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Three unconventional tips to better sleep

When I was a teenager my father nicknamed me "mattress back." It was his subtle way of letting me know I slept too much.

When I was a teenager my father nicknamed me "mattress back." It was his subtle way of letting me know I slept too much. Of course, being a teenager, I didn't bat an eye at his sarcasm (I was far too cool for that), nor did I appreciate my ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

Fast-forward 30 years and how I crave to have a bit more of that mattress back teen in me again.

Sleep provides amazing benefits to the body. It lowers stress and improves mood. It helps maintain and promote a healthy body weight, it improves our athletic performance and coordination, and it increases our ability to pay attention and remember new information.

Researchers from the Université Laval released data in 2011 that revealed 40 per cent of Canadians suffer from a sleep disorder.

That's a lot of sleepy, cranky people gripping their Grande cups fairly tightly.

So, how can you start sleeping more and main-lining your caffeine less? Get out of bed. I recently went to the UBC Sleep Disorder Clinic because my sleep is so bad. It was both educational and entertaining.

It was educational because I learned some techniques that have helped me, and entertaining because loving husband fell asleep in the waiting room when I was getting my assessment done. He, apparently, has no problems with sleep.

After a 90-minute examination and assessment, my doctor (who looked liked he was suffering from his own specialty himself) diagnosed me with insomnia. To this I thought, "no kidding."

He then further identified I had "poor sleep hygiene." Now, before you start thinking that I don't shower or bath, sleep hygiene is a lot different than personal hygiene.

Sleep hygiene is "all the behavioural and environmental factors that precede sleep and may interfere with sleep" (thank-you Wikipedia), and my sleep hygiene sucked.

My first sleep hygiene sin was that I lie in bed until I eventually fall asleep and when I wake up in the middle of the night, I lie there again and wait for sleep to take me.

It's not like I was mulling on my problems while lying there, though.

I thought I was doing the right thing by practicing deep breathing and meditation.

I wasn't. Experts do not recommend this.

Instead, they recommend if we can't fall asleep after 15 to 20 minutes to get out of bed and stay out of bed until we are sleepy again.

The same goes if we wake up in the middle of the night. Get out of bed, do something that is not mentally stimulating, and when we are tired again go back to bed.

Lying there and trying to sleep, or willing ourselves to fall asleep, is counterproductive and the harder we try, the more elusive sleep will become.

Decrease your sleep window. Another technique the UBC Sleep Clinic taught me is to decrease my sleep window, or how long I am in bed. I was of the opinion that if I went to bed early I would get a good night's sleep. My sleep journal suggested otherwise.

Going to bed when we're not sleepy sends the wrong signal to our brain. It messes with our circadian rhythm (our internal timer that let's us know when we should be awake and asleep), and this in turn makes it harder for us to fall asleep.

Postponing bed and being awake longer will actually lead to a quicker, deeper and more solid sleep. Don't worry, you aren't decreasing your time sleeping. Instead, you are decreasing the amount of time awake in bed.

Go to bed and get up at the same time everyday. No matter what day it is, keep your same sleep cycle. I now go to bed between 11 and 11:30 p.m. and wake up around 6:30 a.m. When I don't follow this regime, I suffer sleeplessness. You need to keep your biological clock set and maintain that time - even on the weekends and when on holidays.

PJ Wren is a local personal trainer in the Delta area who can be found wide awake at www.fitnesswithpj. com.

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