I’ve written about how to relieve insomnia before, because good sleep is such a fundamental piece of the jigsaw for both mental and physical health. And it seems more important than ever before, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic which is why I’m revisiting it again today.
Although scientists aren’t exactly sure what happens during shut eye, it seems that all sorts of important processes take place including repairing tissues, organising information, solving problems (yup, your brain is busy working on things, long after you’ve switched off for the day!), synthesising hormones, growing muscle and much much more.
You’ll know how cranky or spaced out you can feel after poor sleep. Just one night of insufficient sleep can affect concentration and short term memory. After a few days you can become moody, paranoid and experience hallucinations. And chronic insomnia can increase anxiety and lower immunity as well as increase risk of heart issues, diabetes, obesity and depression.
During the pandemic, half of British adults reported difficulty getting to sleep, difficulty staying asleep and vivid dreaming. And other research took place as well. The Oxford Biomedical Research Centre looked at changes in sleep quality in relation to social confinement such as a lockdown or self-isolation, risk of exposure to the virus, and psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress. Of course the irony is that the more stressed you are about something, the more important good quality sleep is to help your body and mind de-stress so it can stay healthy and resilient!
So now we’re coming out of lockdown, you might be wondering how to sleep better. Here are some ideas:
Dump your brain
Having a racing mind is one of the number one complaints of many of my clients. We live in an ‘always on’ world, and there are numerous demands on our time. We have time-saving appliances but the irony is, we’re busier than every before.
Dumping your ‘To Do’ list onto a piece of paper before you go to bed is a fantastic way to give your brain the message it can relax. If you’re holding onto all the things that need to be done the following day or are concerned you’ll forget something, it’s a pretty good recipe for a sleepless night. So get it out onto paper.
If you live with a supportive partner, or have a good friend you can call, it can be helpful to talk through any concerns you have each day. This is a great activity to do with children too. When my daughter was younger, we used to discuss the ‘best and worst parts of our day’. It was a good way to touch bases and air any frustrations that might keep us awake.
Use CBD for sleep
CBD is the new kid on the block and it’s getting lots of rave reviews across the world. From reducing inflammation and helping reduce pain to improving mood, CBD oil is also showing promising results on people’s sleep problems.
Now just to put your mind at rest, using CBD for sleep doesn’t get your stoned or high! That active part of the cannabis plant (known as THC) is different and in the UK, CBD products must have less than 0.2% of THC to be legal.
Used for sleep, CBD helps regulate the circadian rhythm (the natural sleep-wake cycle). It works to balance chemicals, including those that make you feel more awake and focused during the day and helping to calm and soothe, so you sleep better at night. CBD non addictive – unlike many sleep medications – and has no long term side effects. You’ll need to experiment to find the right dose for you, and the most popular way to buy it is as an oil; although other forms are available such as tablets and patches.
Pure essential oils are obtained from petals, skins, seeds and resins of various plants. You can use essential oils in numerous ways such as diluting in carrier oil and applying to the skin, diffusing into a room or diluting and adding to a bath of warm water.
When used during massage, aromatherapy might help you to de-stress and that it may therefore potentially aid sleep. The aromas of essential oils can also promote a sense of relaxation or wellbeing.
Try using oils that have sedative qualities such as lavender, camomile or neroli. Adding a few drops to a bath of warm water before bed, putting a couple of drops into a bowl of hot water under your bed or diluting and massaging your feet, arms or legs before sleep are all beneficial ways to use essential oils.
Even though essential oils are derived from plants, they can be toxic in large quantities and should not be used neat on the skin (with the exception of lavender essential oil). So be sure to dilute in a carrier oil such as grapeseed oil. Although, used properly, many essential oils are safe enough for the whole family and some NHS maternity hospitals even suggest essential oils can help with insomnia during pregnancy. [edit: original link removed to Bolton Maternity unit, as they deleted the page from their site, but you can view the archive here.]
If you think about how you encourage a baby to sleep well, it starts with a good bedtime routine. A satisfying meal (but not too close to sleep time), a warm bath, then a relaxing activity such as a story, before a warm cuddle and hopefully sleep!
Our needs are not much different as adults really, except we don’t tend to our own bedtime in the same way!
You might watch TV until the early hours, answer emails in bed, eat too late and stay up – using energy efficient lighting, such as LEDs – long after you feel tired. Keeping ourselves awake with artificial lighting and the blue light being emitted from screens is having a detrimental affect on our natural circadian rhythm.
While I don’t advocate going to bed at 4pm in the winter when the sun goes down, there are some things you can do to reduce the effects of blue light. According to Harvard, blue light emitted from screens can adversely affect sleep. Exposing ourselves to light – especially the blue light that comes from our screens and indoor lighting – suppresses the secretion of melatonin, the ‘sleepy’ hormone that influences circadian rhythms. So it makes sense that if we don’t produce enough melatonin, we don’t get the signal that it’s time to sleep and when we do, it can take a long time to drift off, or you can fall asleep quickly, but wake up a couple of hours later.
To address this, you might consider wearing blue-blocking glasses when you use your screens, turning off your screens two or three hours before bed and installing red coloured lights in the room you spend most of your evening in. I use a couple of himalyan salt lamps to get that ‘campfire glow’ in my room.
If you’re looking for more help with sleep issues, please contact us for a consultation. We can test for any food intolerances that might be affecting your sleep (you’d be amazed at the havoc eating the wrong foods can have on your body and mind!), offer EFT to get to the emotional root of why you might not be sleeping properly and support you with hypnotherapy too.