Have you ever laid awake at night, hearing every passing vehicle, every abnormal noise, every dripping tap or gutter – it seems even noisier if it is raining lightly.
The more you cannot sleep, the deeper everybody else in the house seems to be in slumber. Unconsciousness reigns supreme, yourself excepted, and you: chances of slipping into the same happy state seem to diminish progressively. Sleeplessness (insomnia) is widespread. This is evidenced by the enormous number of sedatives prescribed each year by doctors. In a single recent year, more than eight million prescriptions were written by doctors for patients in Australia for sedatives, hypnotics and tranquillizers. Or, to use understandable words, “knock-out” pills; for sleeping draughts. All this cost a cool $15 million but that is another story.
Fortunately, due to fairly widespread campaigning, the numbers are steadily falling, but the picture is there, clear enough for anyone to see. Add to this the vast amount of over-the-counter lines – bought and swallowed regularly by pharmacy customers – those needing no prescription.
This all means that thousands people – in fact the score probably rules into millions on a worldwide front – are unable to get to sleep at night. Sleep is very important to the maintenance of good health. Without adequate amounts, the body suffers, and the brain is not so effective.
- Gently unwind. Tensions and anxieties are smoothly released from the system this simple way.
- Read a book. Many find it especially relaxing and mentally soothing to read for a while before lights out. A book is excellent, but not a mentally stimulating one either. Magazines, short stories, even the newspaper, can relax the mental tensions that oppose sleep. This helps gear the mind to a low-key pitch that is an essential prerequisite for prompt, relaxing sleep.
- Short bout of activity. Frequently a short, casual stroll just before bed will similarly remove tensions and anxieties from the mind and gear the mental processes for sleep. Don’t hurry. Just amble. Even this pace seems to generate laziness and a lovely sense of fatigue. These days, jogging is popular. You can combine physical fitness with your sleep generating program. Dog lovers may like to take the dog for company.
- Warm bath. There is little so relaxing as a nice warm shower or bath. The latter is more effective, but takes a bit longer. Do not have it too hot, just more than lukewarm is ideal. Stretch out, and soak up the lovely heat. This warms the blood a little, giving a soporific effect when it circulates to the brain centers. Be careful not to go to sleep in the bath, for this has happened before! It’s best to soap, lather and actively wash the body first, for this gives the opportunity to relax and enjoy the effects of the all-embracing heat without too much activity afterwards to counteract it. Dab dry with a soft towel, and go to bed at once afterwards.
- Warm drink. Many people find a warm to hot milk drink very relaxing. Indeed, recent research reported in the British Medical Journal indicates this definitely improves sleeping ability. It’s preferable not to have tea or coffee, for these contain caffeine, a nerve stimulant with the opposite effect. Milk, as such, or with any of the commercial additives, is suitable. Take your pick.
- Warm bed. It’s desirable for the bed to be nice and warm. In summer this happens automatically, but in cooler weather an electric blanket is the answer to the cold-bed problem. Warmth breeds relaxation, contentment and nervous satisfaction. Don’t overheat. Adjust it to a level you know from experience will keep you at the most ideal temperature throughout the whole night.
- Comfortable bed. Sleep comes best and fastest when the bed is comfortable. What suits you may not necessarily suit another person. It must be tailor-made to fit your personality and your personal needs. A bed you find that doesn’t allow you to relax completely will never provide a good starting point for prompt, restful slumber.
- Relaxation. You must learn to relax the entire system completely and utterly once you go to bed. When all the foregoing routines have been followed and you hit bed, gently stretch out into the most comfortable lying position you can find. (It may be on the flat of the back, or one side, rarely on the stomach.) Start with the left toes and systematically relax this part. Work up to the ankle, lower leg, knee, and then the thigh. Do the left side, then the right. Then move up the body, relaxing the trunk. Then the left-side fingers, wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm and shoulder. Then move to the right side, and similarly relax that side completely. Then the neck muscles, face, and scalp muscles.
- Relaxing thoughts. As you relax the various joints and muscle systems, you gradually phase out all conscious thought from your mind. This takes practice and time. It will not come overnight on the first occasion. You must work at it, and stick to the routine. Some prefer to think of happy occasions, of relaxing situations – nice warm days lying in the sun on the beach, or on a freshly mown lawn. Mind pictures must be of pleasant experiences. These will give way to “daydreaming” thoughts, visions and sensations. Then they gradually become vague, and vaguer, as you gradually drift into oblivion.
- Deep breaths. As you care for your mind in this manner, gradually take deep breaths. They should be rhythmical, deep, slow and regular. Make a conscious effort to do this. In time, you’ll do it automatically. Softly, slowly, rhythmically, breathe in… out… in… out… then count. Slowly, very slowly, to one figure with each two to three breaths. Finally you softly tell yourself you’ll asleep by the time you count to 10. “One… in… out… in… out… in… out… two… in… out…” Get the picture? By the time you hit 10 (and with a bit of practice, well before this number), you will be fast asleep. Any doubts? Just try it and see!