Eyes closed…you inhale, it’s dark and you feel restless but do you roll the dice to flip your phone to check the time on the bedside or do you keep your eyes closed and hope you get back off to sleep with a decent amount of time left before that dreaded alarm goes off?
One of the many late night conundrums I wrestle with in the dark, with only a pair of Betty Swollocks to keep me company as I wonder if there’s any ways to improve sleep habits for myself. In the hope that one day, ill wake up like I’ve not just gone to bed. Memories of cosy nights with that cup of warm Horlicks before bed seem a distant, eye watering memory.
Insomnia – Wakey Wakey
We have all experienced the emotional roller coaster of waking up at night and not being able to go back to sleep as well as not being able to get to sleep at all. Insomnia can be a cruel beast to tame and can really affect the performance in every aspect of your life.
Some causes of insomnia include anxiety, stress and depression with all of us feeling the pinch of these at some point. You also have to consider emotional aspects we encounter that include worry, anger, grief and trauma. When you add these to the mix, How is anyone sleeping?
Certain medications can cause sleepless nights (check the side effects), along with people who have medical conditions themselves. Your diet, how often you exercise and your overall health can contribute and hinder a good nights sleep.
The aim of the game is to have a well functioning and consistent circadian rhythm, this is the internal process that regulates the sleep/wake cycle and repeats daily. You could also call it your body clock, which tells you when to wake and when your tired. This can get mixed up when for example…you take a flight and suffer from jet lag, it’s this process.
As mentioned above the need to have a smooth running circadian rhythm is essential for a good nights sleep and to do this you need a balanced levels of melatonin and cortisol among others. These two are the most important and not exercising and having a poor diet can throw this out of whack. Early man would wake when the sun rises, keep busy through the day hunting and gathering and then when darkness falls they would rest and repeat the following day.
With man these days, there is so much stimulation from our mobile devices, 24 hour supermarkets and any other sources you can think of. Eating bad foods late at night can spike sugar levels, spicy foods too close to bed (I know we love a late night curry) and any caffeinated drinks all contribute to our downfall.
The recommended amount of sleep is between 7-9 hours, but the reality of the matter is that the quality of the sleep is more important. It’s the REM sleep we all dream of (pun intended) and this can last around an hour with five or six cycles a night. If we get this amount of REM sleep were on to a winner.
You must look at some reasons mentioned above as to why you aren’t sleeping, without having to resort to sleep medication. Some times this is unavoidable but it’s worth checking other natural methods first.
Ways to Improve Sleep – Counting Sheep
So how can we begin to combat the situation? By stepping back and falling out of old habits. Make sure the ambient light on your phone screen is on, if you are going to exercise or eat a big meal later at night make sure you give yourself at least two hours before bed and have a quick cold shower to lower the body temperature afterwards (around 4-5 minutes only).
The bedroom should be a place for sleep and sex only. I know how watching TV or having the laptop in bed is a go to. However…you need to create an environment to sleep. Make sure the room is cool at around 18ºC (65ºF) and also dark when the lights go out. Get black out blinds or curtains to maximize darkness, or invest in a quality sleep mask. The other key ingredient is silence. The times I get woken up by that Fast & Furious wannabe blazing past the room in their car at whatever o’clock, forced me to get some ear plugs which work a treat.
You should be aware of when to go sleep, unwind and prepare for it. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day to allow your body to settle into a pattern. It goes without saying that a quality mattress and breathable bed sheets that are made from natural fibres such as cotton, silk and bamboo are also a must.
Things That Make You Go…Zzz
There’s various natural supplements you can take to help settle the body and mind, some of which include Valerian Root, Chamomile Tea, Melatonin And GABA (gamma butyric acid). Always make sure you seek the advice of a doctor before you try any of these.
The use of essential oils can put you in a state of relaxation in preparation for bed time. The use of Jasmine, Sandalwood and Lavender to name a few. You can buy oil sleep sets that you rub on your body and spray your pillow with, I have found these to be very helpful at helping me relax. Head phones playing relaxing spa music or binual beats are another go to for me at times.
one other thing that can’t be overlooked before bedtime is to read a good book. Research has shown that reading before bed can help reduce stress, fall sleep faster and It also works as a distraction for the mind.
We are creatures of habit so consistency is key to maintaining regular quality sleep and discipline to leave that chocolate bar or turn that TV off earlier. Following some steps here will hopefully get you off to stage 1 of sleep in no time or make you think twice about some pre bedtime habits you have. Tip the scales back in your favour and settle down early enough to go see Morpheus and the Sandman.