Let’s talk about sleep. Quality of sleep is changing. Insomnia is on the rise and there are more sleeping pills available than ever before. Younger people are confessing more and more to having trouble sleeping.
For those who do struggle with sleep, bedtime can be an incredibly lonely place. Many of us know the feeling – like you’re the only person left awake in the world.
I have always been quite lucky with my sleep, however it depends on what is going on in my life at the time. By introducing a mind-over-matter attitude and a nightly routine I now have a much better understanding of what works for me, even when I’m not feeling my best.
So why aren’t we sleeping?
There are 6 main obstacles to good sleep:
1. Insufficient rest
Part of the problem is that most of us have forgotten what rest is. We confuse rest with recreation and socialising. Neither is actually rest. We are literally restless, and all that excess energy is keeping us hyped.
2. Too much light
One of the biggest lifestyle changes to affect sleep in the past 1000 years is that we’ve moved indoors. Instead of daylight, most of us are exposed to really poor artificial light during the day as well as at night, and that affects our quality of sleep.
3. Information overload
We’re consuming information constantly through what we’re reading, watching and experiencing. We’re processing so much so quickly that our minds are working at top speed. But we can’t go from 100 mph to 0mph and expect to sleep instantly! The brain can take 10 minutes, 30 minutes or even hours (for some people), to slow down and switch off.
4. The wrong foods
We’re consuming artificially enhanced, fake foods and fluids on a daily basis. When we eat chemicalized junk foods throughout the day and before bed it disturbs our body which interferes with our quality of sleep.
5. Too much food
Nowadays we’re eating too late, so our bodies are still desperately trying to digest supper when we’re in bed. What’s more, many of us misinterpret tiredness as hunger. Women are twice as likely to eat in response to sleepiness.
6. Gluten sensitivity
Gluten sensitivity also plays a part in sleep problems. Whether you’re a full-blown celiac or not, people who are gluten sensitive tend to feel fatigue during the day. If your energy is low during the day, it will be harder to sleep at night.
Why is sleep important?
Some people wear their need for minimal sleep as a badge of honour (‘I only got 5 hours last night’ or ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’). Others cannot function without it. Functioning or not, short sleepers (below 6 hours) have an increased risk of infection, arthritis, anxiety, depression and cancer – so let’s start making sleep a priority!
Really crucial things happen to our bodies when we’re out for the count. We’re giving our internal organs some R&R as well as improving immunity and appearance – tissue repair and muscle growth both occur during sleep.
Hormones that regulate appetite control and metabolism are also released while we sleep. Have you ever had a really bad night’s sleep and the next day you just can’t fight hunger no matter how much you eat? The hormone Leptin plays an important role in appetite control and metabolism. If your body has low levels of Leptin your appetite and cravings will increase.
How to resolve your sleep problems
Create a routine
Imagine if babies and toddlers didn’t have a nightly routine. Do you think they would know when it’s time to wind down and go to sleep? Maybe they have a bath, mum massages an ointment into their skin and puts them in pyjamas and dad reads a story. The lights are dimmed and it’s bedtime. As adults, we too should be sticking to a nightly routine that winds us down.
TIPS: Try turning off the television at least 30 minutes before bed, using some natural soothing pillow spray, lighting a natural candle and reading a book before bed. I encourage you to lie horizontally as early as you can so that your body knows it’s time for sleep. Our bodies need time to slowly switch off.
Turn off the tech
I don’t know about you, but I used to have an awful habit of scrolling through social media sites last thing at night and first thing in the morning which would actually make my eyes feel more tired and puffy due to straining. The blue light that’s emitted from our computers, tablets and smartphones tells us it’s not time for bed yet.
TIPS: I encourage putting a tech ban in place in the bedroom. Leave your phone downstairs or outside the door. You just don’t need it. I recently purchased an old-school alarm clock which is a silent ticker, so I don’t sweat about not having an alarm. Give it a go!
Limit the liquids
Some people think a couple of glasses of red before bed will make it that much easier to fall asleep. But alcohol is a double agent that serves as a stimulant and then switches to a depressant. A common effect of alcohol is waking up during the night.
TIPS: If you have a weak bladder or have developed a habit of waking in the night to use the loo, I recommend you stop drinking water/teas before 9pm. I used to have to go once every night which would totally disrupt my deep sleep. I now make sure I have my last mug of herbal tea before 9pm so I won’t need to interrupt my dreams.
Soft belly breathing has been a game-changer for me, especially at bedtime. When babies sleep, their bellies – not their chests – rise up and down. This is how we should be breathing, but due to our busy adult lifestyles we forget and tend to inhale short sharp breaths up at the top of the chest.
TIPS: Try soft belly breathing. Sit upright and place a hand on your belly, thumb at your navel, with fingers resting below. Relax your shoulders and start to inhale from your belly, noticing it expand. Push out on the exhale. This practice massages the heart.
Enhance your environment
It’s so important to make sure your bedroom is an inviting sanctuary and as comfortable as possible. An investment in your bed is an investment in your overall health. Make sure you’re cool – this will help you sleep far better than you would in a stuffy room.
TIPS: If your bed is too hard, try a mattress topper, or if you can’t get comfortable with your standard pillow, splash out on a goose-down pillow. Keep your bedroom minimal; you don’t want clothes on the floor and makeup sprawled all over your dresser. Light a natural candle, practise some soft belly breathing and open up that book.
Beautiful images from The Linen Works.