Are you getting enough sleep?
Having experienced anxiety quite a lot in my years, I always had a tendency to sleep lightly, was easily awoken during the night and had OCCASIONAL bouts of extended wakefulness. Since becoming a mum, however, a good, long, deep, restful and refreshing night’s sleep seems all but lost to me! Sleep disturbances are also common for many women pre-menstrually, which can really compound mood and mental health issues that are common in PMS and PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
If your sleep is disturbed even as little as two nights in a row, it is quite common for your brain to continue this pattern, due to alterations in the sleep-wake hormone cycles.
Breaking such patterns of waking and getting into a good sleep routine is key to enjoying restorative sleep.
Why do we need sleep anyway?
When we sleep:
- our bodies heal and repair themselves,
- our brains create new neuronal networks, integrating all the experiences and knowledge we encountered that day
- the stress hormone cortisol retreats and allows our poor nervous system to recover from our busy lives
- our immune systems get into action
- our detoxification pathways are more active
- our muscles grow and repair
Sleep is not a luxury!
Being busy, tired and insomniac isn’t a life goal, it’s not a competition and there are no medals for being the person who survives on the least amount of sleep.
As you no doubt already know, adults need about 6-8 hours sleep per night, and anyone who doesn’t get enough certainly knows it!
Sleep deprivation is a serious problem, leading to unsurprising issues like:
- Poor focus and concentration
- Brain fog, & poor decision-making
- Other hormone imbalances
It is even said that driving a car whilst suffering sleep deprivation is akin to drunk-driving!
If that’s not enough motivation for you to address your sleeping habits, chronic sleep debt has been correlated with increased risk of serious conditions, including:
- Weight gain and obesity
- Immune dysfunction
- Diabetes, insulin resistance & metabolic syndrome
- Cardiovascular disease
- Alzeimers and dementia.
- Inflammatory health conditions, including depression
Are we ready for a change now?
9 tips for better sleep
Routine – go to bed and get up at the same time each day. There’s nothing our bodies and brains love more than routine. Our sleep-wake cycle is directed by hormones including melatonin and cortisol, they work best when they know when & what they are supposed to be doing.
Stress management – this is a big category that comes with its own set of strategies. Suffice it to say, if you are stressed you are probably operating with excess of the stress hormone cortisol in your system, which is not at all conducive to sleep. So, do everything you can to get your stress under control – you’ll find some strategies here.
Exercise during the day, but not within 2-3 hours of bedtime. Exercise helps to resolve stress & release calming endorphins. However the immediate effects of exercise may be too excitatory & stimulating for sleep, hence best done a few hours before bedtime.
Minimise caffeine. Limit caffeine drinks to 2/day and only before midday. For some people even this is too much. Caffeine has a half-life of 8 hours, meaning after 8 hours of consuming it, HALF of it is still circulating in your system. I don’t know about you but half a cup of coffee before bed would certainly disrupt my sleep.
It’s also worth noting that if you depend on coffee to get you going in the morning, the tiredness you feel on waking could possibly be due to the caffeine withdrawal your body experiences every morning. Plus, as your tolerance increases, the caffeine no longer gives you a lift, rather it just lifts you back to a baseline normal. So, giving up the coffee may actually lead you to feeling more refreshed on waking.
Turn off screens at least two hours before bed, preferably at sunset. The lights from screens disturb out natural sleep-wake cycles. If you can’t do that, as a minimum use the night mode setting on your phone or wear blue-light filter glasses. Also, its best to avoid scary or exciting programs or games to close to bedtime as these may over-stimulate your brain, making it harder to wind down.
Avoid alcohol – Although you may fall asleep faster after a few drinks, you won’t sleep as deeply or restoratively, you’ll probably wake more often during the night and you are unlikely to feel refreshed on waking.
Drink a relaxing herbal tea 1 hour before bedtime – think chamomile, lavender, lemon-balm, verbena, valerian, passionflower. Just sit, enjoy it, breathe in the fragrance and perhaps have a quiet conversation with it (or with a person if you like, but having a conversation with your tea is normal in my eyes! LOL).
Herbal sleep aids containing remedies such as those above may be indicated, as they will give you a more concentrated dose than you’d get from a tea. Contact me or your preferred natural health practitioner for a consultation and prescription.
Use guided meditations or breathing apps to help relax before bed.
What to do if you wake during the night?
Here are some strategies that should help:
Deep, long breathing, counting each breath backwards from 100. If you lose count go back to 100
Yoga Nidra: Mentally focus on each body part, one after the other, and consciously relax it, imagine the muscles there melting and relaxing. Remember to include your face & forehead in the list! Use a guided recording if you need to.
Meditation. Listen to a “back to sleep” meditation. I like Andrew Johnson on Insight Timer
Read something boring. I made the mistake last night of reading a crime thriller. I was awake for about 4hrs, only dropping off again about 1/2hr before my alarm went off! So, don’t do that.
Visualisation. With your eyes closed, imagine closing your eyes again, again and again, visualising waves of darkness making you drift heavily and deeply into relaxation. Using this technique in combination with breathing works best for me.
How about you? What are your back-to-sleep strategies? What works for you?
Sweet Dreams! 😴