Sweet Dreams!  Are you having trouble sleeping?  This article explains why we need sleep and how to get more!

Sleep - deep, blissful, restorative sleep!  Maybe it's something you haven't given much thought to, unless you suffer from insomnia, in which case it can become an obsession.  It's a strange experience really, when you think about it.  You close your eyes and without any effort on your part, you drift off into a mysterious semiconscious state, oblivious to what's going on around you.  Or not, as the case may be.  If you've ever had one of those nights, unable to sleep, one eye on the bedroom clock watching bleary-eyed as the hours creep by towards morning, you'll know how elusive sleep can be.  We're all different when it comes to the amount we need.  Some seem to happily get by on very little shut-eye, while others (myself included) can barely function without a decent night's sleep.  Our requirements can also vary at different times of our lives.

What happens when we sleep?

While we sleep our bodies are busy replacing damaged and worn-out cells, repairing the physical damages of the day.  A process of rejuvenation is taking place - it's called beauty sleep for a reason!  Our minds process the day's events, making sense of our experiences and neatly organising the information we've accumulated.  In the background our subconscious minds work away, often coming up with sudden brilliant ideas or creative solutions to problems.

Dreams occur during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep and are important for emotional and mental balance.  Nightmares may be caused by fears surfacing from the depths of the subconscious, which can often be alarming or upsetting.  However, once these fears are acknowledged they can be understood, faced up to and laid to rest.  Dreams offer a connection with your intuition and, in rare cases, can even be prophetic.  Maybe there is even a part of us that, during sleep, travels into different dimensions.

Sleep deprivation reduces our ability to concentrate, solve problems or remember details.  It can make us more aware of general aches and pains, making us feel confused, irritable an downright grumpy!

What prevents sleep?

There are as many causes of sleeplessness as there are ways to combat it, or at least allow sleep to come easier.  Sometimes it can be a lack of opportunity of getting an uninterrupted night's sleep, for example if you have to get out several times in the night to look after a new baby or care for someone else in the household.  Though not ideal, in this situation you may have to take as many opportunities for daytime rest as you can and accept any help offered.

Common causes of insomnia include anxiety, stressful situations, lack of activity during the day, eating large meals or drinking too much caffeine in the evening or an excess of mental stimulation before bedtime.  There are simple lifestyle changes you can make to encourage deep, restful sleep, such as developing a bedtime routine and ensuring your bedroom is comfortable and relaxing.

The Blissful Boudoir

Take a look around your bedroom:  is it a soothing haven of relaxation or a messy dumping ground?  Perhaps your room has other functions, such as a study, office or computer area.  It can be difficult to mentally switch off when you're surrounded by reminders of work, but if you've no option, try to keep your work tools out of site when they're not in use.  If you have the chance to redecorate, keep the colours restful.  Natural fabrics in neutral colours or pale shades of green or blue can have a calming effect.  Clear away any clutter and only have ornaments or paintings in the room which inspire peace and tranquillity.  Keep electrical equipment to a minimum as electromagnetic energy can disturb sleep patterns.  If your bedside alarm clock runs off the mains, keep it is far away from your head as you can.  Placing a piece of Black Tourmaline near it may help to counteract its effects.

Is your bed comfortable?  Lying on a lumpy, bumpy mattress isn't conducive to restful sleep.  If you're not in a position to get a new mattress, you could try a mattress topper to give an extra layer of softness.  These can be expensive, buy you can get a similar effect by putting a cheap quilt under your bottom sheet.  If your pillow is literally a pain in the neck, shop around until you can find one that gives the correct support.

If you're bothered by bright lights, hanging blackout blinds or curtain liners may solve your problem.  Although we can get used to background noise such as traffic, sometimes it can be hard to shut it out.  In this case earplugs would be a last resort as they can leave you feeling vulnerable, but peaceful music playing in the background can lessen the effect of noise.

Air quality is important during sleep as your body needs oxygen to carry on through the night shift.  Keep your room as dust-free as possible and let in plenty of fresh air, especially if you suffer from allergies or asthma.  If you can't sleep with the window open, using a salt lamp or ioniser can improve the air quality.  Put a drop of Lavender oil on your pillow, or diffuse it in an oil burner before you go to bed.  Lavender has a relaxing effect and can help promote sleep.

Energy clearing your sleeping space can help to remove negative energies left behind from arguments, bad dreams, or nights spent lying awake worrying.  You may have your favourite way of doing this, if not, you could try the following simple technique:

Stand quietly for a moment and connect with your angels, guides, or source of love and light, depending on your belief system.  Ask for their help to clear away any unwanted energy, and request that your room is filled with positive, peaceful, loving energy.  You may like to visualise a pure, while healing light above your head, flowing through you and around you, gradually moving out to fill every corner of the room.  Sound is a traditional energy cleanser used in many different cultures.  You can use a small drum, gong, bells, Tibetan singing bowl or chimes, or if none of these are available, you can clap your hands to create sound vibrations to clear the energy.  Starting at your bedroom door, walk around, drumming, ringing or clapping the air, paying attention to the corners where stale energy can settle.  When you've finished, stand in the centre of the room, ring a small bell or chime, and feel the vibrations carrying through the air and filling the whole space.  Finish with a short prayer or positive affirmation that the room is blessed with healing energy.

Changing your routine

To establish a regular sleeping pattern, take some quiet time to wind down before bedtime.  Reading a book or taking a warm bath with essential oils will help you to relax.  Essential oils with a sedative effect include Lavender, Roman Chamomile, Marjoram, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Frankincense, Neroli, Rose, Ylang Ylang, Geranium and Vetiver.  The oils you choose can be based on personal preference and you can try different blends to find the ones which are most beneficial.  Add 4-6 drops of essential oil to a teaspoon of base oil (such as Sweet Almond, Grapeseed or Jojoba), add to your bath and relax for around 20 minutes.  A few suggestions for blends are:

3 drops of Lavender with 2 drops of Roman Chamomile

3 drops of Geranium with 2 drops of Ylang Ylang

3 drops of Neroli with 1 drop of Rose

Avoid eating large meals or drinking coffee or alcohol in the evening.  However, if you're hungry you don't want to be kept awake by a growling stomach!  The traditional remedy of a warm, milky drink before bedtime makes good sense.  Milk and soya milk both contain Tryptophan, an amino acid metabolised in the body into serotonin and melatonin, neurotransmitters that exert a calming effect and regulate sleep.

Other things to avoid are watching thrillers on television or playing computer games late in the evening.  If you're having trouble sleeping, the last thing you need is your brain overexcited before bedtime!

If fears and worries are playing on your mind, try not to take them to bed with you.  Write down everything you're worried about on a sheet of paper and leave it somewhere you'll see it in the morning - but not in your bedroom!  The problems will still be there the next day, but after a good night's sleep you'll be more able to deal with them.

Once you're in bed, if sleep doesn't come immediately, don't panic!  Keep calm, listen to some relaxing music or a guided visualisation, or practice breathing exercises.  If you're attuned to Reiki to could give yourself a self-treatment.

If after an hour or so you're getting anxious as you're still no nearer slipping into peaceful slumber, it may help to get out of bed, go into another room and distract yourself by making a drink or reading for a while.  When the anxious feeling passes and your eyelids become heavy, return to bed, relax and try again.

If an ability to sleep lasts for a long time, visit your GP as it could be an indication of an underlying health problem.  If your insomnia is caused by bereavement, stress or depression, a short course of sleeping tablets may help to break the cycle.