Say Goodbye To Counting Sheep

They say a good sleep can cure any ailment. So its not surprising when we lack in a good nights kip it can make our outlook less positive then usual.

But recent studies show, if you’re the type that finds yourself falling asleep mid-meeting or at the breakfast table after a night of tossing and turning, you’re not alone.
In fact, around five per cent of the adult population have excess sleepiness and 15 per cent of us suffer from full blown insomnia. Not surprising, then, that a night of uninterrupted rest is about the hottest commodity around. We look at the top tips for getting the best nights sleep possible so you’re well rested to fight whatever challenges come your way the next day.

Getting to sleep

“Poor sleep habits are among the most common problems encountered in our society,” says Dan Smyth of the Irish Sleep Apnoea Trust (

“It’s a common problem that people stay up too late and get up too early. We interrupt our sleep with drugs, chemicals and work, and we over stimulate ourselves with late-night activities such as television.”

“You should only go to bed when you are tired and ready to sleep,” advises Dan.

“If you can’t sleep, it is best to get up, have a cup of tea and read a book or newspaper until you feel tired enough to sleep.

“Leave your worries about job, school and daily life behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a “worry period” during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues.


Waking up in the night

For some getting to sleep is not the problem. Often people will find themselves waking in the night. So what should you do if middle of the night insomnia strikes?

“Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons,” says Dan. “If you find that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within 15 to 20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work or housework and don’t watch television,” he says.

“If this type of problem becomes a regular one, you should see your GP and if necessary see a Medical Sleep Consultant,” he adds.

Sleeping arrangements

We’ve all heard the old wives tales of pointing the bed north or not sleeping with your socks on, so what are the optimal conditions for sleeping according to the experts?

“A ‘cool’ but not cold room is reckoned to be best,” says Dan. “Avoid extremes of temperatures.

“For bedding, comfort is the key word here. There is no ‘perfect’ bedding but whatever you use should be comfortable for you.

“Regarding pillows, an orthopaedic surgeon once said to me about ‘either one or none’ “This had nothing to do with sleeping, more about back support.”

Sleep aids

Everyone has heard of sleeping tablets, but are there any other tips we can try for getting a good nights sleep?

“Some people are happy enough with their lot as regards sleep),” says Dan. “But if ‘light sleeping’ becomes a problem, then medical advice should be sought.

“In saying medical advice, throwing pills at it is not the answer. The reason for the problem should be found and followed on from there.

“If you don’t know what causes the problem, the problem can’t be properly treated.

“Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.”

Similarly Dan advises avoiding alcohol, spicy or sugary foods and caffeine for four to six hours before bedtime.

“Many people believe that alcohol helps them sleep. While alcohol has an immediate sleep-inducing effect, a few hours later as the alcohol levels in your blood start to fall, there is a stimulant or wake-up effect,” he says.

Sleeping times 

Dan advises fixing a bedtime and an awakening time. “Do not be one of those people who allows bedtime and awakening time to drift. The body ‘gets used’ to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed,” he says. “Even if you are retired or not working, this is the essential component of good sleeping habits.”

Similarly people guilty of napping should try and curtail their habit.

“Avoid napping during the day. If you nap throughout the day, it is no wonder that you will not be able to sleep at night. The late afternoon for most people is a ‘sleepy time.’ “Many people will take a nap at that time. This is generally not a bad thing to do, provided you limit the nap to 30 to 45 minutes and can sleep well at night.” 

For more information go to or visit the ISAT 11th Annual Conference on

Saturday 30th April 2011 at Croke Park Stadium, Dublin. Ticket application forms and agenda available from Admission by Pre Paid Ticket only. 

Other Factors that could be affecting your sleep

  • Several physical factors are known to upset sleep. These include arthritis, acid reflux with heartburn, menstruation, headaches and hot flashes.
  • Psychological and mental health problems like depression, anxiety and stress are often associated with sleeping difficulty. In many cases, difficulty staying asleep may be the only presenting sign of depression. A physician should be consulted about these issues to help determine the problem and the best treatment.
  • Many medications can cause sleeplessness as a side effect. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if medications you are taking can lead to sleeplessness. Some medications can also interfere with your sleep cycles, which can lead to sleep disorders.