Difficulty in getting off to sleep or waking up soon after. Note that early morning waking can sometimes be an indication of depression.
• Prescribe sleeping pills. While these help people get off to sleep, many of them make people drowsy and depressed the following day. While many are habit forming or addictive, prolonged use usually means the person cannot sleep if medication is suddenly stopped, so it is best to slowly reduce the dose to zero. However, in some situations there are benefits in using sleeping pills to get a good night’s sleep.
• Sleep in complete darkness or as near dark as possible. Any light, no matter how small, can turn off melatonin, the sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland.
• Go to bed at the same time each night.
• Listening to a CD or tape of relaxing music, the sound of the sea or the forest can help lull you into a good sleep.
• No TV before bed – it is too stimulating to the brain and the brightness can turn off the melatonin.
• Read something relaxing while in bed before going to sleep.
• Keep anything with an electrical field, including electric clocks and radios, as far from the bed as possible.
• Avoid eating a heavy evening meal.
• Wear bed socks – this stops the feet getting cold which can sometimes cause waking.
• If your mind is active and you have thoughts you want to remember, have a pad beside your bed and write the thoughts down so you can dismiss them until morning.
• Learn a relaxation technique or how to meditate and simply relax yourself to sleep. Consider doing some yoga before going to bed.
• Avoid excess alcohol before bed – it may help you fall asleep but you may wake up a few hours later.
• Caffeine can have an effect for many hours; even an afternoon coffee or tea can keep some people awake. So if you have a sleep problem drink none after noon!
• Have a warm bath, spa or sauna before bed; the raised body temperature helps induce sleep.
• Magnesium has a relaxing action on the brain and the muscles, and can reduce night cramps and restless legs syndrome.
• Melatonin: the sleep hormone produced by the pineal gland. In people who are exposed to light at night such as shift workers, and in those who sleep poorly, taking 1 or 2mg of melatonin half an hour before bed helps with sleep, and it has been suggested it may also help reduce the risk of developing cancer.