Margaret Webster, Hypnotherapist and Holistic Therapist
Sleep is vital for our health and wellbeing. It is, however, something we often neglect. In fact, humans are the only species on the planet which consciously deprives itself of sleep. Just take a moment to digest and process that information. We like to think of ourselves as a ‘superior’ species in ability and intellect. How can we possibly be ‘superior’ when we don’t prioritise something so vital to our health?
How often do you say ‘I need to get more sleep’? Many people think of good nutrition and physical activity as being important to their health and well-being and try to make these a priority. I am a huge advocate for good nutrition and physical activity; however, I would argue that, underpinning everything is the need for sleep. Sleep is the essential foundation on which everything else is built or balanced.
Sleep is essential for:
✔ Our physical health including the health of our heart and our brain.
✔ Our mental health including our emotional balance and our resilience
✔ Our ability to make healthy food choices and control our weight
✔ Our ability to enjoy and benefit from physical activity
✔ Our ability to think clearly, concentrate and focus on our work and daily activities
✔ Reducing our risk of type 2 diabetes
✔ Our immune system
✔ Our ability to connect with others, listen and show empathy and enjoy meaningful interactions as well as enjoying the lighter side of life with a good laugh.
✔ Our safety, especially when driving or undertaking any tasks where our safety and the safety of others relies on our ability to concentrate and focus.
Complaining that we are tired is like complaining about the weather, yet one of those two complaints is within our power to change. While some people admit that they sleep fine when they are in bed, but don’t go to bed early enough, others may be experiencing difficulties sleeping. Some struggle to drift off to sleep, others wake frequently in the night, others may wake early and be unable to get back to sleep. It is important to note that there could be an underlying medical reason for your sleep difficulties so it is worth having a chat to your GP if you are having persistent trouble sleeping. Once any medical causes have been ruled out, there are a few things you can do to help yourself to sleep better.
Sleep hygiene is a term commonly used to refer to our preparation for bed and the environment in which we sleep. In fact, good sleep hygiene begins from the moment we wake up in the morning. Everything we do from when we get up, until we go to bed, has an impact on how well we sleep.
Good sleep depends heavily on two factors.
1. Sleep pressure: The accumulated need to sleep. This sleep pressure should build up over the course of the day and reach a peak at about the time that we want to go to bed. Once we sleep, this pressure is reduced, ready for the next day. If we sleep for too long during the day, or go to bed late and sleep late, we may not have sufficient sleep pressure to be able to get to sleep at the ‘right’ time the next night. Sticking to the same bed time and the same time of getting up in the morning every day can help your sleep pressure.
2. Our circadian rhythm: This is our inbuilt sleep-wake cycle. It’s like a clock, deep within us which sets the time at which we feel awake and the time that we feel drowsy and ready to sleep. A regular bed time, getting up at the same time each day and a number of other factors, including when we eat, physical activity and exposure to daylight, all influence our circadian rhythm.
Ten Top Tips for a good night’s sleep:
1.Rise and shine – Get up at a consistent time every day. This will help to ensure that your circadian rhythm is set right and that you build up enough sleep pressure to be ready to sleep at bed time.
2.Get out of doors – Daylight is essential for setting our circadian rhythm. The ideal is to get out of doors (e.g. for a walk, or breakfast on the patio) as early as possible after crawling out of bed. If you can’t get out of doors for a walk first thing, maybe you could open a window and spend a few minutes looking out, enjoying the view and a few breaths of fresh air. Maybe you could park a little further from work, or walk to the bus stop. If, like so many at present, you are still working from home; maybe you could ‘walk to work’ with a brisk walk in your neighbourhood before you start work. If you can’t get out first thing, don’t worry, exposure to daylight during the day is valuable at any time, maybe you could take a walk or step outside briefly if you have a break between meetings, or at lunch time. The more the better.
3.Physical activity – Physical activity is essential for our health and also helps us to sleep. We sleep better if we are physically tired. This is where an early-morning walk is particularly good for you as is offers both daylight and physical activity right at the start of your day, setting you up for the day and for a good night’s sleep. Vigorous exercise is better done earlier in the day if possible as it raises your core body temperature which is not conducive to sleep. However, it is better to exercise than not to exercise so if you can only exercise in the evening don’t be put off, although it may be worth trying something more gentle like yoga.
4.Reduce caffeine – Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world. While it is legal and widely used it is still a drug. It is very quickly and easily absorbed by the body with up to 99% absorbed within 45 minutes of consumption. Caffeine has a half-life, which is a way of describing how long it takes for your body to metabolise and break it down. The mean half-life of caffeine is about 5 hours. A standard cup of instant coffee contains 100mg of caffeine. This means that is you have a cup of instant coffee at 4pm, you will still have 50mg of caffeine in your blood stream at 9pm, and 25mg will remain at 2am. If possible, avoid caffeine after lunch time or early afternoon and, remember, there is caffeine in chocolate too! If you do decide to reduce your caffeine intake, please do so slowly and gradually as you can experience withdrawal if you reduce too quickly. More information is available online.
5. Avoid heavy meals and snacking in the evening –If your digestive system and muscles used for digestion are still working when they should be resting it can be harder to get to sleep, get in to the deep sleep you need and can exacerbate problems like heartburn.
6. Blue light – This could be a tricky one. The blue light emitted by electronic screens on smart phones, tablets, laptops, p.c.’s etc blocks the action on melatonin which is essential for making us feel sleepy at bed time. The TV also emits blue light, but is not quite as bad. For a good night’s sleep, switch off all screens an hour before you go to bed and keep them in a different room (buy a traditional alarm clock). This allows you an hour to relax and enjoy tips 7-10.
7. Take a warm shower or bath before bed – Your core body temperature needs to drop slightly for you to be ready to sleep. A warm bath or shower before bed is a simple way to warm and then cool your core body temperature ready to sleep.
8. Acknowledge, accept and set aside your worries – A cluttered mind is a restless mind. If you are anything like me, you lie down in bed and find a multitude of thoughts popping into your head as you begin to relax and unwind. Maybe things you’ve forgotten to do, or need to do the next day, maybe worries or ideas. If you leave these churning around your mind, it will try to focus on them, think them through, worry about them and remember them. A simple solution is to keep a pen and paper by the bed and write them all down. By doing this you acknowledge your thoughts and worries, accept them and, by writing them down you allow yourself to put them out of your mind until the next day. This allows your mind to relax, knowing that those ‘important’ thoughts will not be forgotten. I even write things down in the dark in needs be, they can be tricky to read in the morning but I can usually decipher them and it allows me to sleep.
9. Meditation – Once you are relaxed, ready for bed and have set aside your thoughts and worries, it is the perfect time for a meditation. Meditation is fantastic for relaxing your body and mind and can help set you up for a good sleep. Meditating before bed is great, but meditating at any time of day will in fact help as a regular meditation practice teaches your mind and body to relax. There are a lot of different meditations out there and several apps you can use. You could choose to use a simple breathing exercise, muscle relaxation, or a guided meditation.
10. Read before sleep – I’m a reader so I always make reading a part of my preparation for sleep. But don’t take my word for it. There have been many studies into the benefits of reading before sleep. According to WebMD, reading helps to reduce stress by up to 68%, and that reduction in stress is essential for improved sleep quality. Reading a book in bed also allows you to slowly, and naturally relax your body and mind ready for sleep which can be more effective than trying to ‘force’ yourself to relax. So keep a book by your bed, an actual book made from paper unless you have an original e-reader which is not back-lit, and enjoy losing yourself into a good story as you relax before drifting off for a refreshing night’s sleep.
In addition to these tips, practicing regular self-care and allowing yourself to relax and unwind on a regular basis is important for your sleep quality. Regular complementary therapies such as massage, reflexology and reiki can be incredibly effective in helping you to relax, unwind, rebalance and enjoy better quality sleep.
If you need any additional help to break old, unhelpful, sleep patterns and develop new, healthy sleep habits and patterns, hypnotherapy can be a really powerful tool to help. Contact me today to discuss how I could help you with either hypnotherapy or complementary therapies.