Sleepless nights can be caused by many things. We are accustomed to thinking about the affect our working day has on our ability to sleep. Or relationships may be causing distress that keeps you in turmoil. You may even have thought about changing your bed or your mattress. Changing your pillow is a relatively low-cost solution that may not have occurred to you yet.
No-one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow – Lin Yutang
There is a lot of well-meaning rot talked about people’s inability to get to sleep. There could be many reasons for facing sleepless nights. We are not counselors here, so we’re going to focus on some of the physical issues that may be causing you to lose sleep.
Another thing worth bearing in mind when you can sleep is that you may wake up with aches and pains in your neck and shoulders. It’s possible these are caused by a pillow which is really unsuitable for you.
In addition, since Charlotte’s time, there are a lot more pillow technologies available: we have a lot more choices available to us for somewhere to lay our ruffled mind when we sleep.
A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow – Charlotte Bronte
No matter how hard you work (Benjamin, please note), one of the first things to think about when choosing a pillow is your preferred sleeping position. Whether you sleep on your back, your front, your side or in any combination will help determine what type of pillow is right for you.
Not sure which is your preferred position? Over a period of a couple of weeks, make a note of what position you choose to sleep in when you settle down. Make a conscious effort to try different positions before you doze off. See what feels comfortable to you. Then, when you wake up in the morning, write down the position you were in when you woke up. Look for patterns and consistency.
Fatigue is the best pillow- Benjamin Franklin
If you decide you are a stomach sleeper, you’ll probably benefit from a soft, light, flat pillow which helps your back stay in a straight line as you sleep. You don’t want your head tilted back too far.
If you are a back sleeper, you will want a medium-thick pillow to support and ease pressure on your neck. Nothing to deep and nothing too soft.
Side sleepers will need something firmer and thicker to raise your head off the bed so that your spine stays in line. You could also think about something near your knees to help you maintain your position.
If you find no discernible pattern, you are probably a “mixed sleeper” or a combination sleeper. In that case, try something of medium thickness and a little softer than average so that you can be comfortable in several positions.
It could be that your sleepless nights are caused by allergic reactions to what is inside the pillow. Traditional feather or down pillows are not always the best if you develop allergic reactions to them. These reactions may be extreme (sneezing, runny eyes etc) but the symptoms cold be more subtle than that leading to tension in your neck – you may not even be aware you are reacting adversely.
Modern pillows can be filled with memory foam, latex, shredded memory foam, corn husks instead of feather and down. In the same way, the covers can be made of cotton, wool, polyester, latex, memory foam. Latex pillows are breathable and promote better airflow as compared to memory foam pillows.
There are a range of special needs pillows on the market now, ranging from app-connected anti-snoring pillows to pillows shaped like a lower case ‘n’ or long thin sausage pillows. You can buy a cervical pillow which has a mixture of densities within it. Or “cool” pillows designed to draw heat away from your head as it rests on the pillow. Any of these may be of interest to you if you are looking for something to break a pattern of discomfort.
Once you’ve found a good solution, how frequently should you change your pillow? One simple test has been dubbed the “trainer test”. Take a clean training shoe. Fold your pillow over in half. Place the trainer on top. If the weight of the trainer, keeps the pillow folder over, it has probably lost its structural integrity and you are due a new pillow.
And just to finish things off, a little more advice from the English poet, William Cowper (who also declared variety to be the spice of life): “The innocent seldom find an uncomfortable pillow”.
William, you are not helping!
It could be that you live in a time of vampires and werewolves. In this case, sleeping with a clove of garlic under your pillow should also be supported by a silver cross above your bed, holy water at the door and a wooden stake at your right hand.
But even if you don’t live in medieval Transylvania, there are still magical properties claimed for this legendary, yet humble vegetable.
It is claimed garlic can help you to have a restful sleep; that consuming it can give you greater energy; that you can use it to ward off the common cold; and that its anti-bacterial properties can be used to heal small wounds on the surface of the skin.
Garlic (scientific name Allium sativum) is a root vegetable species in the onion genus. It is native to Central Asia and North-eastern Iran. It has long been used as a source of food flavoring and has been used in traditional medicine since the time of the Ancient Egyptians.
Ancient Romans and Greeks are said to have used it not just to flavour food but also to cure illnesses. It is claimed to have natural anti-bacterial effects which were utilised to ward off smallpox, common colds and “dropsy”.
Garlic has a strong aroma which lingers on the breath when ingested. It is common in dishes from the Mediterranean and Asia. It is often combined and served with onions. When cooked, the flavour is retained but the key vitamins and minerals are lost through the heating process.
Garlic contains several nutrients including vitamins B6, thiamin and pantothenic acid; vitamin C; and the dietary minerals: manganese, phosphorus, calcium, iron, and zinc.
Several medical research studies have investigated the claimed effects of garlic when treating disease. There appears to be evidence which suggests high levels of garlic consumption can reduce the risk pf prostate cancer in some circumstances. There is also evidence that the vitamins and trace minerals in garlic can help alleviate the effects of the common cold.
There is evidence that too much topical application of garlic direct to the skin or as garlic oil on the skin can result in minor burns.
In areas where mosquitoes are problematic, consuming garlic can help deter them. The sulfur-containing compounds which are released when garlic cloves are crushed are natural deterrents for insects. Growing garlic amongst vegetables and flowers can also deter slugs from approaching the area.
Recipe for a healthy life: from one garlic bulb, take one clove of fresh garlic. Take care not to crush the clove. Retain the paper cover around the clove. Place the clove under your pillow at night. In the morning, remove the clove and discard. Repeat each night.
Does the recipe work? Maybe. Some trace elements are released as the heat of your body warms the clove. It generates an aroma which permeates the air around your pillow. Zinc, in particular, is an element which has anti-bacterial effects.
Does it do any harm? No. And it’s not too expensive either. But don’t leave each clove in place for too long. Change it daily. If you are expecting overnight guests, it is best to remove any traces of garlic and wash the bed linen to remove any lingering garlic aroma.
Lavender – the aroma of dried lavender is said to promote restfulness and sleep. It is a tried and trusted folk remedy.
Rosemary – there is no evidence of any health benefits to be garnered from keeping dried rosemary under your pillow. It does however smell pleasant and you can image this to be an antiseptic aroma.
Oregano – mmm, pizza.
Cinnamon – there is no evidence of any health benefits to be garnered from keeping dried rosemary under your pillow.
Feverfew – no reported effects for keeping under the pillow. However, when ingested, it is reported to help alleviate migraines. Try a feverfew sandwich.
Fennel – no reported benefits. When full bulb is used, can disrupt sleep due to raised lump in soft pillow.
Pepper – no benefits from peppercorns. Ground pepper just makes you sneeze.
Paprika – no. It makes a mess on the bed linen. Negative effects – triggers desire for goulash and dreams of food.
Sea salt crystals – no benefits. Major dis-benefit – reported dreams about mermaids.
Chili peppers – No. Just, no.
In the search for new solutions to old problems, traditional remedies are often overlooked. This is certainly true of Lavender. At the back of your mind, you probably remember your grandmother recommending lavender as a cure-all. But when was the last time you tried it for yourself?
Lavandula (common name lavender) is a genus of 47 known species of plants. They are part of the mint family, Lamiaceae. It is a native plant in Europe, the Mediterranean and in parts of Asia. As well as being grown as ornamental plants in formal and cottage gardens, they are cultivated for use as culinary herbs and processed for their essential oils.
There is one school of thought which claims the English word “lavender” is from the Latin lavare (to wash), referring to the use of infusions of the plants for topical treatment of skin complaints. This may be untrue: the name may actually be derived from Latin livere, “blueish”. Both of these are pleasant thoughts! Lavender flowers certainly glow a deep purple-blue when they are in full flower in the sun. A lavender farm is certainly a spectacular sight when the plants are in full bloom.
Dried lavender flowers and leaves can be used for their aroma. They can also be added to food to give strong distinctive flavors, often as an alternative to rosemary. Leaves can also be steeped in water to use as an alternative tea.
Lavender oil is also widely available commercially and can be used in a variety of ways.
There are many claimed benefits from using lavender. Its oil was used during The Great War as a treatment for wounds: cleaning, preventing infection and promoting fast healing, for example. It has proven anti-bacterial effects. But here we are interested in how this legendary herb can help reduce restless nights and prevent restlessness.
Relevant in some climates, many flying insects dislike the aroma of lavender, making it a natural solution for warding off these unwanted pests. Planting lavender outside, near windows and doors can deter insects from approaching. Hanging small bags of lavender in clothes cupboards or at the back of drawers can reduce their appeal to moths. Sprinkling lavender oil on your mattress can also deter bugs from coming too close.
Where your sleeplessness is being caused by undue anxiety and tension, lavender-infused water can be used to calm nerves and soothe worries. Rub (or spray a mist) on to pulse points on your wrists, temples, forehead or jaw joints to alleviate strain. You can even use this technique as a magical shield to protect you if you know are you are about to enter a stressful situation.
You can help clear your mind when you are feeling overwhelmed by soaking your feet in warm water to which you’ve added a few drops of lavender oil. Or make your own relaxing potpourri by adding dried lavender to dried rosemary, sage and frankincense. Keep this in your bedroom or carry it with you inhale when you need the extra support it provides.
If your restlessness is due to breathing issues, lavender oil added to boiling water can be used to create infused steam which can be inhaled carefully to help clear blocked nasal passages. This can help in clearing out sinus infections and even the symptoms of allergic reactions. You could also rub a few drops of oil around nasal passages, forehead and temples for a little aromatherapy. Application to the back of the neck will also provide some lasting relief from sinus pressure and inflammation. You can even brew a tea with dried lavender if you want to alleviate some coughing, sneezing and throat irritations.
In the bedroom itself, you can keep a potpourri near the head of your bed. Refresh this with drops of oil if the effects start to fade. You can add lavender oil to an infuser to gently permeate the air or sprinkle a few drops under your pillow. Even sprinkle on your favorite comforter or cuddly toy for long-lasting effects. You could even add a few leaves of the plant to your favorite pre-bedtime brew to promote relaxation before you settle down for the night.
There are a variety of aches and pains you can reduce by rubbing oil on and around the affected parts as well. For example, calm sunburn, ease earache, soothe chapped skin, moisten dry eyes and so on.
Sometimes the oldest remedies are the best. The therapeutic effects of lavender and its oils have been known for centuries. There are very few downsides to giving this venerable solution a try if you need extra help in reducing your restlessness.