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Sleeping should be the most natural thing in the world, yet around 60% of Australians report difficulties in falling asleep, staying asleep, waking too early and not being able to get back to sleep. Feeling constantly tired not only affects mood and productivity, but can be genuinely dangerous when it comes to manual handling, driving and concentration.

Sometimes there are medical conditions causing this insomnia and sometimes it might be lifestyle factors or what can be referred to as poor ‘sleep hygiene’ contributing to the problem.

I asked a number of Illawarra business owners for some simple remedies that can aid in getting a good night’s sleep:

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Create an optimal sleep environment:

Take time to make your bedroom a space that promotes a good night’s sleep by trying to keep it as dust free and uncluttered as possible. Keep electronic light out of your bedroom, particularly your mobile phone! If you must rely on your phone as an alarm clock, put it on airplane mode an hour before bedtime and keep it out of reach of your bed. Avoid any screens before bed in general. Try reading a chapter of a fiction novel or even listening to a pre-downloaded podcast with your eyes closed if you need help winding down.

For some people, white noise such as a fan is helpful in drowning out background sounds and some decent blackout curtains to keep your room dark and hide any street lights are an inexpensive way to create a more sleep-friendly environment.

A good quality mattress:

A mattress is an often underestimated investment. It’s recommended that you replace your mattress every 6-10 years. So, eight hours  a day, 365 days per year for eight years…that’s something like 23,000 hours spent lying in bed! It makes sense to take a little time in choosing a quality mattress.
Illawarra chiropractor, Melissa Neave from Evans St Chiro gets patients asking for advice on choosing mattresses:

“I tell patients there is no best mattress company or type. The choice between memory foam, inner spring, latex and hybrid mattresses can be overwhelming and the suitability to each individual is dependant on a number of factors. People need to consider which factors are a priority to them: firmness, heat, ease of movement, partner disturbance, comfort and budget.

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Firmness.

The mattress needs to be firm enough to support your spinal curves, providing support especially through the hip and shoulder region. The ideal firmness may depend on sleeping posture. Medium to firm for side sleeping and more on the firm side for predominate back sleepers. (Don’t sleep on your stomach! ) Each type of mattress will have a range of firmness options.

Memory foam.

Highly supportive, long lasting, good for allergies as doesn’t collect dust, good for minimal partner disturbance but difficult to move/roll over on and can feel hot for some people.

Pocket spring.

Best type of spring mattress. MUCH more supportive than open coil. I don’t recommend buying open coil).

Good edge support plus different zones in the mattress can have varying levels of support for different regions of your spine. A higher spring count equals better support. Easy to roll on, but higher partner disturbance. Longevity depends on quality. No temperature issues. Comfort will depend on the mattress topper. Remember to flip and rotate your mattress reglarly to avoid uncomfortable indentations.

Latex

Neutral temperature, comfortable and easy to move on. Long lasting but expensive.

Hybrid

The best compromise in my opinion. A good spring system with a memory foam or latex over the coils. The price will vary depending on the quality of materials and brand name. In my opinion you can purchase a decent hybrid mattress that will last 8-10 years, for under $2000 or even less sometimes. A higher price does not necessarily guarantee a better, or more comfortable sleep.


Note: It’s more difficult with Covid, and the ease of online “mattress in a box” shopping, but it is still best to try before you buy. Most companies have warranties and have “risk free” swapping options to ensure customers are happy with their purchase.”

Melissa’s advice is to check out a website called BedBuyer.com.au. It collates independent reviews by chiro’s, physio’s and sleep specialists with no affiliation to any mattress company. Their reviews are organised by price, sleeping position, back pain etc, depending on what your priorities are.

Weighted Blankets:

While we’re on the topic of bedding, if you find yourself restless during the night, you may want to consider a weighted blanket.

“Weighted blankets are often recommended by health professionals, including Occupational Therapists and can have a positive impact on those who may benefit from deep pressure. Providing this deep pressure acts to calm the nervous system and can assist with self-regulation not only at sleep time, but during periods of heightened anxiety.

Weighted blankets are especially helpful to those with Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism, ADHD/ADD, Anxiety and other mental health related conditions.

Erin Jamieson opened The Sensory Studio here in the Illawarra after noticing a gap in the market for sensory aids following her own daughters’ journey with managing autism. According to Erin;

“We have a variety of weighted blankets and weighted lap pads available in our studio in Fairy Meadow. Our range includes numerous sizes, colours and weights starting from 1.5kg up to 11kg.

We have seen first hand the positive impact it has had on our clients, both young and old in the Studio. We are available to assist with any questions you may have to help find the right option for you. When choosing a weighted blanket, the general guideline is to choose a weight no greater than 10% of your body weight. Always seek the advice of your medical practitioner or allied health practitioner before purchasing a weighted blanket.”

Essential Oils for Promoting Sleep:

Essential oils have been used across the world for thousands of years and can be a simple and effective aid for the body when it comes to relaxation before bedtime and having deep, restful sleep.
Suzanne Jones from Essentially Aromatherapy in Tarrawanna offered her expertise in this area:

“Many essential oils act as nervines and sedatives which make them perfect for a good night sleep and can be used easily and effectively. Most people already know of the benefits of lavender essential oil, however other essential oils when blended with lavender make for a powerful therapeutic blend. These include essential oils of Roman chamomile, sweet marjoram, sweet orange, neroli, sandalwood, petitgrain, geranium and valerian. Other essential oils such as vetiver which is a long grass is deeply grounding and calming and the power of frankincense essential oil is in its ability to open the bronchials and slow the breathing helping the worries of the day slip away. Blending 3-4 essential oils rather than using just a single essential oil allows the oils to work more powerfully together and allows you to change your aroma just by increasing or decreasing the drops of a single essential oil, giving you a variety in only in 3 – 4 bottles. Or you can buy a premade blend that already has multiple essential oils designed to work synergistically together.”

 There are several ways to use essential oils, from diffusers, to baths or applied directly to the skin. It’s best to seek advice beforehand as some essential oils may be too potent to apply directly on the body without using a carrier oil. Another simple and safe way to use them is to place a few drops on a pillow or handkerchief an inhale. 

BEDTIME DRINKS:

Another safe and soothing sleep remedy is tea. Certain tea blends can have a calming effect on the nervous system, but make sure you do your research forst, as some teas can have the opposite effect and act as a stimulant. Best to avoid teas that contain L-theranine and theobrimine before bedtime. Tea Tea From Two Homes is a local Illawarra business and create handcrafted tea blends from organic ingredients.
Here’s what Manda & Garry had to say when asked about how tea can help in getting a good night’s sleep:

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“A great night time routine is essential for a wonderful sleep and having enough energy to face all that life has to offer with a smile on your face! And we honestly believe that adding a cosy cuppa to the mix makes the last few hours of your day all the more wonderful. We actually have 3 amazingly relaxing teas in our range:

  • A Little Ray Of Sunshine – easing the stress of the day with lemon myrtle leaves, chamomile flowers and a hint of valerian
  • Rosie – a beautiful blend of red rose petals, dried strawberries, rosehip shells and hibiscus petals
  • Dream Time – our gorgeous and newly-launched sleepy tea, featuring chamomile flowers, red rose petals, spearmint leaves and lavender flowers” 

Tea From Two Homes sell their carefully crafted tea blends in eco-friendly packaging at numerous Illawarra locations as well as offering online sales.

SUPPLEMENTS FOR BETTER SLEEP:

Herbal teas and essential oils can be pretty safe remedies for sleep issues, but you should exercise caution with supplements and be as informed as possible. Many over the counter sleeping supplements aren’t regulated, which means there is no way of knowing exactly how much of each ingredient is included and how effective they actually are. Some supplements can even be potentially dangerous for some people to take, such as those with certain chronic conditions or who are taking other medications. Melatonin, for example, has been associated with headaches, depression and dizziness although many people report its’ effectiveness in getting a more restful sleep. Magnesium, on the other hand, is likely safe to take as most of the population is in fact deficient in their daily magnesium intake as it is.

Always discuss taking supplements with an informed health professional such as a qualified naturopath who has extensive knowledge in nutrition and herbal medicine. They can not only prescribe the right supplements and dosages for you to, but also direct you to high quality practitioner only products. Many of the supplements you can buy over the counter contain poor quality or low amounts of the supplement you are seeking, so while a practitioner supplied product may seem more expensive at first, it is guaranteed for its quality and potency. If you are on pharmaceutical medicines as well, it is worth also discussing any supplementation with your GP to keep them informed and avoid any potentially harmful interactions with medicines they prescribe for you.

If you’ve tried some of these simple sleep aids and you’re still struggling to switch off at night or waking up feeling exhausted, it might be a case for your health professional. Insomnia can be a symptom of stress and also common mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression. In a cruel case of chicken and egg, not getting enough sleep can be a contributing factor in developing these sorts of health issues as well! It might be worth examining your sleep quality from a few angles to rule out physiological factors causing sleep apneoa or snoring as well. Talk to your GP about the options available and you might find that seeking advice from a specialist in sleep medicine is required.