Everyone can relate to how frustrating it can be to have a bad nights sleep, those nights when you seem to watch the moments drag past. Then morning arrives and you feel worn out, like you have gone 5 rounds with Mike Tyson. If you are lucky this is a rare occurrence, often related to an event or one of situation. But for some this is nightmare is a nightly occurrence. The Centre for Disease Control & Prevention estimates that 22% of the US population suffers from chronic poor sleep, while the NHS estimates that 30% of Brits are not sleeping. Recent studies have linked chronic poor sleep with serious health risks including diabetes and heart disease.
At The Body Retreat we see a lot of clients for whom a good nights sleep; the kind where you drift off naturally, sleep right through and then wake refreshed, has become a dim and distant memory. Sleep is often the first casualty of stress and we can adjust to the lack of sleep. We create new strategies for getting through the day, ones that involve coffee, chocolate, soft drinks; then at night we can come to rely on alcohol or sleeping pills to help us nod off. This quickly becomes a viscous cycle that actually prevents natural sleep.
How well you have slept at night has a big influence over how well you feel during the next day, likewise your daily habits and routines can have a big influence on how well you sleep at night. A good night's sleep is a healthy habit that is more in your control than you might think.
The Body Retreat's Seven Secrets for Sound Slumber
1. Sync your natural sleep cycle
If you keep a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, you will feel much more refreshed and energised than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times. While the actual number of hours sleep will vary for individuals, most of us will need about 7 hours sleep each night, so work out what cycle works for you,. For example 11pm - 6.00am or 12.00pm - 7.00am etc etc ... Remember that 7 is the number of hours sleep so you will need to be in bed and settled before the pm time. Find what works for your body and then stick to it at least for 3 weeks to set your internal clock. Yes unfortunately that is going to mean the weekends too...at least for the 3 weeks.
2. Balance your melatonin
Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone controlled by light exposure that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin production is controlled by light exposure. Your brain should secrete more in the evening to make you sleepy, and less during the day when you want to stay awake and alert. However, many aspects of modern life, strip lighting in offices and back lit reading devices for example can disrupt your body's natural production of melatonin and with it your sleep-wake cycle. Getting natural light (without sunglasses) during the day is essential, even if its only for 15 mins, then keep your bedroom dark when you turn in for the night, so no tv, no iPad, no laptops and close the curtains or blinds to block out street lights.
3. Review your bedtime routine
Make a consistent effort to relax and unwind for about an hour before you turn in for bed, you will sleep easier and more deeply. A peaceful bedtime routine sends a powerful signal to your brain that it's time to wind down and let go of the day's stresses.Take a bath, light some candles, listen to an audio book, find what works for you. The bed time news needs to go .. the last thing you need is to stimulate your brain with the days events before you turn out the light and expect to drop off. If you are a news hound then make the last news of the day about supper time so that any images, thoughts or concerns that it may have raised have a change to settle before bed.
4. Turn your bedroom into a boudoir
Your bedroom should be kept for rest and romance and not for daytime actives like work or shopping. When you open your bedroom door what you see should send a powerful signal to your brain that rest is on its way. Teat yourself to some lovely new bedding so that you can experience that new sheet feeling, removing pictures of friends and family so that they don't jog your memory of outstanding errands or worries, keep the space neutral but warm and inviting. Feng shui suggest that skin tone colours help to rebalance energy while you sleep but you may prefer to have a colour that matches your personal energy. Not sure what this is, look in your wardrobe and see what colour you wear most... but note...black and white are not colours, so if this makes up the bulk of your wardrobe look for the most common accent colour you are drawn to.
5. Impose a 2 hour curfew on eating and exercising pre bedtime
Your daytime eating and exercise habits play a huge role in how well you sleep. It's particularly important to watch what you put in your body in the hours leading up to your bedtime. You should plan to eat light and early, leaving at least 2 hours between your main meal and your bedtime. Likewise avoid undertaking strenuous exercise in those last couple of hours as this will raise your cortisol levels which in turn can delay sleep. Relaxing exercises such as yoga or gentle stretching can help promote sleep.
6. Master Mindful Moments
Residual stress, worry, and anger from your day can make it very difficult to sleep well. Practicing relaxation techniques before bed is a great way to wind down, calm the mind, and prepare for sleep. Begin to allow your focus to shift onto your breath, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. Breathing slowly and deeply, the sound of your inhales and exhales can be a lullaby to sooth you into slumber, you may find it helps to count down from 100, counting on each out breath.
There may be nights when sleep does not come easily but don't panic, that will only delay the process further. Give yourself a break. So what if you're having a sleepless night? It's not the end of the world. By thinking, "I can't sleep" or "I'm going to be worthless tomorrow", you're creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Relax and trust that there will be plenty of sleep-filled nights in your near future and go back to point 6.
If stress is keeping you awake, you may need help with stress management. By learning how to handle stress in a productive way, and maintain a calm, positive outlook, you'll be able to sleep better at night. The habit of sleep can be mastered, but like any habit it needs practice and repetition, but once mastered you literally can sleep like a baby.