How to programme yourself for sleep

Better sleep both for those who have battled their way through the rebound phenomenon and for the luckier insomniac who has not yet succumbed to the sleeping pill ‘confidence trick, is based on the following general principles. What can be offered in the way of using the relaxation response is dealt with later.

First, the biological rhythm of natural sleep must be strengthened if better sleep is desired. We all tend to fall asleep if we are bored, immobile, and nicely warm without being hot. Often we fall asleep when we are short of sleep, that is unless we are excited or aroused. An important factor is the time when we are ready for sleep. The transcontinental traveller, particularly if he flies in the east to west direction, soon appreciates what sleep deprivation means, and often feels very odd indeed when he has to be awake when he should be asleep. Surprisingly often insomnia results from staying up an hour or so after one’s normal bedtime -the time when sleep comes easily – for a natural biological rhythm can be by-passed quite easily and does not always return when we wish it to. Early nights are often very disappointing too when the early night is followed by an early waking.

Regular exercise, though not sudden night-time exertion such as late jogging or nocturnal dog walking, is good for sleep. It has been proved that open air exercise during the daytime makes sleep come on earlier and makes it last longer. The characteristic of the sleep is deeper in such circumstances and more growth hormone is released to restore the tissues. Nobody knows exactly why it should be so, but malted drinks such as Horlicks at night do make sleep more beneficial than do other bedtime drinks. Late feeding is bad for sleep, and so are coffee, tea, cigarettes and alcohol. However, provided the dose is kept the same, the alcohol nightcap of a large whisky or whisky and milk does help some people relax and get into the mood for sleep. But with alcohol there is always the tendency to increase the dose to get the much wanted (anticipated) effect because the body soon gets used to it. And therein lies the danger of using alcohol in this way.

One general practitioner has evolved his own code of advice for insomniacs, and his suggestions have a ring of authenticity about them that suggests he has tried them on himself and found them effective.

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