It is time of us to reclaim our right to a full night of sleep. In doing so, we can be reunited with that most powerful elixir of wellness and vitality. Then we may remember what it feels like to be truly awake during the day.Matthew Walker – Why We Sleep
Research shows that sleep plays a vital role in pretty much every system in the body. This includes cognitive functioning and our emotional state. So, when life seems to be throwing everything at you, one thing you can do to increase resilience and maximise your performance is to get enough sleep (and yes that is 8 hours).
It’s so easy to sacrifice sleep when you’ve got a lot to do, or when a good party or staying up late chatting with friends beckons. However, the impacts of sleep deprivation soon build up, so it is highly recommended to catch up with sleep and get back into a routine as soon as you can. For now, I will let the evidence (Walker, 2017) speak for itself and focus on what you might do to improve sleep.
When we’re struggling with stress, worry or low mood, often this shows up as disrupted sleep: struggling to get to sleep, or waking up during the night, or waking up too early (or all of these!). Then the lack of sleep exacerbates the problems we were struggling with. So for example, you’re worrying about an assignment and you can’t sleep, then the lack of sleep hinders concentration, focus, memory, cognitive functioning, emotional balance etc. Which then makes it even harder to get the work done. So you get even more stressed out. Sound familiar?
So clearly, it’s important to do our best to break out of this vicious cycle. The rest of this article focuses on tips to improve sleep so keep reading. And here is a guided meditation to help you settle for sleep, give it a try and let us know what you think.
Things to avoid or reduce:
- Cut out caffeine from 6:00 pm onwards
- Avoid computer games that get lots of adrenaline going, close to bedtime
- Bed is for sleeping (or sex) don’t work in bed or watch telly and
- It is best to avoid all screen based devices, so put away your laptop, tablet or phone
- Turn off the phone, or put it on airplane mode and a few feet away from the bed
- Alcohol seems to help at the time because of it’s temporary sedative effects, but later on it causes all sorts of rebound problems, and disrupts the sleep rhythms.
- It is likely that alcohol interferes with a range of essential psychophysiological processes that happen in our sleep, so make sure you have enough nights of sleep without alcohol to catch up with essential REM sleep etc.
- Nicotine is a stimulant, smoking close to bedtime will make it harder to settle
- Avoid a heavy meal close to bedtime
Things that help with sleep
- During the day, getting some exercise and exposure to some daylight is a good idea
- Get bedding, duvet and pillow to suit you, if possible arrange the room so it feels ‘right’ to you
- A nice warm herb tea is comforting (there are lots to choose from, try Camomile)
- Have a good sleep routine, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day
- A good bedtime routine helps, do things that are calming: reading, bath/shower, brush teeth, getting makeup off, changing into comfortable sleep clothes, listening to music, meditating, very gentle stretching
- Reading in bed or listening to music or guided meditations is good
- Have enough water during the evening, have some water beside the bed and have a sip before settling, have a sip if you wake up in the night (tea, coffee and alcohol will make you want to pee in the night, but water doesn’t irritate the bladder so works just fine)
- The room should not be too hot, in particular cool your feet, try sticking them out of the covers, try and get some good ventilation
- Get the room as dark as you can
- If the environment is noisy you could try earplugs, or headphones to play ambeint sounds or ‘white noise’
- There are lots of aromatherapy herbs worth exploring, Lavender is worth a try, just put a few drops on a tissue somewhere in the room
Strategies for when the mind is overactive, when we’re trying to switch off for sleep
- Reduce the adrenalin in the system, here are a few more ideas to turn down the ‘activation dial’: This calming breath exercise, guided safe place visualisation, think of 5 things you are grateful for, remembering a time when you felt safe and relaxed
- If there is a persistent thought of something you have to do, it is probably trying to remind you of something important. Acknowledge it and write it down on your list of important things to consider the next day. Out of your mind and on to your list.
- Step back from ruminative thinking, learning to let go. This might not be easy but is one of the most important mental skills we can learn. Mindfulness teaches us to get better at this; here’s an introduction
The guided meditation above has been specifically designed to help you settle for sleep, listen to it in bed so that you can fall to sleep without having to get up. You can also play it if you wake up in the night. We can’t force ourselves to go to sleep, so be gentle with yourself. And if you don’t always fall asleep then you’ve got a win-win, because you’ve done you daily meditation instead.
Walker, M., 2017. Why We Sleep. Allen Lane.