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HEALTHWATCH

Sleep like a baby

Having trouble getting restful sleep at night? Dr. N. RAMAKRISHNAN writes about overcoming this problem.

SHAJU JOHN

MOST people take sleep for granted and fail to observe some simple and healthy habits that help get a restful sleep. Our health and ability to succeed depend on how we meet our body's need for rest and quality sleep. There can be a wide variation in the amount of sleep required for individuals. Most of us require an average of 6-8 hours. The following are some common sleep hygiene measures.

Keep regular bedtime hours

Although this may not always be practical, remember that your body likes regular routines. This may not be very exciting but it is comfortable. SO pick a reasonable and regular time to go to bed each night and stick to it. Even if you don't think you are tired when the time comes, your body will appreciate it. After a while, when it feels it can rely on the routine, it will repay the favour by letting you go to sleep when you want. On the same lines, get up at the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. Once you're awake, get up. Don't lie in bed thinking about getting up.

Keep your sleep environment comfortable

Keep the bedroom quiet and as dark as possible when you're sleeping. Make sure you sleep in a well-ventilated room. Fresh air and optimal room temperature are the best sleeping conditions. Sleep on a good firm bed that will give the body the support it needs.

Identify bed with sleep

Do not work, read, watch television or work out crossword puzzles while lying in bed. If you can't sleep, get out of bed. Don't lie awake trying to get sleep any longer than 30 minutes. If you can't sleep in 30 minutes, get out of bed. Do something quiet and non-stimulating. When you feel tired, go back to bed.

Avoid stimulants

Preferably avoid coffee, alcohol and tobacco completely. If not at least four to five hours before bedtime. If you are used to them for a long time, it is not wise to stop them abruptly as withdrawal symptoms can disrupt your sleep pattern. Discuss it with your doctor and withdraw them slowly.

Avoid sleeping on a full stomach

It's a healthy habit to have dinner at least two to three hours before bedtime. This will ensure that you don't have a full stomach when you sleep and also prevent acid reflux (heartburn).

Be active during the day

Get some physical exercise on a regular basis, preferably in the morning. Regular exercise improves restful sleep. This includes walking, stretching and aerobic exercise.

People who work more with their minds have far more trouble with insomnia than people who do physical work. It's best to avoid daytime naps. If you're really having trouble sleeping at night — and you're not a senior citizen who sleeps for small periods of time — skip naps. You'll be more tired at bedtime and be able to fall asleep. Do not exercise just before going to bed, as it can be detrimental to your sleep.

Use relaxation techniques

Only you will know what is relaxing to your body and mind. Some common relaxation techniques that have proven to be beneficial are warm baths, massage, yoga, listening to music and meditation.

Decide what works best for you. Take a warm bath a few hours before bedtime. It's a great way to relax the body. But don't overdo it. You want to relax not exhaust your body. Play some soft soothing music that will lull you to sleep.

If after trying these measures, you still have problems like insomnia, non-refreshing sleep, daytime fatigue or significant snoring, consult a doctor and get appropriate treatment.

* * *

THE most common cause of insomnia is a change in your daily routine. For example, travelling, change in work hours, disruption of other behaviours (eating, exercise, leisure). Sleep pattern disruption may also be a result of tension, stress and anxiety or be a symptom of other physical disorders. Of course, the more anxious we get about our insomnia, the worse it gets.

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