You and Your Health: How to achieve healthy sleep

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Pharmacist, Andrew Watson of Goodmeasure in Parkgate looks at how to get a better night’s sleep once the clocks go forward.

Most people happily anticipate the clocks going forward in March to herald the spring and give us a precious extra hour of daylight in the evening.

However, because we all lose an equally important hour in the morning, the next few days until our bodies adjust can make us feel irritable and tired and can trigger heart attacks and strokes in vulnerable people. The incidence of traffic and workplace accidents is greater than normal on the Monday after the clocks change.

We can help ourselves adjust by getting up earlier for a few days before. Once out of bed it is a good idea to eat some breakfast to let your body know it is the start of the day. Try to have a walk early on the Sunday after the clocks change, especially if the sun is shining, to reset your body clock.

The recommended amount of sleep we need is seven to eight hours a night. Only about half of British people achieve this and poor quality or insufficient sleep will adversely affect our physical and mental health.

There are different stages of sleep. The two main ones are REM sleep and non-REM sleep.

During REM sleep our eyes move quickly from side to side, our brains are very active and we dream. However our muscles are relaxed.

In non-REM sleep the brain is quiet but the muscles are moving more, hormones are released and our bodies start to recover from the day’s activity. Normally we wake up for a few minutes every two hours but are not aware of this unless a noise comes to our attention and this may make it more difficult to get back to sleep.

Recent research has shown that when we are in deep sleep our brains shrink allowing fluid to flow through and cleanse our brains of any toxins. These toxins, if allowed to accumulate, play a part in some degenerative brain diseases. The incidence of diabetes, heart disease, depression, obesity, low pain threshold and higher anxiety levels is also greater in sleep deprived people

So it is obvious that we need a good night’s sleep to function well and keep healthy. Having a good sleep routine helps us achieve this.

Here are a few tips to help you sleep easy:

  • Keep to a regular bedtime even at the weekend.
  • Make sure your bedroom is dark (use blackout curtains or linings). Try also to switch off or cover any blue light emitted from electrical devices.
  • Keep bedrooms at a temperature of about 18 degrees celcius.
  • Keep it as quiet as possible. A source of white noise such as a fan can help by muffling other unwanted noises.
  • Ensure your mattress and pillows are comfortable
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening. Alcohol can help you fall asleep, but may wake you in the night leaving you feeling unrefreshed.
  • Avoid watching television, using a computer or a mobile phone in your bedroom. The light emitted by these stops the sleep hormone melatonin being produced.

If you are worried about something or frightened of forgetting something write it down and say ‘that’s tomorrow’s problem’,  likewise if you wake up in the middle of the night.

Physical problems interfering with sleep include chronic pain, restless legs, arthritis, fibromyalgia, asthma, pulmonary obstructive disease and overactive thyroid. You should see your GP in these cases.

Waking to go to the toilet more than once or twice is a nuisance and a urinary tract infection may be the cause of this, or an enlarged prostate in men. Again, get these checked out. If nothing is found to be wrong try limiting your fluids in the evening, avoiding fizzy drinks, caffeine and alcohol.

Remedies to try:

The herb Saw Palmetto sometimes helps as does chewing pumpkin seeds which are a good source of magnesium also important in sleep regulation.

The hormone Melatonin which is produced naturally in the brain as darkness falls and helps prepare our bodies for sleep is available for persons over 55 from the pharmacy or GP. It is only for short term use of up to 13 weeks and is useful for helping with jet lag.

The B vitamins, L-Theanine (found in green tea) are some supplements to consider as well as magnesium.

Herbs which may help are Valerian, perhaps combined with hops. This is available as a liquid or a capsule to be taken about an hour before bed.

Lemon Balm and Chamomile is available as a tea or as dried herbs to brew. These make a soothing drink in the evening.

So let’s look forward to the longer evenings of spring and sleep well so we can enjoy them.

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