Improve your sleep
This week’s topic is close to my heart as I’ve learnt the importance of sleep from personal experience. To share my story briefly, I used to believe that sleep was a waste of time. So many things to do! And so, I would burn the candle at both ends, and take pride in my ability to function with little sleep plus power naps. What I realise in hindsight is that for all those years, I was living less fully than I could because I was not getting enough sleep. It’s probably a common story but it was worth experiencing first hand the kind of vicious cycle one can get into, especially with regard to eating late at night and then craving high energy foods to get through the waking hours but that my body had to work extra hard to digest. Now I can share my lessons and confirm much of what both traditional and modern medical traditions are telling us.
And so, I wholeheartedly encourage everybody to take care of their sleep as if their overall health and wellbeing depended on it.
Better sleep means a better quality of life (and probably a longer, healthier one too).
Things you can do to improve your sleep:
1. The body likes regularity and has its natural rhythms. Get in tune with these and choose your ideal bedtime. Keep it in mind when planning your days.
2. Get good doses of natural daylight – it will give you the Vitamin D and regulate your body clock/circadian rhythms.
3. Do physical exercise during the day, preferably outdoors. You might remember how well you slept after the last big hike!
4. Check you’ve got the right mattress and pillow for best sleep. The Sleep Council offers a Bed MOT questionnaire: https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/advice-support/sleep-tools/bed-mot/
5. Give support for your spine to be well aligned when lying down. That might mean putting pillows not just under your head but also under your knees, between your knees (for side sleeping), under your pelvis (if you have to lie facing down). (If you search for images “spinal alignment sleeping” you’ll see what I mean)
6. Have your dinner as early as you can to allow the body time to digest (2-4 hours). If this is not possible, have a very light dinner, i.e. low fat, low protein, non-spicy and low salt. Avoid the temptation of late night snacks. They will most likely stop you from sleeping and start the vicious cycle I mentioned above!
7. Know how common sleep disruptors affect you and manage their use accordingly:
- Caffeine: Experiment with your caffeine intake – type, quantity and timing of when you take it. People respond differently to different types of caffeine. What’s it like to not have any caffeine at all?
- Alcohol: it might appear to be a sedative but research is showing that it reduced the quality of your deep sleep
- Sugar: is most definitely a stimulant and not just in children!
- Chocolate, especially raw: it contains some caffeine and also theobromine which is a stimulant
8. Temperature – get it right for your best comfort considering sleepwear, coverings and ventilation
9. Shut the light out from your bedroom completely – some people need this
10. Wind the day down as you prepare for bedtime, doing the things that you know help you to relax and switch off, especially mentally.This might include the following:
- turning down artificial lights and switching off devices
- having a soothing bath or foot bath
- playing some relaxing music
- doing gentle exercise such as yoga or qi gong
- drinking a calming herbal tea* e.g. chamomile tea that Julia recommended last week; there are also lots of “Sleepy Teas” that some people swear by (*remember too much liquid intake close to bedtime might mean having to get up to the toilet in the middle of the night)
- reading or listening to an audio book for your pleasure (rather than for work or study)
- journal in a way that connects to your heart, e.g. gratitude
If you wake up in the middle of the night and you can’t get back to sleep (I’m sorry this will not apply to new mums or those caring for others):
Avoid turning the lights on or checking your devices. Instead, try one of the following:
- Focussing on your breathing and gently lengthening it
- Moving the eyes in the shape of the infinity symbol (see wellbeing tip attached)
If you’re short of sleep:
- A short nap, meditation or Yoga Nidra session could make all the difference
- Beware of the temptation to overdo the caffeine. A fresh juice with ginger and turmeric can have an invigorating effect too
- Your body will ask you for more food. Choose what you eat with kindness and compassion for your stressed body!
If you’re having regular trouble with your sleep do get some help, whether that’s going to see your GP or a complementary health therapist.
References and Resources
Podcasts from Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s Feel Better Live More:
A compilation of best tips https://drchatterjee.com/how-to-get-a-good-nights-sleep-the-very-best-tips-on-sleep/
Full podcasts below:
Book: “The Sleep Revolution” by Arianna Huffington, WH Allen (2016)