Do you have a bad relationship with sleep? Loads of people do. Maybe you associate it with tossing and turning in your bed, frustrated that you can not get to sleep, thoughts running a muck? Maybe you are one of those that feel sleep is a waste of time and resent it? Maybe you do not think sleep is as important as other things you want to do?
Whatever the reason it is worth spending some time to improve your sleep because good sleep is critical for your health and well-being. Pretty ironic when sleep is often one of the first things to suffer when we are ill or in pain.
Why Sleep is Important
Once it was common to think that sleep was an inactivate state where our bodies and minds were basically ‘switched off’, but that is far from the case. Healthy sleep involves cycling through different stages. I’ll go into details in another post, the important things to know are that during sleep:
- Your cells go into the repair process to keep up with the wear and tear of daily living
- Your immune system replenishes itself and increase some aspects of your defence.
- Experiences are processed and memories consolidated.
There are many things that you can do during the day, before you even go to sleep, that can make it easier to get a good night’s sleep. If you have a bad relationship with sleep, it is worth knowing more in case you happen to be doing the things that can interfere with sleeping at night, or not doing the things that can make sleep easier!
There are three broad categories of things you can do to help with sleep:
- getting your body ready for sleep,
- getting your mind ready for sleep, and
- getting your bedroom ready for sleep.
Getting Your Body Ready for Sleep
In order to sleep well, your body should be free of chemicals that can interfere with sleep. This includes all stimulants (caffeine and nicotine) as well as alcohol. Avoiding stimulants is probably fairly obvious but although alcohol can help you get to sleep, it also best avoided. Alcohol often causes you to wake up during the night and even if you sleep through the night after drinking alcohol, it still interferes with you getting the type of sleep that you need, and so you will often end up not feeling rested. So for a good nights sleep avoid nicotine and drinks containing caffeine at least six hours before bedtime. Of course you may want to avoid them altogether.
During the day regular exercise is good for sleep, as well as some types of pain if it is advised by your medical team, but don’t exercise too close to bedtime.
If you have problems sleeping at night and you sleep during the day, you should try avoiding the day time naps. Although if you struggle to get to sleep from being over-tired, a short power nap during the day may help. It is also good to establish a schedule and get your body in a natural rhythm by waking up at about the same time every day, even on weekends, and aiming to go to bed at the same time every night. Over time, you will start to feel sleepy at about the same time every night.
Avoiding eating heavy meals just before bedtime too as this can interfere with the proper sleeping cycle. If you hungry stick to light snacks and a glass or cup of milky drink. Be aware of sugar as some say this can cause problems due to drops in blood sugar while you are asleep and others say it helps reduce hormones in your brain associated with wakefulness! When there is conflicting advice like this, I recommend experimenting for yourself. My personal opinion is that sugar is bad for me but I have not noticed my sleep being disturbed on the occasional night I have a hot chocolate before bed time.
Getting Your Mind Ready for Sleep
Your mind is very good at making associations. If you repeat the same routine every night before sleep, your mind will begin to associate that routine with winding down and feeling sleepy. Ideally, you should develop a pre-sleep ritual that you do every night just before going to sleep. It might involve checking all of the locks in your house, followed by brushing your teeth, ending with some light reading or nice warm bath just before going to bed. If you read or watch TV as part of your pre-sleep ritual, you should not do this while in bed and ideally in a different room so your mind associates your bedroom and bed only with sleeping and making love.
Soaking in a warm bath containing around 500g of Epsom Salts is a great way to relax in preparation for sleep and the magnesium your body will absorb often improves the quality of sleep you have.
If you have not managed to get to sleep within 15 minutes it is best to get back out of bed and do something non stimulating until you feel sleepy. This way your mind will begin to associate your bed with sleep.
Hypnotherapy can also help here and there are many commercial CDs available that will help your subconscious mind sleep easily and effortlessly at the right time.
Getting Your Bedroom Ready for Sleep
Make sure your bed is comfortable, most people prefer a harder bed to a soft one. Keep the room cool and user a warmer duvet, rather than having a warm room with a thin duvet.
It sounds obvious but try and make your room dark and quiet. I have even heard of people using a white noise generator to block out sounds. Lastly if you are a ‘clock watcher’ turn it around so you can not see it!
Night-time Self-Hypnosis Strategies for Getting to Sleep and Getting Back to Sleep
Here you can use the 3-2-1 technique described in a previous blog, or maybe you prefer listening to a pre-recorded sleep CD, or using another self hypnosis method to quieten your mind down so that you can easily and effortless slide into sleep (or back into sleep). Either way have a technique you feel comfortable with to aid you get that deep restful nights sleep you need.