Use herbal helpers
Tinctures of Valerian or Passiflora can be kept by your bed with a glass filled with a splash of water, so that if you wake up you can just add the required amount of the herbal extract and drink it without disturbing your body too much by getting up.
The beauty of tinctures is that the liquid format makes them work so quickly, so that you can then relax and know that you should fall back to sleep within half and hour.
Another option is flower essences, which are particularly good if you can’t take herbs or if you are kept awake by emotional issues such as worrying or repetitive thoughts.
Again, they are liquids so work very fast. We make a valerian based sleeping aid, Dormeasan, and a flower essence called Night Essence.
Try relaxation techniques
There are many such techniques you can experiment with. Most well known is the ‘body scan’ meditation, where you work your way through your body from your feet up, tensing and relaxing each body part in turn.
I think it is more relaxing to do such things with guided audio help, to stop the mind wandering. There are many such resources online and it is worth searching to find one that works for you. For a good introduction to guided meditation, try the selection at www.freemindfulness.org
It is best to put your selection on an iPod or MP3 player and keep it on your bedside table. Again, this stops you getting up and disturbing your nervous system. If meditations do not appeal to you, you may find a selection of specially designed relaxing and calming music helps you get back to sleep instead.
Although obviously I am not suggesting you fumble about in the darkness to measure out a tincture, or find your iPod, it is best to avoid light as much as possible.
Getting up to, say, go to the bathroom while turning on lots of bright lights will tell your brain that it is now daytime and it will start making the chemicals necessary to wake you up, so that it will then be much much harder for you to get back to sleep.
Make sure your bedside light is dim, and that you have the option for dim lighting elsewhere so that you can get up if you want to without confusing your brain chemistry.
Learn to manage late night worrying
It is very common to lie awake with repetitive, worrying thoughts churning around in your brain. In very basic terms, your brain has ‘resting’ mode and ‘solving’ mode, controlled by its two hemispheres. As may be obvious by the name, ‘resting’ mode is what is needed at night.
But the one most of us automatically use to deal with problems, even in the middle of the night, is ‘solving’ mode – which is alert, focused and detailed. The goal at night is to switch off or avoid solving mode altogether.
If you are worrying about something, you can do this by doing something like writing a to-do list or a plan of action – this is like saying to your brain ‘it’s ok, the problem is solved, you can rest now’. Another option is visualisation – imagining creative solutions to your worries.
This can work because you are mimicking what the brain does in resting mode, which is to deal with problems in a creative way (which is why many of our dreams seem rather strange or surreal). For an example, have a look at the guided scripts here: www.innerhealthstudio.com/guided-imagery-scripts
Have a midnight snack
If you tend to wake with a jolt, and/or wake up feeling extremely anxious, it could be what is known as ‘nocturnal hypoglycaemia’ – which essentially means that your blood sugar has dropped too low in the night and adrenaline has been produced to address it, which wakes you up in this sudden, panicky manner.
If you get this repeatedly, you need to look at your lifestyle – your caffeine and sugar intake during the day, your diet, what you eat late at night etc., and possibly take herbs and magnesium to support your adrenal glands. That should stop it happening.
But when it happens, it would be a good idea to have a small, carbohydrate based snack – a glass of rice milk, a few oatcakes or a banana are all good options – and then take a dose of AvenaCalm, our oat based relaxing remedy.