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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Getting a Better Night's Sleep, to Help Enjoy Your Life More

There's a lot of natural products that you can invest in to help you sleep. There are routines which can be put in place to enable your brain to re-program into a sleeping machine, too. Don't get me wrong- I appreciate & utilize Western medicine whenever possible. But I think we should always try to improve our environment & routines before we turn to pills for sleeping help. A lot of us have changes that we can make in those two areas. At the very least, you will end up feeling more comfortable & relaxed each night, and your bedroom will be more of an oasis. And if you're still suffering from sleep issues, you'll be able to tell your doctor what you did try naturally before you seek medical/prescription help for insomnia. Most of us know the causes for insomnia or poor sleep quality, so I won't bore you with that here. And we all know how important a good night's sleep is, so I won't go over that, either!

Sometimes we don't want to buy products because we fear that they won't work, and that we'll  waste money on in our quest for relief. So I'll share with you what has worked for me, as I've had insomnia for a few years now, and fibromyalgia leaves sleeping an achy, painful activity most of the time. I've gone through a lot of trial-and-error, so I hope what I suggest will help!

Bedding: Your sheets should be soft & comfortable, and fit your bed & pillows perfectly. Pillows need to be replaced far more often than many people are willing to acknowledge. If you can fold the pillow in half, it's time to toss it, period! You are worth quality bedding. Sheets should be changed once a week to cleanse them of dead skin cells, dust & hair. Make sure every bit of detergent is completely rinsed out every time from your bedding. I highly recommend using fabric softener in the rinse cycle, even it's fragrance-free, because sheets really need to be soft to be comfy. Downy's Lavender Serenity & their Mountain Spring scents are my favorites. Unless you know for certain that you aren't allergic, I'd recommend staying away from bedding made from down & feathers. Primaloft (sold by The Company Store) is a hypoallergenic alternative to down/feathers, containing the same great qualities of down without the allergic reactions they can bring on. The Company Store is a good choice for bedding due to their many sheet sets, size varieties, comforter styles & levels of warmth amongst comforters- all the way from tropical summer-weight comforters up to Alaskan winter warmth. Mattress pads help keep sweat & any other bodily fluids, drinks, dust, hairs & fur from getting into your mattress (and subsequently, your box spring). Avoid polyester-fill mattress pads or bedspreads, as they don't breathe, don't absorb well & can feel scratchy on the skin. Cotton percale, jersey cotton, pure silk, voile, some types of microfiber & cotton flannel are the best choices in all bedding, though that changes by climate/room temperature. Bamboo is a new type of sheet out, but honestly I have no experience in what those are like to sleep on. Cotton percale is what I choose every time, and sateen is the best, smoothest, silkiest sheet type to own, in my humble opinion. There are many cotton products available today- if you can buy ones that are Fair Trade & made of combed cotton, so much the better. Macy's Hotel Collection is my absolute favorite in sheets, but Pottery Barn also makes excellent cotton percale sheets. Sateen cotten is a great option as I already discussed, too, and imparts a beautiful sheen to your bedding. Your bed should be a place you crave to be in at the end of the day. Cotton-filled pillows kept in their own zippered cotton cases are my preference.

Mattress pads, pillows, throw pillow covers, shams, duvet covers & any extra blankets, comforters, etc., should be washed in HOT water (just like sheets should be washed, never in cold or warm) at least every twelve weeks. When washed every three months, dust will be kept to a minimum, allergies are usually kept at bay & your bedding will continue to look fresh for a long time. If you can't remember the last time you washed the bedding "extras", wash them now. Never buy any bedding materials that you can't wash. While your mattress pad & other items are in the washer, take this chance to vacuum your mattress & box spring with an upholstery attachment, and dust the bed frame/headboard/footboard. I designate the time when the seasons change as a chance to rotate my mattresses, as well. In March & September, I turn OVER my mattresses. In June & December, I turn AROUND the mattresses. Doing this helps ensure far more even wear over the years, and can add years to the life of your bed. (Side note: If you have allergies, also keep the use of furniture polish to a minimum in the bedroom, as the chemicals in it can trigger allergic reactions. Do, however, dust your bedroom with a feather duster, dusting mitt ot vacuum attachment at least once a week.)

Take the dread out of daily bed-making by losing the extras that so many designers say that you need. Making your bed simply beautiful every day is as easy as this: Keep on your bed the number of pillows each person needs to sleep on (usually two or three per person), and put them all in normal pillowcases that'll be washed once a week. Buy a fitted sheet & put it on, but no flat sheet is needed here. Buy a comforter for your bed with good "overhang"- in other words, buy either an oversized comforter for your bed size, or go up a size, so that the comforter drapes well & gives you maximum coverage. Keep the comforter in a duvet cover made in sheet material that is the same material as a flat sheet would be at all times. The duvet cover doesn't have to match the fitted sheet exactly, but it should at least go together well in color scheme/design. I will say that there is nothing quite so refreshing as seeing & resting in an all-white bed though. White sheets are just spectacular! In the morning when you make your bed, all you'll have to do is smooth down your pillows back into place, throw the duvet-in-cover over it all, and maybe turn down the duvet at the top to make sliding in a breeze. This simple, elegant strategy is so incredibly inviting. Sometimes, less is more when it comes to decorating. No need for military corners or hospital bed crispness here- I see no need whatsoever to iron anything. After a night of sleeping on the items, the normal slight wrinkling will be back anyway! Wash the bedding once a week or so. Having no shams, dust ruffle, decorative pillows, additional blankets or other accessories minimize the laundering chore, and can make getting into bed at night a true, quick pleasure.

OTC Medicine: I've tried Unisom, Excedrin PM (which is currently off the market due to manufacturing issues), Legatrin & a few other remedies. But the best, least-expensive-by-volume, fastest-working OTC sleep medicine that I've used is the following (it's a quick-release product)-

Personal Comfort & Temperature: Being too cold or too warm can disrupt even the deepest sleeper's ability to rest. As a rule, women under forty & both sexes over seventy tend to run the coolest, while women & most men (until they get much older) tend to run hot. But there are always exceptions. You can't always agree with a partner, if you share a bed with one, on what temperature to keep the room at, either. So using products that will accomodate both excess heat & excess cold are good to keep on hand. Cold therapy soothes inflammation & is absolutely necessary for sunburns & for many people with fibromyalgia. I keep one of these wraps in the freezer, and one on top of the microwave for heating, at all times. When I worked outside the home, I kept one in my work desk drawer, too, because the office was always freezing. I've bought them as gifts, and my girlfriends & female family members all LOVED them!

Having a personal fan directed at yourself throughout the night creates both important "white noise" & also cools you down. I personally cannot sleep if I don't have my fan running. I can't stand not having the white noise! I own one of these for every room in my house that has an outlet. I love it that much:

Additional cold therapy products that I like & use:

A sleep mask for your eyes can make a huge difference in your sleep quality. Even if you don't think that you're super-sensitive to light in a bedroom, it can still create much deeper sleep, and a longer time spent asleep. If you find one with a Velcro or otherwise-adjustable strap, that's better- you don't want to have anything constricting around your head. Even as a stomach sleeper, I still find the following sleep mask stays on well & is perfectly comfortable against the pillow (the fragrance in this actually dies very fast, so don't let the fact that it's herbal deter you):

Another one that's highly rated is:

If you don't want to sleep with an eye mask on all night, but would still like some of the cooling & restful effects, you can put an eye pillow on (it's especially nice when kept in the freezer) & allow yourself to relax with that on after turning on the lights, and remove it when you feel sleepy enough to settle in to your final sleeping position for awhile.

I keep all of my products which are stored in the freezer in a Hefty Zippered Freezer bag, to prevent food smells or freezer burn. The Dreamtime wrap comes in it's own container that's magnetized, so you won't have to store that in a separate bag, if you purchase that.

Sound: Ear plugs aren't something everyone can wear, but if you can, especially if there's no white noise in your room, I highly suggest it. Light sleepers, especially, find ear plugs absolutely necessary. I never needed them for sleeping when I was younger, but once I started experiencing insomnia, I found I became inseparable with my ear plugs! Hearos is the best brand that I've used, hands down. The little case sold with the top option comes in handy for storage and/or travel.

If you can't wear ear plugs, but need more than a fan provides, a white noise machine can help:

Certain sleep CD's, when worn with headphones, are specifically designed, usually via brain wave activity to help one sleep more deeply. They also really help when you have trouble falling asleep. These can be downloaded via the internet or purchased on CD, in most cases. Here's a couple of my favorites for sleep (they really work for me!):
Aromatherapy & Body Care: Keeping your body's skin lightly-moisturized & surrounding yourself with pleasant but non-distracting fragrance are two ways to sleep more comfortably. Tight, dry, itchy skin is uncomfortable, period. Some people don't like scent, or are allergic, and you may have a spouse like that even if you aren't, so I realize aromatherapy isn't an option for all. But one line that really works for aromatherapy, and people that I've bought it for have all said they really liked, is the following:

Their calming line is especially nice for really stressful periods of life (which would about 100% of the time for most of us, I'm sure):

Aveeno seems to be a brand that most people's body skin doesn't disagree with, it's usually readily available online or in a drugstore. I suggest that, once you find a product & routine that you like, stick with using it every single night at the same time. The product and/or routine alone will start to trigger to your brain, "time to go to sleep". I keep my lips moisturized by using Blistex Lip Medex (the kind with no sunscreen) at night. I use hand cream & cuticle balm right before bed, too, since I have very dry hands & cuticles.

This little product can also be sprayed on your sheets and/or pillows to help with aromatherapy for sleeping:

Clothing: Wear loose, lightweight pajamas or a nightgown that keeps your body as free as possible. You know what your favorite style is- go with that. I can't stand anything with long sleeves, anything above the knee or anything going to my ankles, personally. I like Land's End nightgowns best, because they have a mid-calf, short-sleeve nightgown that is made of much softer cotton than any other brand I've tried. J. Jill also sells awesome sleepwear & shelf-bra tanks to wear to bed. Cotton or another fabric that will breathe is extra-important at night. I highly recommend tossing anything satin, acetate, nylon or with itchy lace- that can be pretty stuff to wear, but not necessarily comfortable to sleep in!

Even if you're not diabetic, wearing a comfortable pair of socks like these will ensure that nothing is too tight around your ankles or feet while you sleep. If you put on foot cream or lotion before you sleep, you'll help keep the socks from drying out your feet. The following is my favorite brand of warm crew socks, which work for most seasons & situations, plus are non-binding:

The following foot creams are my favorites:

Drinks: Before bed, a cup of tea without caffiene, either iced or hot (depending upon your preference), can help chill you out. My favorite (actually, the only herbal tea I like, period) is the following:

While not my favorites, these teas may be more to your liking, and I can say they are good for calming purposes, besides being natural (though be careful with ingesting kava kava or St. John's Wort, if you already take any prescriptions):

Drinking a glass of milk and/or eating a banana before bed will help with easier sleep, as well. I don't do that because I don't need the calories right before bed, personally, though.

Storage: Nightstand products for nighttime (cuticle balm, hand cream, lip balm, ear plugs, sleep mask) should be stored neatly, so as not to cause yourself more stress than what the products provide. Pick a place in or on top of your nightstand, and designate a spot for each item (again, this is all about building a positive habit). Always put your items back in their place when you wake up & get your day going. Also remember that storing things in a caddy or basket of some kind will make it easier to just pick up when you have to dust the table, as opposed to having a bunch of products out in a free-standing manner. There are hundreds of options, but the following work well, as examples of tabletop storage:

If you keep your items in a drawer, you may find that you forget to use them. I know that I do! But if you keep your items in a drawer & find they're not staying neat, you could try one of the following organizers, after measuring the interior of the drawer:


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