If you’ve ever found yourself unable to get to sleep, waking several times each night or waking up too early, then you understand the misery of insomnia.
According to the Mental Health Foundation, lack of sleep effects 20% of people and can make us feel physically unwell as well as stressed and anxious. Scientists also believe that it contributes to heart disease, premature ageing and road accident deaths.
While the sleep deprived might wish for nothing more than a sleeping pill, these tablets might help in the short term, but as time goes on they become less effective and can be addictive. Sometimes they even make sleep problems worse!
Fortunately, there are some things you can try yourself to improve your chances of sleeping well:
Your bedroom needs to be a suitable space to sleep. If you use your bedroom as an extension of your office, have clutter everywhere or use it for activities other than rest, sex and sleep then it might mean your mind has a hard time switching off.
Try and have a restful space that you love being in for the night. And DON’T take work to bed! Remember that you spend a third of your life in bed so make sure your pillows, mattress and bedding are comfortable.
Light pollution can be a problem when it comes to sleep.
Light affects our circadian rhythms and melatonin production. Under normal circumstances, when the sun sets, our body’s produce melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. However, once the sun sets in our modern culture, we turn on bright artificial lights and sit infront of screens! This excessive exposure to light can suppress melatonin production which then makes it harder to fall asleep and can contribute to insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Aim to make your bedroom as dark as possible, as even dim light can suppress melatonin production. If you live in a town or highly lit area, try blackout blinds. This portable version is easy to put up and take down:
Screen free bedrooms
Our use of screens are disrupting sleep and its believed that the blue light emitted from computer, smartphone and tablet screens can be harmful to our health. Harvard Health say “At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”
Keep your screens downstairs for use during the evening and keep your bedroom screen free.
Most parents aim to get their children into a bedtime routine as soon as possible with a ‘bath, book, bed’ idea. And you’re no different!
Try and go to bed and get up the same time each day. As well as eliminating technology a couple of hours before you go to bed, choose some relaxing evening activities: A warm bath with a handful of epsom salts and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil, some relaxing music and a good book or audio book (but nothing too exciting!) can all help to give your body and mind the message that it’s time to go to sleep.
Mindfulness meditation can be a simple routine to add to your evening to ensure a good night’s sleep. By focusing on your breathing for 20 minutes your thoughts should start to slow down and your body will begin to relax.
Yoga Nidra is a way to experience deep rest and relaxation of body and mind which utilises body scanning and breath awareness.
You can use Yoga Nidra during the day to restore you, or you can use it to get to sleep at night time. To experience using it to go to sleep, try a free Yoga Nidra download here. If you like it, here are some CDs and books to learn more:
Clear your mind
If you tend to wake up worrying at 3am, writing your To Do list at the end of your work day can help get things out of your head so you can relax more. You then know that you won’t forget anything, as it’s already written down.
A short stroll after your evening meal or a few gentle yoga stretches can help you sleep more soundly. According to the sleep foundation, those who commit to regular exercise benefit from better sleep. They say that people who work out both drift off faster and wake up less during the night, netting better overall sleep. And that means waking up feeling more refreshed—and more likely to have the energy to exercise the next.
Just be aware that rigorous exercise too close to bedtime can have the opposite effect, so pound the pavements and do your gym workouts earlier on in the day.
Tart Cherry Juice
According to some researchers, tart cherry juice might be just the drink for you, if you suffer from insomnia!
Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, the sleep-promoting hormone. In studies, people with insomnia drank two 8-ounce servings of tart cherry juice in the morning and the same before bed for two weeks. Scores for insomnia severity were significantly reduced after drinking the tart cherry juice twice a day. My favourite brand is Cherry Active – it’s expensive but a little goes a long way:
Some people find it hard to sleep because their bedrooms are too warm – this can lead to feeling restless during the night. When you’re tired, your body temperature falls. This in turn causes a release of melatonin – that hormone we talked abo0ut that makes it easier to fall and stay asleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommend keeping your room between 60-65 degrees (approximately 16-18 degrees.)
Herbs and supplements
Before reaching for prescription sleeping tablets which can be addictive, try some supplements. Ones to look into include 5-HTP, melatonin and herbal helpers such as lemon balm, valerian and chamomile.
Acupressure has been shown to reduce insomnia in suffers. Acupressure is like acupuncture, but without the needles. Instead of find needles inserted at specific points on the body, acupressure uses physical pressure (such as your own thumb) – which means you can try acupressure safely at home.
Researchers used a point called H7 (or the Spirit Gate) which is found on the little-finger side of the forearm, at the wrist crease. Press this point with the middle finger of the opposite hand and breathe deeply for one minute before swapping sides:
If you enjoy using acupressure, you can try it for all sorts of conditions from headaches to nausea and back pain. Here are some books and information:
World Sleep Day was started by a group of healthcare providers working and studying in the area of sleep medicine and research and is hosted by the US non-profit, World Sleep Society (WSS). They consistently came up against the belief that sleep was not important enough in personal health and well-being to be a priority. Therefore, World Sleep Day was created to not only celebrate sleep, but to raise awareness about important issues related to sleep and aims to prevent and manage sleep disorders.
World Sleep Day takes place in the middle of March each year – 15th March 2019 and 14th March 2020. Why not use this day as a reason to improve your own sleep hygiene. Be sure to follow the hashtag #WorldSleepDay on Twitter for hints and tips for enjoying better sleep.