until you go insde again (as I did), you don't make enough melatonin, and hence you can't get to sleep or you wake up early every day and can't get back to sleep.

          2-3 days after I took off my sunnies, I started sleeping again! and I've not worn my sunnies since...

          Date and time
          June 15, 2012, 4:27PM
          • I've had insomnia all my adult life, when, at 44 I discovered the cause of it - and other problems such as fatigue, excess sweating, shaking and ultimately depression. I was lucky I found a GP who is an expert on a relatively unknown condition called Hypoglycemia. This means low blood sugar (diabetes is high sugar). It causes the above symptoms and more, mainly by causing the brain to dump excess adrenalin into your system (hence the insomnia, sweating etc.) I urge anyone who has these symptoms, or knows someone who does, to research this subject online. Note a lot of GP's don't know much about this - probably because there's no expensive drugs to treat it, just diet (removing ALL added sugar). Also note this is different to the Hypoglycemia diabetics sometimes suffer from overdosing on insulin. I'm 44, if I'd discovered this in my youth my life would have been far better.

            Date and time
            June 15, 2012, 4:28PM
            • -Earplugs
              = sleep through anything.

              I always have huge meals before i sleep, doesn't make a difference. I can't sleep being hungry.

              Date and time
              June 15, 2012, 4:38PM
              • Ive never had or ever have a problem going to sleep,when i go to bed if i am not sound asleep within 10 mins then i have a problem*S* seriously i dont have a problem,im lucky i can just switch off and nod off its that simple.
                I suppose some of it comes from being an ex interstate truck driver catching 10-15 mins whenever i could,and learning to shut everything out in able to do that,but now i dont have to think about it it just seems normal to go to bed and go to sleep,even when i do have a few worries.

                Date and time
                June 15, 2012, 4:43PM
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