I was having a conversation with a friend and she said she had been having trouble switching her brain off at night and it is taking her forever to fall alseep. She asked me what was the best way to not think about everything that had to be done and get the sleep she so desperately needed.
There are the obvious tips to a good sleep like going to bed at a regular time each night, not napping, avoiding drugs and alcohol, these all mess with routine and hormones so are going to impact your sleep cycles. But here are another 5 steps less commonly talked about
1.Reduce stress – reduce unnecessary cortisol. Our bodies work off many cycles and one sleep cycle is the Circadian. This cycle appears to be motivated by light and dark stimuli and the release of hormones. Cortisol is the hormone that wakes you up. It is brought on by daylight but is not designed to be in your body for long periods of time so tapers off as the day goes on. If you are stressed this will remain high and prevent your body from entering into a sleep state. These are a couple of exercises you can do to reduce your stress and therefore cortisol, before you go to bed or having trouble sleeping.
- Breathe in for 30secs breathe out for 30secs – do this 5 times
- Hold your hands over your tummy so your fingertips touch, breath in, inflating your stomach and separating your fingers. Then breathe in some more and fill your chest so it rises. Hold and suck in a little bit more, hold and suck in a little bit more. Repeat 5 times. (Its important you don’t lift your shoulders as you fill your chest)
- If your body doesn’t know how to relax you can teach it. Tense your toes, while holding your toes tense, follow with your legs then your glutes, then your stomach, chest, arms, face. And then release one body part at a time. This teaches your body to know the difference between tension and being relaxed. Great while you sit at traffic lights!
2. Strong morning light and dark evenings: Two other hormones responsible for your active day state are Serotonin and Adrenaline. By setting a signal with strong morning light, this will promote an accurate release of these hormones and help synchronize your circadian cycle. Make sure you get some bright light first thing in the morning, and your room is dark when you go to sleep. As daylight starts to fade the body will convert Serotonin into Melatonin. Open any block out curtains in the morning as well as these can interfere.
3. Exercise – This keeps popping up everywhere as the solution to so many health issues, so just do it! As adrenaline increases over the day, afternoon is the best time for exercise however be careful not to leave it too late as this can impact sleep. The best time would be 4-6 hours before bed. In saying that, if afternoon doesn’t work for you, stick to what works. It’s best you exercise at a time that suits rather than not at all.
4. Medication – I know this is a short term fix for many different issues but long term use will always complicate your health. Your body is just not meant to have synthetic drugs flowing through it. Medication can affect the quality of your REM sleep that repairs your body, same with drugs and alcohol. So while you may go to sleep easier your body is not repairing itself as effectively and therefore you will wake up tired. So take meds in the short term if you must, but your body is giving you a symptom – address the cause. This includes sleeping pills and some herbal remedies as well, they mess with the balance of hormones in your body.
5. Wind down – Melatonin increases in the evening and causes the body to tire. Within two hours Melatonin release is at its peak and this is the best time to sleep. The hormone slows its release as the night goes on and therefore it becomes more difficult to fall asleep. As daylight breaks in the early hours, the body stops producing Melatonin, this is usually a couple of hours before waking. Like babies, adults too can get overstimulated preventing sleep. A wind down schedule in the evening will support the melatonin cues and lead you into an easy sleep. Here are some tips on how to wind down:
- Dim the lights an hour before bed
- Decrease the noise stimuli
- Stretch you muscles for the exercise you have done today ?
- Have a bath or shower
- Clear your head – this one is sooooooo important. Take note of the saying “The past is history, the future is a mystery, embrace the gift of the present”. When lying in bed, you must only be in the present. Thinking about the past or future causes depressed thoughts and worry. Have a pen and paper close by so when you drift into thoughts outside the present (breathing) such as worries, things to do, what you should have said in that argument today, you can move them out of your head. Either write them down or cut the thought loose with some imaginary scissors.
Write out your wind down routine now and put a reminder in your phone. If you apply it tonight you will notice how much easier sleep is instantly!
Which part has been most valuable for you? I’d love to have a conversation, so just comment below ?