Strategies for Sleep
If you are having trouble sleeping, there are simple and obvious things to check for, or to avoid, to help you get a better sleep.
Your bedroom should be cool (where possible) and your bed comfortably warm.
Make sure the bedroom is quiet and dark.
Exposure to artificial lights throughout the evening will keep us awake. Changes in light levels (natural and artificial) trigger the production of melatonin, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. So, in the day get as much exposure to natural light as you can.
Take breaks outside in sunlight to keep yourself alert during the day and at night avoid bright lights and computer screens in the lead up to bedtime. Ultimately the longer you sit looking at your computer screen the less sleepy you seem to become!
Keep bed just for sleep (and bed related activities).
That means no TV, laptops, reading etc. If you think reading relaxes you, sit in a chair or lounge to read and take yourself off to bed when you start getting drowsy. It can help to reinforce through your actions when you lie down in bed, you go to sleep. You don’t want to reinforce the pattern that you lie in bed reading for hours before you fall asleep.
For those reading this that find it easy to fall asleep reading in bed, that’s more than fine. It is just for those people that have difficulty falling asleep, that should try reading elsewhere.
Have a regular bedtime (at very least on weeknights).
This can help your biological clock develop an automatic rhythm. This includes getting up at a set time also. This will help you get back in a regular sleep rhythm.
Or at least limit yourself and set your alarm for either 20 minutes or 40 mins to take advantage of natural sleep phases.
Avoid stress, at least as much as you can, in the hours before bed.
If you have an issue that needs to be dealt with, write the basic points down and stick it on the fridge as a reminder to think about it or deal with it the next day (in daylight). This can give you 'permission' to let go of it from your consciousness, as it will still be there tomorrow to pick up where you left off. Maybe it won’t even seem such a big deal the next morning after a good night’s sleep.
Avoid caffeine and/or nicotine intake in the hours leading up to bedtime.
They are both stimulants so they will actually be winding your system up and keeping you alert and your mind ticking over.
Avoid regular use of alcohol.
Alcohol is a depressant and while it will slow your system down so you may fall asleep, you will not stay asleep and the quality of sleep will likely be very poor – definitely not a good option.
Some other sensory and mindfulness strategies:
Your body starts relaxing as it warms up. So, one way to aid the process a little earlier is a warm shower before bed. Maybe get into the routine of showering or having a bath by candelight before bed. Throw some lavender oil in there as well and it just may become a very calming way to bring on sleep. Even a little lavender oil on your pillow slip (the underside) can help calm.
Experiment with different blanket weights to see which feels cosiest. Some people like the feeling of sleeping inside a sleeping bag (in bed) as it can give a sense of 'grounding', maybe give that a try. Once you re-establish a good sleep pattern, you can stop using it – it’s not a forever strategy. Experiment with different sheets or pillow slips you have available – cotton, flannelette, or satin (if you are lucky enough to have satin).
Unfortunately turning our mind onto 'stand-by' is so hard when all we can think about is how much we should go to sleep! The trick is to direct our thinking to something calming and relaxing. One thing that can work is using your thoughts to focus on slowing you body down, or rather your breathing (which in turn slows your heart rate down). There is a good app called Breathe2Relax, which is a bit dry and scientific, but the graphics are really useful. It is an easy way to learn and practise slow breathing.
You can add in some really relaxing visualisations and imagery (NOT counting sheep) once you can slow your breathing down and that can really help too. A quick example is imagining a sunset scene and each time you breathe out, you imagine the sun setting just the tiniest bit. As you focus on your breathing and the image your mind and body processes slow down into a really relaxed rhythm conducive to sleep. Other images you could try might be a bright rainbow, which fades a little each time you slowly breathe out, or a campfire that burns slowly down just a little bit everytime you slowly breathe out. With the campfire you can imagine the smells, sounds and warmth as well.
Snacking before bed to help insomnia
I am not going to claim this is scientific fact, nor am I going to claim it as an old wive’s tale, but it is said that eating a snack about 90 minutes before bed will help you nod off.
Supposedly these foods are good to snack on:
- Warm milk contains tryptophan which the brain uses in metabolising melatonin.
- Bananas – they apparently have a bit melatonin, serotonin, and magnesium, and they work as a muscle relaxant and can help with easing nocturnal leg cramps.
- Chamomile tea – mildly sedating with relaxation properties.
- Adding a little honey to your tea or hot milk can turn off orexin (a neurotransmitter related to alertness levels).
- Porridge – oats supply melatonin, add a spoon of honey and some warm milk !
- Wholewheat bread – toast it with honey to release insulin, which in turn enhances the circulating tryptophan.
Try these and let me know how you go!
* Results from BAM may vary. Strict adherence to the program is required for best results.