Updated: Oct 22, 2022
Did you know that from the minute you wake up to the moment you go to bed, you’re preparing yourself for sleep? Yep!
Decisions you make all day affect the quality of your sleep. Things like what you have for breakfast, how many cups of tea or coffee you have, whether you’ve been out for a walk, how long you spend on devices, whether you feel safe and secure, if you’ve produced certain hormones. Oxytocin is a key one, the love hormone, go get some more hugs!
I never really thought much about sleep in my 20’s. Apart from having a policy where I wouldn’t get out of bed before 9am on a weekend - oh how I miss those days!
Fast-forward to having kids and sleep (or lack of it) became a hot topic. I’d get fixated on how much sleep I’d be getting as I don’t function very well with little sleep. In the newborn days sleep was like a drug, if I got a fix I’d be desperate to get the next hit. Slowly as my babies learnt to sleep, so did I. But during the pandemic I was burnt-out just like a lot of us and I just couldn’t sleep. I’d be nackered during the day then I couldn’t switch off at night. It was incredibly frustrating. I started to make some lifestyle changes and focused in on food, movement and sleep. My three personal wellbeing pillars.
Why we sleep
The brain works so hard when we’re asleep. It packs away information from the day like a mental filing cabinet. Your brain cells detoxify all the information you’ve bombarded yourself with during the day. Giving yourself more time for this enables better memory and ability to process information.
More than a third of adults fail to meet the recommended 7-9 hours of nightly sleep (as recommended by The Centres for Disease Control CDC). Probably not surprising to you. What might surprise you is that regularly sleeping for less than 6 hours a night weakens your immune system, increases your risk of disease, disrupts your blood sugar levels and makes you feel hungrier. It can also contribute to depression, anxiety, erodes your focus and passion for life.
Yikes! That all sounds a bit scary! Don’t worry just yet.
A few nights of bad sleep is ok. Sleep is important for us physically, emotionally and spiritually. It contributes to our creativity, health, wellbeing and happiness. So sleep is really important, but it’s also important not to get unhealthily fixated with it. For me I try to give myself the opportunity to sleep for 7-8 hours. If I do, amazing! If I don’t, I don’t beat myself up about it, I try again the next night. Sometimes I don’t end up giving myself chance for 7-8 hours, because, life! Again, fine, I know it’s only the odd night.
What can you do to help yourself sleep? Good routines are so important. Here are my personal tips.
Top 10 sleep tips
Stick to a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, certainly during the week. Give yourself chance for 7-8 hours per night as many nights as you can.
10.30pm – 12.00pm is a prime time for really decent sleep as it’s particularly enriching. Try to give yourself chance to get this 90 minutes in as it sets the rhythm for the rest of the night’s sleep. Screens, phones, TV, blue light, falling asleep on the sofa, claiming some ‘me time’ back after working or parenting are all culprits for going to bed late. Can you limit this?
Eat breakfast every day and include some protein like banana or walnuts. Avoid large meals late at night, and avoid alcoholic drinks before bed. A night cap might make you feel more relaxed but it interrupts REM sleep. Drink 2-3 litres of water per day. I can't tell you how much getting a decent amount of water in the day helps my sleep.
Don’t reach for the tea or coffee until you’ve eaten, and try to limit your intake of tea and coffee. Coffee is a treat for me and I don’t drink it after lunch time. Did you know coffee has a half life of 5-7 hours? That means 50% of the caffeine will still be in your body 5-7 hours after you’ve drunk it.
Get outside and move your body. Getting natural light for at least 30 minutes a day help regulate sleeping patterns. Movement, fresh air and natural light are a winning combo.
Limit screen time. Not just before bed but all day. We’re the only species in the world to extend our day using artificial light, this has consequences. Don’t look at your phone for the first 20 minutes of the day, have a screen/TV cut-off time in the evening. This is one I'm still learning!
Give yourself 60-90 minutes wind down time to relax, have a warm drink, read or listen to music and switch off. I like to do a bit of breath-work, a guided meditation or yoga nidra for sleep. I drink a hot cocoa with coconut milk and add Reishi mushroom powder for added relaxation. Pillow sprays and essential oils are nice. A hot bath or shower can help you feel more relaxed and sleepy too.
Taking supplements like magnesium before bed as part of your wind down routine can help. Sleep tea's can also help.
Keep your bedroom dark, cool and gadget free. Turn your clock so you can’t see it. I probably don’t need to say a decent bed, mattress and fresh bedding all help. I feel like everyone knows that!
If your mind is active and keeping you awake at night, try journaling and writing everything down that's on your mind. A thing that happened that day, your to-do list, the shopping list, what you're wearing tomorrow, whatever it is that usually keeps you awake get it out of your mind and onto paper.
By the way it’s totally normal to wake up during the night. I used to worry about this and look at my clock to calculate how much sleep I would or wouldn’t be getting. Sound familiar? On average we wake 10-15 times a night but that’s ok and is normal. What disrupts you is checking the time. It brings you into full consciousness which is difficult to get back to sleep from.
If you find yourself waking in the night, see tip 10 above. Also use this technique to get back to sleep – place your left hand on heart and your right hand on belly, think of something positive, good or that you’re grateful for and take a few slow deep breaths. Wrap your hands around your opposite arms and give yourself a little hug. Then breathe in and out deeply to the count of 10 (an in and an out breath counts as one) and repeat until you drift off.
If you’re regularly struggling with sleep, you could speak to a medical herbalist for more natural support (I recommend Jonny’s Herbal Apothecary) or speak to your GP. And if you’re a parent with a miniature human alarm clock keeping you up in the night, hang in there, I promise it will get better!
This blog post is inspired by the work of Matthew Walker and Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.
If you'd like to try a Yoga Nidra meditation I'd recommend this one from Rebecca Dennis at Breathing Tree.
Insight Timer is also a great free app with meditations and breath-work. Sarah Blondin is my favourite teacher on there.
If you want to improve your sleep and feel better every day, book in a free 30 minute consultation with me. We'll complete a wellbeing audit to identify 3 ways to feel better straight away.
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