It’s 2am and you’re staring at the ceiling instead of snoozing. Maybe it all started with a simple bathroom call. Yet, here you are with the morning alarm marching closer and no amount of sheep-counting or pillow-thumping is making a bit of difference. Instead, you’re thinking about things such as unpaid bills or why your boss has suddenly dumped so much work on you.
It might make you feel better to know that about 80 per cent of Australians have experienced insomnia, so you’re pretty much the norm. But don’t let that make you complacent about this issue, because the consequences of your midnight mind rampages are taking a toll on your health.
The effects of sleep debt
+ You feel tired! But you’d be surprised by the number of people who want a blood test to unearth the source of their exhaustion when they’re not sleeping.
+ Your immune system goes haywire. The best immune booster is sleep.
+ Your blood pressure goes up.
+ It blows out your risk of diabetes.
+ It ups your chance of depression.
+ You have frequent, severe headaches.
+ You snap at people and that can lead
to a whole raft of consequences.
+ You gain weight. Sleep drives your appetite hormones and when you don’t get enough shut-eye they go berserk with an attack of the munchies. Usually, you’ll crave sweet stuff at 3pm the next day.
If lack of sleep is so unhealthy, why does it happen so often and is seemingly out of your control? It could be the temperature – being hot is a sleep killer. It might also be an old bed, or the light or noise that a decent set of curtains would sort out. It could even be alcohol that disrupts the sleep cycle. But, for the most part, bad sleep is simply habit-forming. Once you stop sleeping well, it is as if your brain forgets how to do it and makes the midnight wrestle part of the routine.
Notes for nodding off
If you’ve covered the above issues and are still up at 2am, try these techniques:
+ Start some brain retraining. Give yourself just 15 minutes to fall back to sleep naturally. If you’re still awake, get semi-dressed and go into another room. You might as well get stuff done if you’re not sleeping. In the process, you break the association between your bed and the irritation that comes from being unable to reclaim your dreams.
+ The second you start feeling drowsy, go back to bed and try again. Once again, give it 15 minutes. The first few nights might be hell, then your brain will work out that being in bed means sleep.
+ Keep a notepad by your bed. If you wake up and remember to pay the gas bill, call Jenny back or think of exactly what you can tell your boss to do with her new targets, jot it down. First thing every morning, transfer your jottings to your diary and make them happen.
Prevention is the cure
+ Get off your butt. Regular exercise has been shown to improve sleep quality.
+ Schedule time during the day to reflect and process, so the brain doesn’t grasp the only opportunity to do that at 2am.
+ Detox. Quit smoking, stop drinking excess alcohol or coffee (after 6pm) and avoid eating rubbish food.
B+S reader tips
We asked you… what helps you fall back to sleep when you wake at 2am?
+ “Don’t look at the clock – it’s fatal. If you don’t know how much time you have, you can’t worry about it.”
+ “The Body Shop Pillow Mist. It works for me and is great to get sleeping patterns back on track when you’ve been travelling or have jetlag.”
+ “I have a banana. It sounds weird, but bananas contain tryptophan which stimulates the production melatonin and serotonin in the brain. They also have magnesium which is a natural muscle relaxant.”
+ “A hot cup of chamomile tea with a teaspoon of honey.”
+ “Count your blessings. Begin with ‘I’m grateful for…’ and list the many things that make you happy. Before long, you’ll drift off.”
+ “Count to 300, but before each number take a deep breath. I don’t think I’ve gone past 50 yet.”
+ “I dab a little lavender essential oil on my temples.”
+ “Warm milk and listening to audio of waves lapping against the shore.”
+ “I have an app that has relaxing sounds like rain on a tin roof. I focus on what I’m hearing, picture it in my mind and the next thing I know, my alarm is going off.”
+ “Lay flat on your back and say goodnight to your body parts starting at your toes, heels, ankles, calves and so on, relaxing them as you go.”
+ “I think about winning lotto and what I’d do with the cash.”