Sleep is the most effective way of renewing, refreshing and healing our bodies and minds. It is an essential part of functioning as a human being and we spend almost one third of our lives in a sleep state. Sleep is without doubt, the best way to improve your health, reduce your stress and make you more effective and alert during the day. So how can we improve this much needed sleep?
1. Use deep breathing
Place a hand onto your chest and one on your abdomen, just above your navel. As you breathe in, through your nose, you should feel the abdomen rise. As you exhale through the nose, the hand on your abdomen should lower. The hand on your chest should not move at all. You should aim to count to 4 on the inhalation and 4 on the exhalation (in time, train yourself to extend this to 6).
This is the way you should be breathing at all times, apart from when doing heavy exercise. Particularly use this technique in times of stress but make it a habit to check your breathing at points during the day, espcially in the hour leading up to bed time. Awareness of the breath is the key to relaxation and relaxation is the key to sleeping well.
2. Reduce caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant. It can affect the length and quality of sleep. Heavy caffeine users suffer from sleep-deprivation because their nervous system is too stimulated to allow them deep, restful or prolonged sleep.
If it seems too daunting to give up completely, then restrict caffeine to earlier in the day, when the body has longer to detoxify the caffeine from the system. Suitable alternatives for afternoon and evening are de-caffeinated tea or coffee or, even better, herbal teas. Chamomile has long been proven to aid relaxation and a restful nights sleep.
3. Live a healthy balanced lifestyle
Follow these tips on a daily basis and watch the quality of your sleep improve:
Take 30 minutes gentle exercise a day
Get some fresh air. Go for a walk at lunchtime or after work.
Reduce stimulants such as caffeine, chocolate and sugar in your diet.
Take regular breaks throughout the day to stop those stress hormones building up.
Practice some relaxation on a daily basis. Yoga, Face Yoga and Pilates are good choices.
Eat a balanced and healthy diet. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains and protein. Including these foods which will help reduce stress build up is essential to sleeping well.
4. Create a regular time to sleep and rise
This is about training the mind, introducing good habits and creating a routine. A regular pattern will help you fall asleep faster and easier. Also, aiming to have the same amount of sleep each night encourages the body to follow a natural rhythm.
5. Use meditation and visualisation
One of the most effective ways of reducing stress, and slowing down an over-active mind, is to use meditation and visualisation. Try these basic exercises:
• Visualise a relaxing scene. See yourself lying on a beautiful beach or in a place which is particularly calming for you. Use all your senses to build up the picture and revisit the scene as often and for as ling as you need to.
• Repeat positive affirmations. The most effective affirmation for sleeplessness is repeating, in your mind with real intent," I am relaxed and sleepy". Even if you don't believe what you are saying at first, you are tricking your subconscious into relaxing your mind and soon, your body will follow.
• Meditate on the breath. Using the correct breathing technique, simply watch the breath. Feel how the stomach rises and falls, feel the cool air as it comes in through the nostrils and the warm as it comes out. This technique involves both breath work and mind meditation so will be twice as effective in helping you to relax and fall into a peaceful and refreshing slumber.
6. Use aromatherapy oils
To aid sleep, use oils in the bath, put a few drops on your pillow or burn them in an oil burner. Lavender is regarded as the most popular for relaxing the mind and aiding a more effective nights sleep.
7. Make your bedroom a relaxing space
Seen as we spend an third of our lives in our bedrooms, it should be treated as a peaceful 'haven'. A relaxing and sacred space kept only for sleep and relaxing, enjoyable activities. Try making the following changes to ensure this happens:
• Don't take your phone to bed with you.
• Don't watch television or do anything which involves stress whilst in bed
• Open windows during the day to allow fresh air to flow through the room
• Sleep on a mattress that is no more than five years old
• Make sure your room is quiet, use double glazing if necessary
• Adjust the temperature of the room so it is not too hot or too cold
• Play relaxing music before bedtime to remind yourself that this is a relaxing space and you are ready to wind down.
8. Don't do demanding mental work before bedtime
This is important as the last hour before bedtime, the mind should be unwinding. Use the following 3 key tips for ensuring your mind is not over stimulated at night:
Have half an hour to wind down before bed
Prepare anything for work earlier in the evening so you it is not the last thing you think about before bed and so you are not rushing around the next morning.
Have a little pen and notebook by your bed. If you do find your mind is still racing with work-worries, jot them down and deal with them the next day.
9. Don't go to bed hungry or too full
It is recommended that you have your last light meal or snack two hours before bedtime. This will allow your body to focus on rejuvenation and not digestion in the night but will also stop you waking in the early hours due to low blood sugar levels.
10. Stop worrying
If you really can't sleep, just enjoy the warm, comfortable bed, concentrate on stilling your body and focus on deepening your breathing. Progressive Muscle relaxation ( a process of focusing your attention on each part of your body and in turn, tensing and then relaxing each muscle) will release any blocked tension and concentrate and distract your mind away from anxiety. This will most likely send your mind and body the messages that they need to start sleeping but if not, at least you are relaxing and reaping the reviving health benefits that this will bring.