The key to feeling good all day is to wake up feeling well-rested and refreshed. And the key to that top-of-the-world feeling in the morning is to get a good night’s sleep.
Unfortunately, sleep, like love, never seems to come when we desperately want it. But it helps to know what contributes to a full quota of those 40 winks… and what can doom you to another bout of wide-eyed wakefulness.
Here, from the experts, are well-tested tips on how to get good night’s sleep… and what to do if you don’t.
We’ll call him John, but his mornings could be uncannily like yours. As the alarm buzzer t-r-I-n-g-s into his consciousness, John stretches out a sleepy hand, depresses the button… and hits the pillow again. Most mornings he has to make three attempts before he can drag himself out of bed. After dragging himself again through the brushing-shaving-bathing-breakfast routine, he gets into his clothes without much enthusiasm or energy. When he finally does make it to his office, more often than not, he’s already feeling depressed and defeated. The work load has been piling up for weeks, and he’s just wasted a good part of another day.
Natasha could also be another ‘you’. Natasha gets up of bright and early, but she doesn’t feel bright at all. The only reason she’s up at dawn is because she has no other choice. The children have to be packed off early to school; her husband’s tiffin lunch has to be prepared. When the kids and her husband have left, Natasha, already feeling sapped and drained, stretches out on the bed to rest – and ends up actually sleeping for another hour or so.
But if John and Natasha – and you – could beat the morning blahs, the rest of your day would be more pleasant as well as more productive. The best way to begin is to make sure you get the right amount of restful sleep (what’s right varies for everybody, but is between 7 and 8 hours for most).
Develop a routine you can stick to. Your body sleep will sleep well through the night if it’s well synchronised. How do you achieve that? By keeping regular hours, rising and retiring at the same time everyday. Avoid the trap of weekend naps – sleeping till noon on Saturdays/Sundays. That will disrupt your internal clock and your sleep cycle and you’ll wind up losing more rest than you gain.
Support yourself. The wrong type of mattress or worn-out springs can result in tossing and turning – every night. When you buy your mattress, be very selective – if it’s too hard, your body could be fighting to relieve uncomfortable pressure at the shoulders and hips. Too soft, and you may be putting your spine into positions it was not designed for.
Also, remember that you need to replace your mattress/springs when they have outlived their usefulness – if they’re 8-10 years old, they’re probably not giving you the right support or comfort.
Exercise – but at the right time. Avoid really strenuous exercise right before bedtime. Instead of wearing you out, it’s more likely to invigorate your body.
Because it takes your body several hours to cool down after exercise, working out in the early evening is best – when your body temperature drops, you’ll begin to feel drowsy.
Watch what you eat. Heavy or spicy meals late in the day will make your digestive system balk during the night as your digestion is forced to work overtime.
On the other hand, a starved body can also register complaints during the night, so, don’t decide to skip dinner to make up for the mid-day snacking you indulged in.
Avoid stimulants like caffeine. Caffeine can stay in the system for many hours after your last sip of coffee, tea or cola. It’s a stimulant that can prevent restful sleep and keep you awake – so, avoid it, especially in the late evening and night. If you are especially sensitive to the effects of caffeine, drastically limit your intake at all the times. (Many over-the-counter drugs contain caffeine – and, do not forget, so does chocolate!)
Alcohol is tricky, too. While alcohol may relax you at bedtime and help you get to sleep, you may wake a few hours later with a pounding heart, a dry mouth and an aching head. And thereafter feel restless throughout the night. (Of course, one small glass of wine at dinner should not cause you any trouble).
Certain drugs can disrupt your sleep cycle. Over-the-counter cold and cough remedies, amphetamines, hypertension drugs, cardiac medications for irregular heartbeats and anti-asthma preparations can disturb your normal sleep-wake pattern. If possible, limit your use of these drugs; or consult your doctor about what you should do.
Wind down… and let go. If your body is overtaxed or your mind is tense, try these physical relaxation techniques to help you wind down for the night:
Yoga: Gentle yoga postures can ease the tensions away. Lie down and inhale to a count of five. Raise your arms over your head until they touch the mattress. Make two fists and raise your buttocks. Tense every muscle. Then just “let everything go.”
PMR (Progressive Muscle Relaxation): Starting with your toes, alternatively tense and relax your muscles in groups. Feet, legs, lower back and buttocks, upper back and chest, arms and hands, neck, head and face. Tighten each group for 5-10 seconds, then release for 15-20 seconds.
Stretch: Raise your arms backward over your head and point your toes upward. Stretch… until you’re as tall as you can possibly be. Relax.
Deep breathing: Take five deep breaths (from the diaphragm) and as you count, think, “I’m getting more relaxed, peaceful and sleepy”. Make sure you inhale and exhale very slowly.
Foot massage: Gently massage each foot, paying special attention to the soul.
And if, after all this, you still end up with an occasional ‘bad night’, then what?
Fortunately, there are other ways to make mornings work for you:
Stretch yourself awake. Begin while you are still lying in bed. Imagine that you’re a cat: stretch, reaching out with all your limbs and waking up your muscles. Bring your knees to your chest to stretch out your back.
Even after you get out of bed, give your muscles time to wake up properly. Be gentle with your body. Walk out to the balcony. Take in the early-morning sights and sounds – let nature give your senses a little nudge.
When you feel somewhat more awake, try walking around the house, swing your arms a bit, spot-jog for a few minutes, stretch a little more… By now you should be feeling definitely more alert, and ready to take on the day!
A little indulgence… gets you going a long way. To stop thinking of mornings as the worst part of the day, start the day by doing something you really enjoy. Put your favourite tune on the stereo. Take an extra-long shower, and sing right through. Tumble around with your kids. Go and admire your favourite potted plant. Read a few pages of a book you’re enjoying (yes, we know the morning newspapers are likely to make you want to go right back to the bed).
Eat breakfast. Don’t skip it. And don’t rush through two cups of coffee and imagine that’s enough to fuel your body till lunch time. It’s not. A good (not heavy, and not fat-laden) breakfast will give you a morning boost and rev you up for the day.
Make sure nothing else is bothering you. Remember John and the workload awaiting him each day in the office? Anxiety about this workload is probably a factor that keeps John awake at nights or enables him to have only is restless, fitful sleep. It’s also probably the reason he drags himself awake and then drags himself to work – whether he consciously recognises it or not, he does not want to face that growing workpile.
John should catch up with his workload – or get a new, less-demanding job. As long as he fails to confront what’s a really bothering him, he’s going to have trouble getting up.
Understand – what go along with – your own sleep-wake cycle. In Natasha’s case, the fact that her early-morning activity doesn’t wake her up, might just mean one thing – she’s an ‘owl’ (someone whose body would prefer to miss mornings but can stay in high gear till quite late in the night). ‘Owls’ are opposed to ‘larks’ – those naturally early risers. Since Natasha can run on well into the night, she should try to complete some of her early-morning chores the previous night itself – such as ironing and laying out the children’s school clothes.