Catching Zs with ease

The festive season brings with it worries and anxiety for some people. Sometimes excitement can cause insomnia and when you can't sleep, you simply can't function properly.

The festive season brings with it worries and anxiety for some people. Sometimes excitement can cause insomnia and when you can't sleep, you simply can't function properly.

Here are some recently tried and approved methods to help you fall asleep:

l Throw out your definition of a good night's sleep

Even waking every 60 to 90 minutes can be part of a healthy sleep pattern. The deeper stages of sleep, or REM - rapid eye movement - sleep, occur about every 90 minutes and get longer as the night goes on, so your brain might become more alert between those cycles.

Since we're conditioned to think that waking during the night is a problem, when it happens we panic, causing our brains to awaken even further. If you find yourself awake in the pre-dawn hours, check your physical state.

Do you have an ache, a cramp or need to go to the bathroom? If so, take care of it. If you don't have a physical complaint, chances are you're experiencing a normal stage of the sleep cycle.

l Get bed-ready

After an action-packed day, your brain needs some time to make order of things and slow its frenetic firing before you're ready to sleep.

Pure bodily exhaustion can probably conk you out for an hour or so, but then worries will surface and cause you to stir.

How can you get your mind to chill? Establishing any ritual that you do before bed - bathing, sipping a cup of tea, anything but checking your e-mail - will do more than relax you right then and there.

The repetition also conditions your brain and body for sleep. When you move to Z-mode the same way night after night, you're creating a Pavlovian response to your ritual.

l Quit sleeping with the enemy

Women tend to take stress to bed and mull over it. To prevent stress from waking you up, keep a worry book - a journal in which a couple of hours before bed you write down the thoughts you might stew over.

Then, when those thoughts creep into your head later, tell yourself: "I can't improve on it today, so I'm not thinking about it."

l Make the breath-brain connection

A recent study used yoga breathing techniques to treat sufferers of insomnia.

All subjects reported an improvement in the quality and quantity of sleep.

There is evidence that long, slow abdominal breathing will reduce anxiety and discomposure.

There is also a breathing technique called the 4-7-8 breath exercise. With your tongue resting on the roof of your mouth, just behind your upper teeth, exhale completely. Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for four counts. Hold your breath for seven counts. Then exhale while mentally counting to eight. Repeat the cycle three more times.

l When you wake up anyway

Despite all of your best efforts, here you are, awake at an ungodly hour. What do you do now? Don't look at the clock. Seeing the time can trigger an insomnia sufferer to become fully awake. Keep your eyes closed, or move the clock out of sight.

But if you're still far from dreamland, try a mantra. Silently repeat any word that's soothing or pleasant to you.

l Get out, get out

After 15 minutes of lying awake in bed, you need a change of venue. Staying there is counterproductive. And you risk associating the bed with your trouble sleeping, which will exacerbate the problem in nights to come.

Go to another room. Make sure you have a night light and won't need to turn on brighter lights. Occupy yourself with something calming like knitting, listening to music, or even performing your pre-sleep ritual again.

Only when you feel drowsy should you go back to bed.