Nowadays we seem to race through life attempting to be conscience about our health & wellbeing. We focus on Skin care & Nails Hygiene, Dental Hygiene, but on this occasion I would like to talk about Sleep Hygiene which I believe still is quite misunderstood. The level of awareness that it takes to ensure we are having healthy sleep cycles seems yet to be a discussed topic. So how can we achieve a regular rhythmic pattern for a good night’s sleep.
I’m sure we can all agree how great we feel after good nights’ sleep, but how can we achieve this more consistently. I don’t think anyone likes to feel lethargic and jaded during the day when they are trying to be productive. I have personally struggled with my sleep pattern since I was a child, so I have tried and tested the majority of remedies and self-help solutions. One in ten of us report they have a good nights sleep each night. So many need a few tips to help switch off.
Try not to exercise to closely to going to sleep, as you will still have a rush of adrenaline & lactic acid pumping around your system, which can make it very hard to drift off into a slumber. The 24 hours we have in a day I believe at least 1/3 of this time should be spent relaxing, sleeping, & switching off to operate well in our busy every day lives. Avoid napping unless it’s absolutely crucial. When I struggled the most with my sleep I found I was lethargic in the day times, my heart rate felt like it was faster as my body was fighting to stay awake and my mood would drop. I once experienced severe sleep deprivation many years ago and became very unwell; the brain cannot focus without at least 3-4 hours of REM sleep each night. If you have at least 3 nights without a decent sleep the brain can start to go into psychosis, then the repercussions can be drastic. The importance of a good night’s sleep is imperative to our cognitive, mental, physical and emotional health and wellbeing. I hope to raise awareness on this subject as I have suffered in the past and now have to be mindful of my sleep hygiene to stay healthy and happy. If you do need to exercise late at night to fit in with your busy schedule and daily routine, I recommended Yoga or gentle Pilates. Here are some sleep tips I’ve picked up over the years.
Fengshui & Elements
Fengshui is a Chinese philosophical system of harmonising everyone with their surrounding environment. It is closely linked to Daoism. Fenshui literally translates to “wind-water”. Fengshui is one of the 5 arts of Chinese Metaphysics, the practice discusses architecture in metaphoric terms of ‘invisible forces’ that bind the universe & humanity together known as Qi which is pronounced Key. The ancient uses of Fengshui were widely used to orientate buildings – often spiritually significant structures such as tombs and resting places. The determination and reference to local features such as bodies of water, stars or a compass very simply take a glance at how you have your creature comforts and positions of where your furniture is positioned and placed in your bedroom. It can greatly affect your sleep hygiene and routine. Some people say these methods have been around for over 3000 from ancient Chinese remedies and rituals but is still very popular today and people have found significant results just moving their bed to a different part of their bedroom. I have done my own personal experiments and I sleep better when my feet are facing North or East. A couple of my own simple tips to relax your mind and body before you go to bed. – Ensure your bedside locker/table is clear except for just a glass of water. – Empty your bladder before bed. Weather permitting it helps to have a small amount of fresh air coming through a gap in your window this helps with congestion & headaches. Therefore, I believe the temperature of the room you sleep should be consistent and cool.
As a continuation on from fengshui, it is important you choose an appropriate quilt or blanket to cover you to keep your core body temperature consistent while you sleep and also the pillow you sleep on is crucial to align your neck and spine. Along with your mattress some physicians recommend a hard mattress in the long run is better for our muscular and skeletal systems for long term physical health. This can be trial and error on what suits your own sleep hygiene routine.
Essential Oils & Incense
I am a big fan of Aromatherapy & holistic therapies. I have found there are a few essential oils that help you relax and wind down before bedtime. I recommend a blend of oils in an oil burner such as Lavender & Frankincense.
Lavender along with Tea tree oil are 2 of the only essential oils that are safe to put directly onto the skin in their natural unmixed state. Lavender has relaxing and healing properties and benefits. I massage pure lavender oil into my temples and I recommend put a few drops onto a tissue or few drops on your pillow to breathe in.
I have found Lavender pillow spray also very helpful. Other essential oils that aid relaxation are Camomile, Eucalyptus and Vetivert. Always read instructions for use & quantities on anything your purchase over the counter.
I use meditation as a tool to help combat stress, it is widely used to aid with chronic pain and to attain a healthier sleep cycle. Here are a few basic tips on how to adopt a Daily meditation routine to help you achieve Zen & peace in your life. If you don’t have time to do 10 minutes per day, try to incorporate it 2 to 3 times per week to begin with.
Posture – make sure if you sit on a comfortable chair or on the floor crossed legged & that is spine is upright with your head up, chin 90 degrees to your chest. Keep your eyes open with a soft gaze.
Breath – pay attention to your breath it’s a great way to anchor yourself and ground, let it be as natural as possible. If you find this hard then count your breaths, on inhaling count to 8 then count to 4 on the outward breath. Studies show that even 10 minutes of calm meditation significantly reduce stress levels, improves concentration and helps achieve a good night’s sleep. Try to control your thoughts and mind from wondering, and concentrate on the breath.
Silence is extremely healing; if you struggle with quiet time then some low gentle mediation music can be used. The mind becomes more steady and calm if you are in a silent environment. Try to create a peaceful space to mediate taking into account low lighting like I mentioned earlier and perhaps some relaxing essential oils or incense burning in the corner of the room.
Controlling your thoughts & The Black Box Experiment
If you struggle with an over active mind which comes to life at night, then I have an exercise that has helped me in the past. I imagine I am going into my ‘thoughts store’ with my eyes closed in a comfortable position. Roll your eyes slightly upwards to feel physically that you are entering your subconscious mind while your conscious mind drifts off.
This is a simple personal method that I hope inspires as many people as possible to create their own link to their subconscious mind to create a connection to their inner voice.
Visualise 3 black doors, 1 to the left, 1 in the middle and 1 to the right. Enter your 1st door and think of 2 things in your life that are in working progress, acknowledge each and feel how the wheels are in motion and how it will continue to improve day by day. (the Japanese call this Kaizen in business, identifying each mark and gradually improving on it) Leave and close the door behind you. Enter the 2nd door in the middle and think of what parts of your day you are most grateful for, it can be as simple as you had a nice meal or spoke to a nice person, say thank you, leave and close the door behind you. Enter the 3rd door on the right and briefly outline what is on your agenda for the following day, know that you can’t do any of that right now and you look forward to waking up with energy and rested to combat your day. Leave and close the door, to find yourself in a neutral dark empty place, where your mind can shut down until tomorrow. Know that sleep is the best healer and your mind and body needs sleep to fully function. You are safe and deserve a good night’s sleep!
Magnesium is fantastic mineral to add to your daily supplements. Its one of the seven essential macro minerals we need each day. It plays an important role in over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body including metabolism of food and synthesis of fatty acids. Magnesium deficiency is linked to poor sleep patterns, insulin resistance coronary heart disease and osteoporosis. I have recommended Magnesium supplements to most of my close friends and family and they have all reported great results such as, finding it easier to fall asleep, having more energy the following day, & improved concentration. I also take 2 Magnesium tablets each night with B6, which is relatively inexpensive and can be purchased from Holland and Barratt or Amazon.
Magnesium oil has dramatically helped me at night massaging a small amount into my shoulders, I have also found it helps with joint & muscle pain. Magnesium flakes are great to put into a warm bath especially with a few drops of lavender oil or lavender bath salts.
There is great product called ‘Sleep Aid’ that is inexpensive and can be bought in high street stores. It is a herbal sleep alternative that contains a mix of natural ingredients like Valerian, Hops, & passion flower. Taking 2 about an hour before bed has helped me greatly and gives me peace of mind that it doesn’t contact any harsh pharmaceutical drugs that can make you feel heavy headed the next day.
Dormeasan sleep drops are also a great remedy; I would suggest only take Dormeasan or Sleep aid tablets as they both contact Valerian. I wouldn’t recommend putting the drops in water as it has quite a bitter taste; I put my drops into a small glass of orange juice.
A warm bath an hour before bed can significantly help you unwind and relaxes your muscles in proportion for sleep. Even better if you can turn the lights off in your bathroom and use a candle (remembering to be safe and blow it out once you have finished!) The dim lighting will help prepare your retinas for bedtime. Try to keep your bedroom to nice temperature, not too warm that you become agitated but cool enough that you aren’t disturbed from a chill. I often sleep with my window slightly open, I find the fresh air and slight breeze helps me relax and aids with sinus issues.
Hormones & Chemicals in our brain
Serotonin is a hormone produced in the gut and the brain, which monitors & controls mood and sleep patterns. I found an amazing supplement called 5HTP, it is a natural organic substance that transforms neurotransmitters into serotonin in the brain. I recommend taking this during the day after food. 5HTP is also a recommended remedy for conditions such as severe headaches, depression & it decreases hunger cravings so perfect for anyone wanting to lose a few extra pounds. So there are many benefits in taking 5HTP the main one for me personally is, by stimulating my natural serotonin levels I feel more alert in the day and able to switch off more easily at night.
Food & Diet
A glass or mug of warm milk is an old fashioned remedy but has most often helped me switch off. I’m sure in the past it was recommended to put a splash of brandy or whisky in your milk but I wouldn’t recommend that! Dairy products are rich in the amino acid Tryptophan that helps in the production of the sleep inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin. In the winter I sleep with an electric blanket on my bed, which helps me to fall asleep. Herbal teas such as camomile have a lovely sedative effect. Foods such as yogurt, oats, bananas, poultry, eggs, tuna and peanuts all contain good amounts of Tryptophan. Avoid foods such as pork, cheese, chocolate, aubergines, tomatoes, and potatoes as they all contain an amino acid rich in Tyramine which the body converts to noradrenaline, a brain stimulant. Nicotine is also a stimulant so if you are a smoker try to have your last smoke at least an hour before bed.
Try to avoid eating too close to bedtime. If your body is still trying to digest food it isn’t allowing it time to fully relax, plus if you eat to close to sleeping a hormone called Leptin doesn’t kick in as efficiently which controls our metabolic rate, which in turn can lead to weight gain and a slower metabolism.
Avoid bright artificial light & blue light at night, it can send a signal to the brain that it is time to concentrate and perform tasks. Softer colours like pinks/purples are good. I have mood ball that I picked up from B&Q, it can be set to whichever colours you like. I have noticed it does put me in a happier mood and helps me feel relaxed before sleep.
Try to adapt a bedtime routine which includes going to sleep and waking up around similar times, this will get your body clock used to when its time to switch off and be alert. For at least 5 out of 7 days so you can see a pattern emerge of when you struggle to sleep and when you sleep soundly. I quite often keep a sleep journal if I am not sleeping well to attempt to identify what I can eliminate to aid a healthy sleep.
Studies have shown that music at different frequencies can hep with healing, its all to do with the beta and theta waves in the brain. Sound at a calm relaxing level can inform the brain its time to drift off. I find Meditation music on YouTube is great, especially the ones that last approximately an hour. If you are disturbed during the night or before you are due to wake up by someone else’s alarm or external noise, then I suggest earplugs or at least 1 if you don’t like the idea of not being able to hear. If you wake up to an alarm chose a sound that gradually wakes you up gently, nothing like a siren or abrupt noise. This can drastically affect the type of mood you start your day in.
Things to avoid before sleep
Tea and coffee that contain caffeine, energy drinks especially those that contain caffeine and taurine, sweets/candy, alcohol & food rich in carbohydrates (make your last drink before bed a glass of water or milk)
Try to switch off all electrical devices at least 30 minutes before going to bed. This gives the brain time to unwind. I have to admit I do like to watch a little bit of TV in bed before I sleep to switch off but I ensure its easy viewing and not too loud. Last but not least a bit of an obvious suggestion but don’t forget to try to fully empty your bladder before you get into bed, if you struggle then listening to the tap running always helps me! Nothing worse than getting comfortable and then having to get up to go pee!
If your sleep is severely disturbed and you are finding it hard to fall asleep or stay in a deep sleep then see your GP if the above remedies don’t seem to be working. You may need a gently sedative on a temporary basis to help you get back into a healthy sleep routine.