We're focusing on all things sleep this week on Gransnet, and we know that not getting enough rest can become a huge issue as we get older. With thousands of us reporting difficulty staying asleep throughout the night and others unable to drop off until the early hours of the morning (often with a day's work ahead of us), insomnia can have a huge impact on our quality of life. When times are unsettling and stressful, as they are for so many right now, it can be even more difficult to get enough sleep, even when it's much-needed. However, there are things you can do to improve your chances of good kip without resorting to medication. Here's our advice for finding natural sleep remedies that will hopefully work for you...
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Common symptoms of insomnia include:
The causes of sleep disturbances are many and varied, from lying awake at night stressed from the day's events - or worrying about tomorrow's - to hormonal changes (common in menopausal and post-menopausal women) that result in difficulty sleeping. Here are a few reasons you might be finding yourself staring at the ceiling in the middle of the night again due to poor sleep:
"My doctor didn't think much of my sleep problem until I took a sleep diary with me. Seeing it like that, she took notice."
In order to get a sense of the scope and severity of your problem and how badly it's affecting your life, it's a good idea to keep a sleep diary.
Lavender - "When I stayed with a friend, I slept right through the night. I saw that she had bowls of dried lavender from her garden in the bedroom so I now sprinkle oil of lavender on cotton wool pads in my bedroom (refreshed every week) and although I have the occasional bad night, I now sleep like a log."
Lavender has long been hailed as a sleep aid and is one of the most popular natural sleep remedies - there's even science to back these claims up. The University of Southampton carried out a study that resulted in 20% of participants getting better quality sleep in a lavender-scented room. Try This Works' Deep Sleep Pillow Spray.
Valerian - "At the moment I'm finding valerian tablets are helping me drift off."
Studies on women aged 50-60 have shown that valerian is often effective in treating insomnia in that age group. Taken in capsule or tea form, the supplement is also used to help ease mild anxiety, which is great for those who find that worry is the main reason they find it hard to drop off. Try Holland & Barrett Valerian products.
White Chestnut - "You could try White Chestnut, one of the Bach flower remedies: it's for unwanted thoughts that go round and round."
Another supplement for those who find it hard to switch off. If you're stuck with thoughts that just keep going round and round in your head, mix a couple of drops with some water. Try Bach Original Flower Remedies White Chestnut.
"Try magnesium an hour before bed. My husband really struggles to sleep but finds this works most nights."
Magnesium deficiency is responsible for all sorts of physical discomforts, though it's rarely the first thing that springs to mind when feeling below par. It regulates muscle and nerve function, helps to turn food into energy and a lack of it can cause (you guessed it) insomnia and sensitivity to noise.
Try BetterYou Magnesium Oil Goodnight Spray - sprays generally absorb faster and more effectively than capsules, and don't cause the stomach upset that some forms of oral magnesium sometimes can.
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"My saviour has been a white noise machine. After a week of training myself, I now find the noise goes on and almost immediately I feel sleepy, then I am off."
White noise acts as a background sound which masks louder ones that may be disturbing your sleep. In addition to this, lots of people meditate or practice mindfulness with white noise playing in the background, and even the simple act of turning it on as you get ready for bed each night will establish a routine that will make you more likely to drop off easily.
While you can buy white noise machines, from clever multi-purpose ones to slightly cheaper options, you could just use a white noise video from Youtube, or even an old radio left untuned.
Are you a habitual midnight snacker? Late eater? This could be having an effect on your sleep patterns. Eating too late may cause heartburn and acid reflux - neither of which are particularly conducive to a good night's sleep. Try sticking to very light snacks later in the evening instead. And don't forget, nutrition and health are key.
"I sleep much better if I go on my exercise bike for half hour at about 7:30pm."
And we don't mean the odd stroll after a Sunday lunch. It takes regular, consistent exercise for it to have any impact on your sleeping pattern. So keep plugging away at those 10,000 steps a day, join a gym (when they're open!), take up evening walks with a neighbour or get on your bike - but just make sure you keep going with whichever activity you prefer. It will take a few weeks at least to see a real difference in your quality of sleep, so this one requires a bit of patience in the meantime (which, yes, is easy for us to say when we're not wide awake at four in the morning).
"I meditate. It doesn't have to be too involved. Just think of nothing other than the sound of your own heartbeat. Meditation is amazing and helps in all sorts of stressful situations."
Mindfulness meditation forces a person to focus on the present moment instead of dwelling on the past, future or anything else that could cause stress or worry. Various studies have proven that mindfulness can be incredibly beneficial to both physical and mental wellbeing, including aiding sleep. There are plenty of online tools, videos and resources to help you if you decide to give it a try. Try the Headspace podcast, for simple mindfulness exercises to unwind with before bed.
"I take a very low dose of HRT but it seems to help."
Some women find menopause can cause quite significant disruption to their sleeping pattern and, while there are little things you can do to get a more comfortable night's sleep during 'the change', menopause-related insomnia can sometimes be eased with the help of hormone replacement therapy.
"If you tend to get into cycles of worrying when lying awake, it might help to seek counselling, CBT or similar help to break the worry cycle, so that your mind can just float loose."
This is something that your GP would need to refer you for, and is sometimes decided upon in cases of chronic insomnia. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is used to treat the underlying causes of insomnia, usually through specific methods that are geared towards insomnia sufferers.
Disclaimer: The information on our health pages is only intended as an informal guide and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. Gransnet would urge you to consult your GP before you begin any diet if you're concerned about your weight, have existing health conditions and/or are taking medication.