Ask The Experts

Relaxing activities before bedtime help you sleep better

Engaging in relaxing activities before going to bed, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, will help you sleep better.
Engaging in relaxing activities before going to bed, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, will help you sleep better.PHOTO: REUTERS

Q I can never have a good night's sleep if I know I have something to do the next day, regardless of whether it is big or small.

I will be awake even before the alarm goes off.

Incidentally, my blood pressure reading is always high when it is taken at the clinic, as compared to a reading taken at home. I am 69. Is this healthy and can I do anything to sleep better?

A A good night's sleep is described as restful if a person falls asleep within 30 minutes and wakes up fewer than three times during the night.

If he wakes up at night, it takes no more than 30 minutes for him to fall asleep again. And he wakes up only when the alarm goes off, or just a few minutes before.

Engaging in relaxing activities before going to bed, and when you wake up in the middle of the night, will help you sleep better.

The truth is, you cannot force yourself to sleep. Therefore, it is more helpful to stay calm and restful when you are lying wide awake in bed.

Such activities should be done 30 minutes before bedtime. They include watching television, reading, praying, meditation and listening to relaxing music.

However, try not to do these activities in bed. Otherwise, your mind will subconsciously connect the activity with the bed, instead of relating it to rest and sleep.

Once you feel sleepy - when your eyelids feel heavy and droopy - go to bed with this mindset: "If I don't fall asleep, I'll rest."

If you have trouble falling asleep or if you wake up far too early before the alarm rings, allow yourself to rest, rather than fret about not sleeping and its consequences.

Doing so will only drive up stress levels in the body and further inhibit sleep.

For some people, a simple focus exercise can help. For instance, focus on your breathing movements while the mind focuses on the words, "calm, peace or relax".

The truth is, you cannot force yourself to sleep.

Therefore, it is more helpful to stay calm and restful when you are lying wide awake in bed.

Getting agitated, frustrated and angry will only deplete your energy.

As for your higher blood pressure readings at the clinic, a possible reason is your underlying stress related to the appointment with the doctor.

This can stem from concerns about your health and apprehension about the doctor's response or procedures involved in treatment.

Stress can arise from past or ongoing issues at home or at work, and sleep problems can heighten these stress levels.

It is advisable to speak to a family doctor, counsellor or psychologist if you have any stress issues.

Some people naturally feel stressed when they have blood pressure readings taken by healthcare professionals.

This is called "white coat hypertension", as medical staff sometimes wear white coats.

People who respond this way often have blood pressure readings that are higher when taken at a doctor's clinic, compared with other settings, such as at home.

You can discuss this possible condition with a doctor to get advice on how to monitor your blood pressure at home.

This will help determine if your high blood pressure occurs only at the clinic or if it is a persistent condition that needs treatment.

Dr Wong Mei Yin

Principal clinical psychologist, National Healthcare Group Polyclinics

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2016, with the headline 'Relaxing activities before bedtime help you sleep better'. Print Edition | Subscribe