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BW Businessworld

Catching 40 Winks, Or More

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If you have difficulty sleeping peacefully at night, raise your hand. Actually, it’s 2 in the morning and I just saw your updated Facebook status, so you can let it fall listlessly by your side. Sleep, which should come naturally without making much of an effort, is fast becoming a precious commodity. Most of us spend hours either tossing or turning in bed or going online to kill time. The phrase sleeping like a baby is only literal now. If you too are a compulsive nightbird but wish you could sleep more, read on:
To Eat Or Not To Eat: Most of us know that coffee, cocoa, cola drinks, dark chocolates and other foods with high levels of caffeine are great if you are planning to burn the midnight oil but if you are proposing to visit dreamland, then they should be avoided 3-4 hours before bedtime. However, how many of us know that there are foods that could help us sleep better? Foods high in tryptophan, a sleep-inducing amino acid, help us relax and sleep peacefully. These include bananas, spinach, dates, fish and dairy products such as milk, cheese and curd. A warm glass of milk seems to do the trick for many. Milk not only contains high levels of tryptophan but also increases the serotonin levels, allowing us to sleep comfortably. “A cup of chamomile tea just before bed helps relax you,” says Shikha Sharma, a Delhi-based wellness consultant. 

Switch Off: How many times do you stay up at night because you can see the tiny red light indicating that the laptop, phone or iPad is charging? What about the illuminated numbers on the air conditioner or the red and green dots on the TV, the DVD player or set-top box? They all distract you and prevent you from sleeping. Switch off all electronic gadgets in the room when you go to bed. The darker the room, the easier it is going for your body to realise that it is time to sleep. This is because the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, is controlled by light exposure. Ideally, your brain should secrete more in the evening, when it’s dark, to make you sleepy, and less during the day when you want to stay awake and alert. But our disruptive habits play havoc with our body’s natural production of melatonin, sending our sleep-wake cycle for a toss. For instance, bright lights at night, especially from TV or laptop, can suppress production of melatonin, making it harder to sleep. Reading on an iPad or other back-lit devices have a similar effect.
Change The Position Of Your Bed: Are you a believer in vastu? If so, you may want to change the direction of your bed. According to vastu shastra, you should sleep with your head in any direction except north. Says R. Ravishankar, a vastu consultant, “Our body is like a magnet with our head being the north pole and our legs the south. When our head is in the north direction, the north pole of our body repels the north pole of the earth’s magnetic field. This repulsion causes a bad magnetic stir in our brain and our subconscious mind struggles for peace.”
Create A Routine: Creating a night-time ritual sends a signal to your body that it is time to sleep. So have a warm shower, brush your teeth, read a little, listen to some music and lie in bed. You should soon be asleep. Your routine should be relaxing and not involve anything too strenuous that could keep you from falling asleep. For instance, don’t start reading a particularly interesting book as you would stay up wanting to finish it. Read something you have already read. Also if you are unable to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Your body needs to associate your bed with sleep, so never lie in bed tossing and turning for more than 30 minutes, get up instead.
Odour Of The Night: Try aromatherapy. Put a few drops of lavender on your pillow or add a few drops of valerian, chamomile or catnip to your bath. These oils relax your senses, helping you sleep better. Says Vivek Sahni, director at Kama Ayurveda: “Lavender aids sleep as it removes any obstructions, and strengthens the nervous system.” 
Oh, and if everything else fails, go back to the basics. Count sheep. Good night.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 19-11-2012)