ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS & REMEDIES
Sometimes environment is the problem - in fact, it's often the problem; up to one-third of sleep problems come from the environment. If you've ever been the victim of a wailing car alarm at three in the morning, you certainly can appreciate the importance of environmental problems.
Here are some things to check out:
Is it quiet enough for you? If not - and you cannot control the noise element - such as that infernal (to use a polite term) car alarm - we suggest you invest 99 cents in a pair of ear stoppers you can purchase at any pharmacy. This is a small plug made of cottony wax or foam that you manipulate a few minutes with your fingers - to warm up the wax - and then place into your ears. They really work, they're cheap and they're available at most drugstores. We recommend you keep at least two pairs handy at all times - including in your travel bag where they might turn out to be crucial for getting some sleep in a new, but noisy, environment. (We say two pairs, because we've noticed these things have a way of jumping out of your fingers in the middle of the night and then rolling under the bed where you most likely do not want to be crawling at 3 a.m.)
If it's noisy because the neighbors are playing loud music at 2 o'clock in the morning or some other inconsiderate or uncivilized behavior is causing the problem, you should call your local police precinct to report it. If the problem concerns a noisy nightclub or construction activity before or after hours or loud ventilation equipment, you can - and should - report the problem to the Noise Pollution Complaint line for your city. We hope your city has one!
If noise is a constant problem (or, if the silence is killing you) you can sometimes help this by turning on something else that makes a different but more constant and comforting sound - for instance the air conditioning unit - or a softly whirring fan - or one of those cd's or tapes of ocean waves or birds twittering or other natural sounds - or certain recordings of soothing music that are available in record stores often found under New Wave Music.
Or, if you're unable to come up with a pleasantly noisy device of your own, you might want to invest in a white-noise machine. It emits a soft nondescript, soothing sound that effectively masks many disruptive sounds and can be very helpful. We understand they are sold at Sears, among other stores. (We recently read that you can create your own white noise by turning on the radio to a non-station - and this will emit white noise - or something like that - perhaps you have to fiddle with the dial for a bit 'til you come across the right effect.)
Maybe your problem is too much quiet. That can be disconcerting too. (You know how Woody Allen hates the countryside - maybe 'cause it's too quiet?...)
If this is your problem you could try a cd or a tape of natural sounds or soothing music.
THE COMFORT OF "TICK-TOCK"
Or you could set up an old fashioned wind-up alarm clock next to your bed. The rhythmic tick-tock of that can be a very soothing sound - much more pleasant and comforting than the whiney hum of contemporary quartz clocks. Check out the old grandfather clocks at your local antique store...
SOFT LIGHTING[ This reminds us of the time, during the winter holidays several years ago, when we visited dear old friends from high school who lived in beautiful-but-chilly (in winter) western Massachusetts. We inquired before we left home whether we should bring our electric blanket, as we do not like to be cold at all - (as we truly cannot sleep if we're cold.)
It's important to make your bedroom pleasant and inviting.
Set lamps and other lights so that there is a soft, warm, pleasant feeling to the room in the evening, to help you relax as you prepare for bed.
TOO MUCH LIGHT?
Is there too much light in the room?
If you cannot control the light factor, try a sleep mask - which is available in many pharmacies or beauty aid stores. In the meantime, you can always grab some kind of soft cloth - like the rumpled undershirt lying within grasp - to drape over your eyes to help block out the light.
USE A NIGHT LIGHT
You also might want to set-up a little night light to use instead of turning on a bright, glaring light when you must get up to use the bathroom during the night.
(Note: We always keep a tiny flashlight in our travel bag so that when we're away from home and have to get up in the night, we can find our way without turning on a bright light. And we always hope this will help us get back to sleep quickly - but of course, it doesn't always work that way...)
IS THE MATTRESS COMFORTABLE?
Maybe you haven't noticed that what you're sleeping on is actually problematic for you. Mattress deterioration is one of those things that can sneak up on you. Suddenly you realize you've been sleeping on this ridiculous mound of lumps. If the mattress is old and lumpy - or worse than lumpy - if the mattress springs are sticking into you (don't laugh - we've seen this) - well, you've got to remedy that before you're going to get a good night's sleep.
Or, perhaps you're stuck sleeping on a cot - or a sofa that's too narrow or too short or the wrong shape. Once you realize what a toll that's taking from your sleep, you'll undoubtedly take the necessary steps to correct the situation.
AND THE PILLOW?
Is it soft and malleable? If it's too fat or hard, it's not going to be comfortable - not to mention what it does to your spine and posture. We like a nice, soft down pillow - not only because it's nice and soft but also because it's kind of flat - not fat at all. But some people are allergic to down or feathers - in which case one of the soft synthetics would be most appropriate.
Have you outgrown the sleeping arrangements?
For instance, when you're first married it's fine to snuggle together in an old-fashioned double bed, but after 20 years - and 20 additional pounds - apiece - you might want to consider upgrading to a queen or king size mattress. Or, you could place two twin mattresses on a king size platform. This allows you each to have your own "space" in which to toss and turn - or not - without disturbing the other partner. Also, if he/she snores and that keeps you awake, you might want to try another room - from time to time.
Is it too warm or too cold in the room? Stuffiness can be very uncomfortable - and so can being too cold. You've got to have both adequate air circulation and adequate blankets to keep you warm so that you're comfortable enough to fall asleep - and stay asleep.
If you tend to be cold you might want to try a down comforter or an electric blanket. They're wonderfully comforting if you frequently need extra warmth. And just the other day we saw an ad for a queen or kind size duvet cover that's divided in half so each bed partner can have the right amount of fill for his/her needs. Makes sense...
This just in from CNN: Try mittens and socks! Apparently this aids blood circulation which will help you fall asleep.
We personally believe this might truly be helpful as, when we were a student up in chilly Vermont, one of our roomates gave us a pair of pink, wool bed-socks - because, she said, we often complained of having cold feet in bed. Well, those socks really did the trick. They warmed the feet nicely and, so far as we can remember, actually did help us to get to sleep - something we truly do find difficult if we're chilly.
Oh, don't be silly, our friend Mary assured us, Our house is heated. Well, we assumed that.
So, trusting soul that we are, we arrived - electric-blanket-less - during a bitter cold spell and found that the bedroom assigned to us was the newly painted one, that faced north - currently curtain-less and rug-less, due to the paint job. It also turned out that Mary and Mark liked to turn the heat down to a toasty 55 at night - at which temperature they required merely a light thermal blanket to keep them warm. Well, good for them - but what about moi?!
I was given the one remaining blanket in the house to keep me warm in a room that had to be considerably colder than 55.
So I dressed for bed with the flannel nightie I'd brought, the long underwear I'd also brought but hadn't planned to sleep in, a wool sweater, my down coat, mittens, knee socks and a wool knit hat. I then placed the canvas drop cloth, conveniently left in the room by the painters, over the mattress (which, also conveniently, was on the floor) and actually found this arrangement warm enough to sleep. The next morning I had their 13 year old (truly terrific) kid take a photo of me in the mittens and cap outfit, which photo we still have to this day.
As we said, room temperature can be really important...]
With our over-heated homes, sometimes it's too dry to breathe properly. If necessary, get a humidifer to add some moisture to the air. It's important. (When I go to visit the family now living in New Mexico, I find it uncomfortably dry. At times I've had to place a wet wash cloth over my face in order to get enough moisture to get to sleep. It's not great but it works, in a pinch...)
Are your bed-clothes comfortable - that is, loose and roomy and otherwise suited for sleeping? Are they adequately warm - or cool? Bed-clothes can be very important to giving you a sense of comfort and security while you sleep. Or, maybe you feel constricted by bedclothes and would be better off without them. This is a very personal choice - but be sure you're doing the one that's truly right for you. Also - many people find that natural cotton bed clothes are more comfortable than synthetics.
OPEN THE WINDOW!
Fresh air is conducive to a good night's sleep. Open that window and get some fresh air circulating in your bedroom. Unless you've got a high-ozone-alert day, it should help.
YOUR ENVIRONMENT IS IMPORTANT.
It should be set up to be conducive to sleep. Studies have shown that having your bedroom painted in restful colors helps set the mood for sleeping - colors like soft pretty blue, pink or green.
FENG SHUI (fung-shway)
The Chinese art of creating spiritual harmony through the environment teaches that the bedroom can be made more restful by being kept quiet and essentially peaceful, dark and appropriately small and intimate - as opposed to open and spacious. Perhaps it's more comforting to us if it feels protective and womb-like rather than an open space where our primitive ancestors would have been more vulnerable and therefore uncomfortable.
Plants are living things. It's nice to include them in your living environment, including the bedroom. And they give off oxygen at night - which is good for you.
Some advise using sheets made of cotton or linen - not a blend with polyester, which might be coated with formaldehyde - which might cause insomnia. We have never noticed this distinction, but it might have resonance for you. The idea of using natural fibers is surely a nice one and perhaps does make a difference for some.
BUCKWHEAT HULLS PILLOW
Here is some of the copy off the box of the Shangri-La Pillow, which is a buckwheat hull-filled pillow:
The Far East's secret for sounder sleep.
Shangri-La Pillow helps alleviate some of the most common sleep problems.
Muscle Aches: Corrects your sleep posture to relieve stress on your spinal column.
Headaches: Fully supports your head so your muscles get some rest.
Sleeplessness: Relax completely so you fall asleep faster.
Snoring: Opens air passages to help you breathe more easily.
At also says:
Buckwheat hulls firmly support while remaining soft and cushiony.
Adjusts to create a fully-supportive neck roll.
Keeps You Cooler. Hulls naturally ventilate to keep your head cool and comfortable.
100% Natural and Hypo-Allergenic.
Chemical-free buckwheat hulls protect naturally.
We ourself have tried one of those pillows stuffed with buckwheat hulls (not the ShangriLa brand, though) and found it kind of like a giant bean bag - i.e., not exactly soft. We do find it helpful when placed under our down pillow to support our back while we read in bed, but we don't find it comfortable to sleep on.
But that's just our opinion - it might be just what you require to have a comfortable sleep.
Is the environment too tense or upsetting? If so, you've got to try and reduce the problem in the emotional environment - or you've got to get yourself out of that environment - to get a good night's sleep. Click for help coping with emotional issues. Or, check out SEEKING PROFESSIONAL HELP.
Is there a pet in your house who likes to bark in the middle of the night - or snuggle with you at 3 a.m. - or wake you up at 5:30 for an early breakfast - or a play session - as one of our beloved cats used to do? Pets are so wonderful - we cannot say enough about how wonderful. And the comfort they offer and their healing powers are mentioned in just about every book about stress.
LAYING DOWN THE LAW TO A BELOVED PET
Still - there are times when you've got to lay down the law to these characters and set boundaries that work for you - not little Agatha or Algernon. Some people have no trouble closing the door on the poor things and allowing Agatha and Algernon to fend for themselves throughout the night, outside the comfort of the master bed or bedroom.
We personally would never do such a thing (truly). Our Charlie sleeps in his own bed (basket), right next to ours - and that makes us one very happy family - all night long.
As with childrearing, it's downright impossible to give effective advice in this area but we caution against being heartless on the one hand - or too indulgent, on the other - and winding up a sleep-deprived patsy.
Is there a mosquito in the room? - or a madly buzzing fly - or even a bee or hornet? - or a giant water-bug or spider? - something that can drive you crazy either listening to it crawl around or even thinking about it.
[ We find it helpful to keep bug repellent near the bed for those times when an unwelcome critter enters our environment (and, again, we keep a small plastic bottle of the same in our travel bag, because you don't want a mosquito - or other critter - keeping you awake wherever you roam.) ]
Better get up, turn on the light and get rid of the thing. If you can't kill it - and it crawls - take the nearest wastebasket and place it over the critter. This can work even for bats, we have learned from experience. But if you've got a mouse in the room - well - best to get a mouse trap and some poison - and as soon as you can, close up those mouse holes - and put away all food in tight containers. And get rid of the garbage before you go to sleep. (Or simply get a cat - which will take care of the mouse problem before you can say "whiskers.")
USE EAR STOPPERS
In the meantime, though, if you can't get the critter out of the room, at least you can use ear stoppers to block out the noise that's keeping you awake. For this reason we recommend keeping a few pairs by your bed.
(Again - be sure to put a few pairs in your travel bag where we've often found them to be indispensable!)
If a mosquito or other bug has bitten you, that can keep you awake for quite some time, scratching at the swelling bite. We recommend you swab the bite with witch hazel or a few drops of diluted ammonia (as our grandma taught us) - or use one of those prepared solutions in a handy stick applicator which can be purchased for a few dollars at your pharmacy. All of these are quite effective in treating simple insect bites.
(Again - we suggest you keep a small container of the stuff in your travel bag. Can be truly indispensible.)
You might also want to apply some insect repellent to keep away the next perpetrator. In fact insect repellent can be a good thing to keep near your night stand.
(And again, we recommend that you include a small container in your travel bag. They can save many hours of sleep when you're stuck in a hot sticky room without adequate screens.)
HOW TO GET RID OF A PESKY MOSQUITO
Sometimes you can get rid of a pesky mosquito by simply turning on a soft light and then lying low. The culprit might reappear before long when you'll be able to dispatch it - for good.
Are you in some kind of danger - real or imagined - in your location? It's hard to go to sleep if you feel you're not safe. If you have any reason to be concerned, check the windows and doors to be sure they're locked securely - and be sure the phone is working so you can call for help. If it will make a difference, definitely move furniture in front of the door. (But be sure not to create a firetrap by blocking egress in case of a fire!)
If your imagination is simply running wild with you - as it can in the dark hours of the night - go ahead and triple-bolt the doors. It's just about impossible to get to sleep when you're scared - whether the threat is real or imagined. While you might get some comfort by turning on the tv, we suggest you don't choose a scary movie to watch - which, for some reason, they have a tendency to run at 2 o'clock in the morning. (We have more on coping with unpleasant thoughts in our EMOTIONAL ISSUES segment.)
If someone is truly threatening you with harm, you must get help without delay. For instance, if your lover or spouse or anyone else is stalking you in any kind of threatening manner - or you're afraid of him - you must call for help immediately. There are many resources these days to help you and we urge you to call them now - without delay. If nothing else, you can always call 911 for help.
If you or your children are actually in danger in your environment, we urge you to leave the environment as soon as you can locate a safer place. Nothing is more important than protecting the life and limb of yourself and those who are dependent on you.
This completes our list of environmental remedies. You will find many more helpful remedies in the navigation bars to the left. Try our Relaxation Breathing or some Affirmations to Calm You Down.
If you have been up for a while now and it's late, too late to get a good night's sleep, we offer some TECHNIQUES to help get you through the day when you're feeling wretched from sleep deprivation.
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