It's a busy time of year, and sometimes it's hard to switch off at night - but there are ways to help yourself, writes Gill South.

I've been sleeping badly recently, which is not uncommon at this time of year - a combination of lots of work to finish, Christmas preparations, and rich food at parties. I lie in bed making long lists in my head, but am shattered the next day.

Ever since I had kids, sleep has become far more important to me. I talked to Debora-Dale Young, an experienced pharmacist and technical consultant at Clinicians, which makes the supplement REM Sleep.

I am not unusual - apparently 25 per cent of New Zealanders suffer from sleep problems, Debora-Dale tells me.

It doesn't help that I live with a night owl - if he puts the light on late at night when I've been asleep, this can wake me and then I have trouble going back to sleep if I have a lot on my mind.

Debora-Dale explains that the eyes register light and this signals the body to wake up no matter what the time, causing melatonin levels to drop and cortisol levels to rise, allowing mind talk to take over, making it difficult to go back to sleep.

I tell Debora-Dale I'm pretty anti taking pills to help me sleep. I've only been truly tempted when I've been on a long haul flight to Britain.

For those having trouble getting to sleep at this time of year, but don't have a serious problem with sleep, the pharmacist recommends Clinicians' REM Sleep. Some people have hot milk to help them sleep; REM Sleep does a similar thing by providing 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), a building block for the natural sleep hormone. Its combination of nutrients (5-HTP, magnesium, vitamin B3 and vitamin B6) and herbs (passionflower and skullcap) are said to support both sleep onset and sleep maintenance, she says.

Debora-Dale mentions the importance of having magnesium and calcium in your diet as they are the relaxant minerals and are best taken at night.

I look at my farmyard of supplements in the baking drawer. Yes, my InsulBalance supplement has 400 mg of magnesium and 200 mg of calcium.

Debora-Dale talks about keeping good "sleep hygiene", which means things like going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, sleeping in a dark, quiet room - think blackout curtains - and avoiding afternoon naps. That's a problem - Saturday siesta is something I look forward to all week. Another pesky piece of advice is to avoid caffeine, tobacco, alcohol and chocolate in the hours before bedtime.

I tell Debora-Dale what really drives me crazy is that Sunday is my only sleep-in day of the week - I'm up at 7am every weekday morning and slightly earlier on Saturday mornings, thanks to Grafton United Cricket. But on the one day of the week when I can sleep in, I can't. I wake up on the dot of 7am if not slightly before, and cannot for the life of me get back to sleep. The pharmacist suggests forgoing the Saturday nap, trying earplugs and perhaps giving REM Sleep a go.