The very busy world we live in today, sadly means that many of us have become accustomed to poor sleep and just feeling adequate – rather than feeling vibrant and healthy. We can often turn this around very quickly though, with something as simple as a little more self-nurturing; so we sleep well.
Together with good nutrition, probably the most important thing we can do for our health is to ensure we have a sufficient amount of deep and restorative sleep. Unfortunately this is often easier said than done though, and is usually something we have to work on, rather than something guaranteed to happen, especially as we reach middle age.
If you read my previous article ‘Lack Of Sleep Damages Health’, where I covered just how bad for our health poor sleep can be, you will see that obviously not sleeping well is something which should be prevented, and rectified as soon as possible if it occurs.
As someone who has experienced sleep problems myself, I know how awful a sleepless night can be, and what kind of knock-on effect it can have on our lives. As a result, I have put together a list of things that have helped me, which will hopefully have you sleeping like a baby and feeling fantastic in no time.
- Go to bed early enough, at the same time every night. This will help set your body clock. Our hormones work on a regular schedule, and if we miss our hormonal ‘sleep wave’, it can take many hours until the next wave to catch comes along.
- Ensure you are consuming an adequate amount of calories and nutrients, and drinking sufficient water – low blood sugar, deficiencies, and dehydration, all play a huge part in sleep problems.
- Follow the same routine every night before bed, so your mind and body prepare.
- Do not break your sleep routine by staying up late, or lying in at the weekend.
- If you do need to nap during the day to make up for lost sleep, be sensible; only do so early in the afternoon, and limit to only one nap of 30 minutes to recharge (any more will disrupt your sleep that night).
- If you start nodding off too early, get up and do something not too active which will keep you awake until near your normal bed time. If you feel absolutely exhausted though, listen to your body and do go to bed earlier.
- Have a warm drink such as camomile tea before bed and/or if you wake during the night. Keep the fluid amount to a minimum though; otherwise you will just be up again for the bathroom!
- Do not watch television or use your laptop, mobile phone, or iPad in bed, and NEVER take work to the bedroom (such as calculating bills!); the bedroom should only be used for sex and sleeping.
- Make your bedroom conducive to sleep; block out light and noise as much as possible (use blackout curtains, and earplugs if necessary), have a comfy bed, and maintain the room at a cool temperature (around 18°C).
- If you find your mind is overactive before bed, or you wake during the night, write your thoughts down, put them aside and say to yourself you will deal with them the next day (you need to postpone worrying, planning, or remembering). Then read a book (no work or anything exciting/stressful), until you start feeling sleepy.
- If you do find it hard to fall asleep, or to return to sleep if woken during the night, focus on relaxing rather than sleeping. Resting will still rejuvenate the body, and you should drop off to sleep soon anyway (so long as you are not worrying about not sleeping!).
- For some reason too, something that seems to help us fall asleep is actually focusing on trying to stay awake. How many times have you been watching a film and told yourself you MUST NOT fall asleep because you’ll miss the end? ….then before you know it you wake up to see the credits rolling!
- Do not eat a large meal within 3 hours of going to bed; the digestion process can disturb sleep (this can also lead to unwanted fat storage).
- Do not go to bed hungry as low blood sugar will probably wake you during the night. A light snack (e.g. a cracker with peanut butter), can usually prevent this happening.
- Avoid shift-work as this wreaks havoc with our body’s internal clock and hormones. If this is not possible though, make sure you keep to a routine and maintain regular meal times etc. It is important to keep your body to a normal schedule as much as possible.
- Get outside in the sunlight for a few minutes each day (preferably early in the morning), and remove sunglasses; this assists in balancing our sleep regulating hormone called Melatonin.
- Avoid bright lights before bed, including computers, televisions, mobile phones, and iPads. All lights and back-lit devices suppress production of melatonin, which is guaranteed to disrupt sleep. Even if you do not think your sleep is being affected by these things, just try turning off your phone and TV etc, at 6pm every day for one week, and see how much your sleep improves.
- Avoid alcohol, especially late in the evening. Even though you may fall asleep earlier and more easily after a few drinks, your sleep quality will be poor because alcohol is actually a stimulant. The result is usually waking between 1.00 a.m. and 3.00 a.m. – which is the time when the liver does most of its work and is rejuvenating.
- Do not smoke; nicotine is also a stimulant, and withdrawal effects seriously affect sleep.
- Limit caffeine intake to one tea or coffee per day (2 max), and only in the morning. Completely avoid drinks such as “V”, Cola, and guarana based products.
- Check any medications you are taking, to see if they contain caffeine or other stimulants, and speak to your doctor about alternatives and looking at stopping them altogether.
- If you eat foods which have a mild stimulant effect (e.g. raw cacao, cocoa, spirulina), keep these to only in the morning. Some people also find spicy food and bananas can disrupt their sleep (despite bananas being high in tryptophan; an amino acid meant to promote sleep).
- Do not drink too much liquid in the evening; this will only result in frequent bathroom trips.
- Avoid diuretic foods late in the day (e.g. celery, dandelion, cranberry, cucumber).
- Exercise daily. Exercise directly improves mood and reduces stress, which helps promote sleep. Always have one rest day per week though, and if you are new to exercise do start gradually.
- Do not exercise vigorously late in the evening, as this can have a stimulant effect and keep you awake (due to triggering hormones such as cortisol), so try to exercise only in the morning.
- Do not overtrain – this will stimulate the adrenal glands too much, which causes the body to be in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ – resulting in feeling ‘wired and tired’, and ultimately suffering from burnout and insomnia.
- Get checked for deficiencies and other health problems. The most common deficiencies that can adversely affect sleep and relaxation are magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, calcium, iron and ferritin. Hormonal imbalances are closely related to sleep problems too. Seeing your doctor for a blood test can usually identify these problems, but bear in mind health conditions can still be present even if blood results fall into ‘normal ranges’, so it is advisable to see a holistic and integrative health practitioner for assessment and guidance.
- Avoid sleeping pills, they are highly addictive and can cause other long-term health problems including depression and weight gain. Any medication for sleeplessness should only be used as an absolute last resort, and for a very short time.
- Aim to remove major stressors from your life. If there are problems constantly playing on your mind, even if you try to not stress about them, the worry is still in your subconscious and will cause anxiety, insomnia and depression. So make a structured plan to deal with any problems, and seek guidance and assistance from others if you are not managing to find the solutions by yourself. Often just talking to a friend, or a little input from a person who specialises in a certain field, can be all that we need to solve a problem we previously thought insurmountable.
- Do not procrastinate. This only makes things worse, and normally the thing we are trying to avoid most is what we need to face most, and doing so is usually never as bad as we think it will be.
- Keep a sleep journal, and record what you did and didn’t do the previous day, so you can see what may be causing problems and also what helps.
- Connect with others. Social connectedness is very important for our health. Spending time with friends and family, and interacting socially, improves our sense of belonging and purpose, our feelings of security, and boosts our ‘happy hormones’; resulting in a better state of contentment and relaxation.
- Connect with nature – spend quality time outside EVERY day! Walk barefoot in the grass, sand, and in the water if possible, and breathe deeply. You are guaranteed to feel more relaxed and settled for a good night’s sleep.
- Practice meditation and relaxation daily. A good place to start is with deep breathing exercises, and a Progressive Muscle Relaxation technique (‘PMR’). There are an abundance of free mobile phone applications available, which also generate daily reminders. The library usually has a good selection too of CD and DVD programs. So you are sure to find one that you enjoy and which helps with reducing stress and anxiety, and will promote better sleep.
- Practice Yoga. There is a reason why this ancient form of mind and body exercise has been around for so long – it works! Yoga builds both physical and mental strength and flexibility, and helps us connect with ourselves and to know how to live ‘in the present’ – something VERY important for good sleep. There are many different styles of Yoga, so try a few until you find one you like, and persevere – everyone feels uncoordinated, inflexible (and quite often frustrated!) the first time they try yoga, so patience is key.
I hope you find my information and tips beneficial. If you would like to contact me about how I may be able to assist you with your health and fitness, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bye for now,