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Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
We all have times when worry or being overloaded have an impact on our ability to sleep.
While these tips have been prepared in response to the difficulty sleeping that some in
Christchurch are having following the earthquake, they can be used by anyone who wants to
improve their sleep. They are intended for “typical” adults but not necessarily for children or
persons experiencing medical problems.
Getting enough sleep
How much sleep we need differs from person to person. If you are finding it difficult to wake
up in the morning, stay alert during the day, maintain your energy levels all day, or get sleepy
as soon as you relax, it may be that you need more sleep.
What works for some might not work as well for others. Experiment to find the sleep strategies
that work best for you.
Sleep requirements vary from person to person. To function at maximum effectiveness, most
healthy adults need around 8 hours of sleep each night.
Improving your ability to get to sleep
Remember when you were a child you had a set time and a routine to go to bed? Your parents
knew that this was one of the ways to ensure that you had enough sleep.
Try to keep to a reasonably regular sleep schedule
You will feel much more refreshed and energised if you keep a regular and consistent sleep
schedule. Try as far as possible to:
• Set a regular bedtime.
Go to bed at approximately the same time every night including weekends. If you are really
tired try going to bed slightly earlier.
• Wake up at the same time every day.
When you are getting enough sleep, you should be able to wake without relying on the
alarm clock, because your body has developed a sleep pattern. Try to maintain your regular
wake–time even on weekends although up to an extra hour should not disrupt your normal
sleep cycle.
• Nap to make up for lost sleep rather than sleeping in.
For some people it is better to try a daytime nap rather than sleeping in late. This way you
can recover from lost sleep debt without disrupting your normal sleep cycle. If naps work
for you, have them in the early afternoon, and try limiting the length to thirty minutes.
• Fight after–dinner drowsiness.
If you give in to after dinner drowsiness, you may wake up during the night and then have
trouble getting back to sleep. Rather than flopping on the couch or your favourite chair, try
doing something to avoid falling asleep, such as washing the dishes, calling a friend, or
getting clothes ready for the next day.
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Make your bedroom “sleep friendly”
Ensuring your bedroom is sleep friendly can help you sleep better.
• Turn off your television
If you have a television in your bedroom, turn it off. In particular don’t watch the late
evening news especially after an event that has led to disrupted sleep as it is likely that the
event will feature in the news and stimulate your focus on the event rather than helping
you relax.
Even the most relaxing program or movie can interfere with the body’s clock due to the
continuous flickering light coming from the TV or computer screen.
If you are used to falling asleep to the TV, try soft music or a fan as an alternative. If your
favourite show is on late, record it and watch at an earlier time on another day.
• Keep noise down
People differ in their sensitivity to noise, but as a general rule, you’ll sleep better when your
bedroom is quiet. If you can’t avoid or eliminate noise from barking dogs, loud neighbours,
city traffic, or other people in your household, try masking it with a fan, recordings of
soothing sounds, or white noise. White noise can be particularly effective in blocking out
other sounds and helping you sleep. You can buy a special sound machine or generate your
own white noise by setting your radio between stations. Earplugs may also help.
• Keep your room dark and cool
When it’s time to sleep, make sure that your environment is dark. Even dim lights—especially
those from TV or computer screens—can confuse the body clock. Heavy curtains or shades
can help block light from windows, or you can try an eye mask to cover your eyes.
If your bedroom is too hot or too cold this can interfere with quality sleep. Most people
sleep best in a room which is around 18°C and has adequate ventilation.
• Make sure your bed is comfortable
Is your bed big enough? It is helpful to have enough room to stretch and turn comfortably,
even if you are sharing with a partner.
Your mattress and bedding are also important. If you often wake up with a sore back or an
aching neck, you may need to consider a new mattress or a try a different pillow.
Experiment with different mattress toppers, and pillows that provide more support.
• Reserve your bed for sleeping
If you associate your bed with events like catching up on work or emails, texting etc, it will
be harder to wind down and get to sleep. Use your bed only for sleep, sex and reading if this
helps you unwind. Your body needs to associate bed with sleep.
Relaxing routines make it easier to get to sleep.
If you make a consistent effort to relax and unwind before bed, you will sleep easier and more
deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it’s time to wind
down and let go of the day’s stresses.
Relaxing bedtime rituals to try
• Read a light, entertaining book or magazine.
• Listen to a talking book
• Take a warm bath or a spa but it should be done early enough or not be so hot that you are
still over-heated when you go to bed
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• Listen to soft music
• Enjoy a light snack
¾ A small sandwich with chicken or peanut butter
¾ A small bowl of whole–grain, low–sugar cereal perhaps with low fat milk or
yoghurt
¾ A banana and a cup of hot chamomile tea
• Do some easy stretches
• Gentle yoga
• Have your partner give you a relaxing massage
• Before you go to bed, write a list of things you need to do the next day. This will stop you
tying to remember them.
Things to avoid which make it harder to go to sleep or get a good night’s sleep
• Try not to eat late.
Try to make dinnertime earlier in the evening. Aim to finish your evening meal two or three
hours before your normal bed time.
• Avoid heavy, rich foods within two hours of bed.
Fatty foods take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up.
• Avoid alcohol before bed.
While it may make you fall asleep more easily, alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking
you up during the night. Have a drink with your meal but not in the two hours before bed.
• Cut down on caffeine.
Caffeine (coffee, tea, colas and chocolate) remain in the body on average from 3 to 5 hours,
but they can affect some people up to 12 hours later. Even if you do not think caffeine
affects you, it may be disrupting and changing the quality of your sleep. Avoiding caffeine
within 6-8 hours of going to bed can help improve sleep quality.
• Avoid drinking too many liquids in the evening.
Drinking lots in the evening can cause frequent bathroom trips during the night.
Caffeinated drinks act as diuretics and will only make things worse.
• Vigorous exercise.
Exercising too late in the day actually stimulates the body, raising its temperature. That’s
the opposite of what you want near bedtime, because a cooler body temperature promotes
sleep. Try to exercise in the morning or late afternoon.
• Avoid arousing activities immediately before bedtime
This might include working, paying bills, or family problem-solving.
• Avoid exposure to bright light before bedtime
Bright light signals the neurons that help control the sleep-wake cycle that it is time to
wake up, not go to sleep.
• Do not engage in activities that cause you anxiety and prevent you from sleeping.
If you associate a particular activity or item with anxiety about sleeping, omit it from your
bedtime routine.
• Don’t smoke.
Nicotine is a stimulant which disrupts sleep. Smokers can experience nicotine withdrawal as
the night progresses, which will make it harder to sleep
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Learn some relaxation techniques to help you get to sleep
There are a number of relaxation techniques which you can try before you go to bed or even
once you are in bed that can help you to wind down, calm your mind, and prepare for sleep.
Some simple relaxation techniques include:
• Deep breathing.
Close your eyes. Start by letting out a big breath through your mouth and then breath in
through your nose counting slowly to four. Hold the breath while you count to slowly to
four and then let out as much as you can. Repeat the cycle— making each in breath deeper
than the last. When breathing, place one hand just below your ribs and the other on the top
of your chest. You should feel the breath filling your diaphragm which means that you are
breathing deeply. This will help if you are feeling anxious.
• Progressive muscle relaxation.
Starting at your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax.
Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head. As you tense your muscles
breathe in. Hold the breath and the muscle tension. Release the muscle tension and expel as
much breath as possible through you mouth.
• Visualizing a peaceful, restful place.
Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you.
Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel.
What about medical or natural remedy assistance to help you get to sleep?
If you think that you need medical intervention to help you sleep see your doctor. As sleeping
tablets become addictive, you should use them only as a short term stop gap. Remember that
you can’t mix sleeping tablets with alcohol.
Talk to your local pharmacy, natural health store or a naturopath about non prescription and
natural sleep assistance. Many people find lavender based gels or creams helpful, or put
lavender drops on their pillow. You may also find a relaxation CD works for you.
Ways of getting to sleep if you are having trouble or getting back to sleep when you wake
in the night.
If you do not fall asleep within about 30 minutes after turning out the light, get up, go to
another room, and do something that is not too arousing (for example, read a magazine, listen
to some gentle music, do some ironing). Stay up as long as you wish, and then return to your
bedroom to sleep. The goal is to associate your bed with falling asleep.
It’s normal to wake briefly during the night. In fact, a good sleeper won’t even remember it. But
if you’re waking up during the night and having trouble falling back asleep, the following tips
may help :
• Stay relaxed.
The key to getting back to sleep is continuing to cue your body for sleep. Some relaxation
techniques, such as visualisation and meditation, can be done without even getting out of
bed. The time–honoured technique of “counting sheep” works by engaging the brain in a
repetitive, non–stimulating activity, helping you wind down.
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• Do a quiet, non–stimulating activity.
If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing a quiet
activity. Keep the lights dim so as not to cue your body clock that it’s time to wake up. A
light snack or herbal tea might help relax you, but be careful not to eat so much that your
body begins to expect a meal at that time of the day.
• Don’t stress about it.
Hard as it may be, try not to stress over an inability to fall asleep again, because that very
stress and anxiety encourages your body to stay awake. Remind yourself that although it’s
not a replacement for sleep, rest and relaxation still can help rejuvenate your body.
Concentrate on relaxation, not sleep.
• Don’t look at the clock.
If looking at a bedroom clock makes you anxious about how much time you have before
you must get up, move the clock out of sight.
• Write things down.
Keep a pad and pen or pencil beside your bed. If you are thinking of things you have to do
the next day, write them down on the pad. Your mind will know that it will have this as a
reminder and will stop trying to remember the things on the list.
Get stress and anxiety in check
Stress and worry, or issues that have arisen during the day can make it very difficult to sleep
well:
• Learn how to manage your thoughts
It helps if you can learn to stop yourself from worrying, especially about things outside your
control. For example, you can learn to evaluate your worries to see if they’re truly realistic
and learn to replace irrational fears with more productive thoughts.
• Set aside an earlier time to do your worrying
Most of the thinking and worrying that we do in bed needs to be done – it just does not
need to be done in bed. Therefore, make sure that you devote some time earlier in the day
(for example, 5 to 15 minutes) for thinking and worrying. This should end at least a couple
of hours before you go to bed. Then, when the thoughts come when you are in bed, say to
yourself gently: “Stop, I thought about this today. I will think about it again tomorrow. Now
is the time to sleep.” This will not work every time, but even if it only works half the time,
that is a lot better than not at all.
• Learn some stress management techniques
If the stress of managing work, family, or school is keeping you awake, learning how to
manage your time effectively, handle stress in a productive way, and maintain a calm,
positive outlook, will help you to sleep better.
Learning to live with the aftershocks
If when you read this the aftershocks are continuing and you having difficulty coping with
them, here are some tips to help you reframe how you think about them:
• Remind yourself that they are a natural after-effect of an earthquake but rarely is there
another major quake in the same area.
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• Remember that there are small earthquakes somewhere in New Zealand on a regular basis,
but there have only been a few that caused damage.
• Think of them as the earth just settling.
• Think of them as being like when you put on a tight shirt and you need to wriggle your
arms and shoulders to make a minor adjustment to make it fit right.
• Practice being calm on the outside. It will help you be calm on the inside.
• Use your breathing and relaxation techniques.
• Talk to yourself. Tell yourself that you can cope with these. You “managed” the big one and
all the others to date and you will of course, manage this settling – you are through the
worst of it.
• Don’t tell yourself that you’re silly or any other derogatory term. If you wouldn’t say it to a
friend of yours, or one of your children, then don’t say it to yourself!
• Get angry. When you are angry, you are not scared. Get angry with the earthquake and tell
yourself that you are taking back control of you life from the earthquake. You are in charge
of your life not the earthquake.
• And finally, remind yourself that you are a legend, for managing the last 16 or more days
and you are through the worst of it.

By Stratos/Benestar