How long can you live without sleep? Maybe a few days, a week, before you start to lose your mind! It’s the time when your lymphatic system drains, your body repairs and heals, your brain processes information and experiences, and your nervous system discharges the stresses of the day….. It is such a fundamental part of our lives yet something we often overlook. Maybe it’s because it’s a huge chunk of our lives that goes unnoticed, hopefully, because we are unconscious. It’s easy to neglect; we have so many things to do in a day, so we choose to sleep less in favour of getting more done. We force ourselves through the day, feeling tired. Some of us are blessed with the ability to fall asleep instantly with no effort and yet for many others, a good night’s rest is an elusive goal.
Insomnia is becoming increasingly common. It doesn’t help that we live in a fast-paced world filled with constant interruptions. Insomnia is commonly thought of as the inability to fall asleep, but it can also include:
failure to stay asleep, waking up prematurely, or not having a deep enough sleep.
Do you wake up feeling rested?
Despite sleeping the recommended number of hours, some people don’t experience a restful sleep which allows the body and mind to fully rejuvenate. When we wake up in the morning, we should feel like our “batteries have been recharged”, feeling more optimistic, energetic and productive.
The term, sleep hygiene, is used to describe the practices and daily lifestyle habits that support a healthy sleep. Below are a list of some of my best tips to improve sleep hygiene.
9 Fundamental Tips for a Restful Night’s Sleep:
1) First and foremost: RESPECT YOUR SLEEP. You need sleep to live, let alone thrive, so give it the honour and respect it deserves by choosing bedtime over the newest episode of the Late Show with Steven Colbert! The hours of sleep before midnight offer a higher quality sleep and are more restful since they are in alignment with your hormonal rhythms, (as opposed to the same number of hours pushed back later in the night).
2) Follow your Rhythm: Your circadian rhythm or body clock is a 24 hour cycle your body recognizes and is regulated by Melatonin and Cortisol. Melatonin is the hormone released by your pineal gland which helps you to fall asleep. Cortisol is a hormone released by your adrenal glands which helps you to stay focused, energized and capable of handling the day’s challenges. By creating a predictable routine that follows the signals your body is sending you, you can synchronize with your body clock. What are those signals? When you feel like winding-down in the evening, becoming drowsy, your body is saying, “Go to bed”! Your melatonin is kicking-in and encouraging you to go to sleep. Cortisol is another matter, but can be supported in a variety of ways. Because cortisol helps us deal with stress, the less stress we have, the more our cortisol can be maintained within a normal range. A simple way to minimize stress is to wake & sleep and have mealtimes at predictable, routine times.
3) Limit caffeine: Even if you are one of those people who says you can drink a coffee in the afternoon and still sleep at night, I wonder how good the quality of that sleep is? Caffeine can cause a spike in your cortisol, adding a “physiological stress” to your system. Don’t underestimate the impact that caffeine, at any time of day, can have on your cortisol levels and your ability to achieve deep rest at night.
4) Sleep in a dark, dark room: A very common mistake people make is to sleep in a room that may have light shining through curtains or LED lights flashing from devices. The bedroom should be so dark that you can’t see your own hand in front of your face. Why? Melatonin production is inhibited when your eyes encounter light (consciously or unconsciously), even through your eyelids! By covering up your LED lights or covering your windows with an extra layer, melatonin production can be optimized.
5) Keep phones and other devices as far away from you as possible. Electromagnetic radiation from electronic devices can create disturbance in the nervous system whether you are aware of it or not. Keep all devices at least 2 feet away from your body and ideally position your bed so that your head is as far away from electrical sockets as possible. Good sleep hygiene also includes minimizing the use of devices at bedtime and especially in the bedroom itself. This includes the use of tablets, cellphones or watching TV while in bed. The bedroom should be a place of serenity and rest; a place separate from the action-centered activities of the day. Using devices in the bedroom only perpetuates the thinking, planning and mental activity we are trying to minimize at bedtime.
6) Practice self-care before bed: Take a bath, meditate, do some light stretching such as “yin yoga”, or do some self-massage before going to bed. It will help to release tension and prepare you for deep relaxation.
7) Practice deep breathing: Did you know that you practice yogic breathing when you are asleep? It is a particular technique called, Ujjayi breath or Ujjayi pranayama. It’s that sound your partner makes when you know they’re asleep….they are breathing loudly through the nose but not quite snoring! By consciously breathing in this way, while lying down in bed or as a meditation while sitting in bed, you are telling your body, “I’m breathing like this so you know it’s time to go to sleep….”
8) Use aromatherapy: Lavender essential oil is well-known for it’s calming effect on the mind. Sandalwood incense is also a good choice for calming and cooling the mind. Engaging your sense of smell with a scent which is calming for the nervous system can help redirect the mind away from any restless thoughts.
When you’re tired, you’re more likely to worry, be anxious or pessimistic.
9) Awareness training for busy minds: You will not solve your problems while lying in bed at night. In fact when you’re tired, your problems probably seem a lot worse than they actually are. When you’re tired, you’re more likely to worry, be anxious or pessimistic. Notice how easy it is for the mind can jump to tasks, problems, or worries in the middle of the night. Bedtime is for sleeping, not planning, so avoid engaging with the “planning thoughts” and use the breath to calm the mind so that you can fall asleep again. With good rest, you can easily work on these problems in the morning. Learning to “let go” is a skill and a practice.
If you still struggle with sleep despite practicing good sleep hygiene, there could be a need to address other underlying hormonal, physiological or mental/emotional factors which may be affecting your sleep. Consulting with a qualified wholistic healthcare practitioner will allow you to identify and address your unique circumstances so that you can have that deep rest that you need, as soon as possible!
Which of these tools do you find effective?
What other strategies have you found work for you?