Four a.m. 4:08 a.m. 4:09 a.m. You'd love to be counting sheep in la-la land, but instead you're counting the minutes as they tick closer and closer to wake-up time. Good night, indeed. How can it be a good night when you spend the majority of the lights-out portion tossing and turning?
It doesn't have to be this way, you know. If you want to get a better night's sleep, take a long hard look at the things you do leading up to bedtime and at the place where you lay your head.
"There are no golden rules when it comes to getting a good night's sleep," says Dr. Rachel Morehouse of the QEII Sleep Disorders Clinic and Laboratory. "People are so individual, you have to know yourself and what works for you."
Makes sense. You're the only one who knows how you react to espressos in the evening or how much unwind time you need to make the switch from daytime running to nighttime relaxing.
Your bedtime rituals will depend on your own needs, but to get you started on your path to a good night's sleep, here are a few tried-and-true suggestions:
1. Warm milk
An old wives' tale, sure, but there is some reason behind this ritual. Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid known for causing sleepiness (it's also in turkey, and is often blamed for the yawns and head-nodding that often follow a big Thanksgiving dinner).
2. Get on schedule
Establish a sleep schedule and stick to it. Retiring and rising at the same time each day allows your body to know when it's time to relax.
3. Lose the late-night soda
It depends on the person but drinking caffeinated drinks at night is a common cause of sleep problems. "For people who are very susceptible to caffeine, I suggest cutting off consumption around suppertime," says Morehouse. Try an herbal tea instead.
4. Soak your troubles away
Have a nice relaxing soak in the tub. It was how you got ready for bed as a child, but it works for adults, too. Or take your shower at night and set the alarm clock for 15 minutes later in the mornings.
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5. Do the downward dog
Though Morehouse cautions against exercising vigorously before bedtime, many yoga enthusiasts agree that doing their stretches at night allows them to wind down before hitting the sack. (Try our bedtime yoga routine.)
6. Get a rub-down
If you've got a sleeping partner, make a massage deal: you do my back, and I'll do yours (the trick is to be the second massage-ee). Pair this relaxing ritual with a soothing aromatherapy oil, such as lavender or chamomile, for a calming bonus.
7. Get rid of distractions
"It seems so obvious, but it often isn't," says Morehouse. "You need a room for sleeping. It has to be your sanctuary." That means no entertainment centres, desks covered with bills, or laptops. By keeping the other aspects of your home life out of the bedroom, it ceases to be the place where you stay awake thinking about them.
8. Unwind your mind
Read a chapter of a book, listen to some calming music, meditate -- whatever allows your brain to separate waking time from sleep time. Because these things don't add stress or distractions, feel free to do them in bed.
9. Drown out the sounds
So you don't live in the country and you fall asleep to traffic and construction instead of crickets and babbling brooks. That's the beauty of the modern world: if you don't have it, you can re-create it. Plug in a sound machine and nod off to the nature noises of your choice, from waterfalls to crashing waves.
10. Even out the variables
Pull a Goldilocks and make sure the temperature in your room is neither too warm nor too cold -- find and keep a degree of warmth that is "just right" for you. Get rid of old worn pillows and invest in a good-quality mattress (see next page) to promote sleep. Keep the bedroom dark with no flashing digital lights or glare from streetlights marring your sleep sanctuary.
These are tried and true methods that did the trick for your sleep-deprived brothers and sisters. That doesn't mean they'll perform magic for you. The skirt-and-boots combo that looks great on your coworker would not work on you and her sleeping rituals might not either. You'll find what works for you through trial and error. Just don't give up -- your perfect bedtime ritual is out there.
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Choosing the right mattress
OK, out with it. Exactly how old is your mattress? Does it sag in the middle or have one errant coil that digs into your leg if you roll the wrong way? You may think you're being economical, but you're actually losing out big-time on quality of sleep.
Having a bad mattress or keeping one that has lost its spring can be seriously detrimental to your sleep. A mattress that is too firm or too soft for you (there's no "right" one, only the one that works for you) can cause you to toss and turn, leading to muscle soreness and keeping you from getting a good night's rest.
Whether you're in the market for a new bed or just looking to see how yours measures up, we've got tips from a pro on what to look for when buying a mattress.
"A long-lasting good-quality mattress should last about 10 years," says Chris Hotchkiss, manager of the Halifax Bedroom Depot. So what exactly qualifies a mattress as "good quality"?
"First, it should be a reputable brand," Hotchkiss says. "Next, look for the number of coils to be 640 or more. Finally, make sure it has a warranty of 10 years that is non-prorated. That's important, because a prorated warranty usually means you're only covered for a year."
As for price range, expect to pay between $800 and $1,200 for a decent mattress. "Anything above $1,200 is about luxury, not necessity."
To ensure you get the most out of your mattress, Hotchkiss says, there are a few extras you'll need, most of which your warranty will insist on. "You'll need a proper foundation for your mattress, either a wood frame with six cross-slates or a metal frame with centre support," he says. "You'll also need a mattress pad to protect your mattress against stains. Any mattress pad will do."
Think of your mattress as a vehicle for sleep. Test out several models, from names you trust. Find one with as many or as few bells and whistles as you feel you need. And as with any big purchase, don't let anyone talk you into something you aren't sure of.
In the end, the number of coils won't make any difference if the mattress doesn't feel good to you. Most importantly, Hotchkiss says, be sure to do the lie-down test. Choosing a firm or a soft mattress is entirely your preference. "Try a few by lying down on them," he says. Just keep testing mattresses out. Your body will know when it's found its place to rest.
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