“A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book” ~Irish Proverb
Wonderful advice! Unless you’re crap at sleeping….
I’ve had issues with insomnia for just about as long as I can remember. I can even recall trying to ‘count sheep’ as a tactic when I was about 10. That’s got to be the most ridiculous piece of advice ever dished out! It just fired up my brain, which didn’t know when to stop counting!
I then came up with a unique strategy to quieten my mind and relax my body, of ‘rocking’ myself to sleep. Quite normal I thought?. It goes like this: start on your matress on all fours with knees slightly apart. Shut your eyes. Let your hips drop back and bounce back up from the mattress (without hitting your head on the wall… disadvantageous to the goal…). Get sleepy. Lie down. Sleep. Didn’t work?. Repeat.
Problem 1: I was sleeping in the same room as 2 brothers at the time, who didn’t take kindly to the metronomic banging of my bed…. Problem 2: when moved to a different room I rocked so much the back legs screwed themselves off the bed, causing a 7.5 seismic disturbance to my heartbeat. Rocking was no longer relaxing, but a heart attack waiting to happen I thought…
Of course later in life came real stress – relationship breakdowns, loss of family members, job loss, and chronic fatigue syndrome, all of which coincided with debilitating patches of insomnia. But through all this I have learnt some incredibly useful strategies which I wanted to share.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but includes those things that have worked for me. Many of these techniques are also supported by the Sleep Well Clinic, whom I thoroughly recommend visiting if your symptoms of insomnia (difficulty falling asleep, difficulty initiating or maintaining sleep, or non-restorative sleep) persist.
- Stick to a sleep / wake schedule
Aim to go to bed at the same time to help set your biological clock. Building up sleep debt during the week and trying to make it up on the weekend only throws your internal circadian rhythm out, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night. If you do go to bed a little later on weekends, set an alarm to get up within an hour of your usual wake-up time so as to minimise the internal clock shift. You can always nap in the day – see point 10
- Adopt a 60m winddown ritual
- Dim lights in the evenings, or use candles to help stimulate melatonin production (the hormone which promotes sleep).
- Stop any work, or stimulating non-fictional reading
- Write down any things that are worrying you, or things you need to do the next day, as well as setting an alarm so you can clear your mind and relax.
- Shut down the ‘blue light brigade’ – smartphones, laptops, TV’s, tablets, e-readers – this short wave-length light will throw out your internal body clock more than any other light, meaning you won’t get to sleep till much later, and will suffer morning sleepiness. Note: If you just can’t do this at times, there is anecdotal evidence that dimming screens and choosing white writing on black backgrounds may help (eg kindles).
- Practise a form of relaxation below. All of these have helped me at some time:
- light stretching / yoga (gaia.com is amazing)
- bath / shower – ideally no less than 60 mins before bed, otherwise the body may overheat in bed and cause sleep disturbance
- meditation / yoga nidra – Although sometimes frowned upon, I do this lying in bed with a headset. There is a huge number of downloads available on itunes / spotify / gaia, as well as Apps. To me it’s about finding a voice I like, a length that gets me switched off, and music I find soothing.
- breathing exercises (I like Tyler Tolmans 7 rounds of 7)
- reading – out of everything I’ve tried to relax and tune out. This is the my most fail proof. Choose fiction, as non-fiction will stimulate the brain into action.
- Make your bedroom a sleep haven;
…like you’ve just walked into a luxurious hotel:
- Tidy and distraction-free. That means making your bed in the morning! Keep the TV, Laptop, workbooks out. The bedroom is for relaxation, ‘play-time’ and sleep only.
- Low lighting options before bed – dimmers, candles, low watt bedside lamps
- Cool – 18-19 celsius is our optimal room temperature for sleeping when there’s 2 in the bed. You may like a few degrees different. We use the heat pump summer and winter for consistency. It’s not ideal on some levels, but good sleep is the #1 requirement for Mrs Perky being #Perky!
- Comfortable – invest in a good bed and natural fibres – cotton, down, wool – that breathes, and will not cause you to over-heat.
- Dark – I swear I have see through eyelids!. One tiny slither of light, and my eyes tell my brain to wake up! So I avoid digital clocks, put mobile phones face down on the floor or turn off if possible (note, the alarm on your smartphone will still work), cover lights on appliances like heat pumps, and use black-out curtains/shutters or an eye mask.
- Quiet or ‘constant white noise’. For me, this has meant silicon ear plugs (the PU single use foam didn’t cut it), a ceiling fan, or an old blow heater on cold (you can actually buy devices to make white noise now). Turn the phone off or put it on silent with vibration mode off.
- Allergen free – dehumidifiers or heat pumps are useful to limit mould growth. Dust-mite’s can also be killed by putting mattress’s and duvets in the sun every 6 mths. If you are buying a new mattress choose natural materials – cotton, wool, natural latex – and avoid toxic flame-retardant treatments (note, wool doesn’t burn), synthetics, and memory foam, which can emmit chemical fumes.
- Divine – diffuse organic lavender oil (available here) or place a drop on your pillow if you have no sensitivities. NB: There are many other essential oils that have been linked to better sleep which I will explore in a future post with Twenty8 Founder Kim Morrison.
- Get out of bed if you’re awake more than 20 minutes
This piece of advice was monumental. Like me, you’ve probably woken, then tossed and turned, getting more and more anxious that you can’t sleep, with so much to do tomorrow!. This will ensure you don’t get back to sleep…
Get up. Grab a small glass of water (lately I’ve splashed out on Kombucha). DO NOT PICK UP THE PHONE TO CHECK ANYTHING!. Certainly not the time! As this will create more anxiety. Move to another area – I like the couch, with a blanket – and then, under low light, read a book, or if your ‘monket brain’ is chatting, download your ideas into a journal. I have one aptly named ‘3am’.
- Expose your eyes to the sun upon waking
Clearly not into the sun, unless it’s the crack of daybreak, and then only for a few seconds. The earlier you do this, the more you’ll rewind your internal clock to naturally wake earlier, and feel sleepy sooner. This is because natural light reduces melatonin levels, allowing cortisol levels to rise, waking us up. It also ensures melatonin starts being produced earlier that evening.
- Avoid high intensity exercise within 3 hours of bed
If you find it difficult to train before work (which seems to have little impact on sleeping), aim to exercise immediately after work, as training too close to bedtime can cause wakefulness.
- Pass up caffeine after midday.
This will in part be due to your genes, and how well your clear caffeine. As a general rule, a cup of coffee in the morning is an acceptable ritual. Chugging coffee, Red Bull or other caffeinated drinks to keep you going through the afternoon might just keep you awake at night.
- Avoid Alcohol
I try to be an honest health blogger, so here’s the truth… If I have one or two glasses of wine before bed I tend to drop off to sleep quickly, but 4 hours later to just-about-the- blimmin-minute, i’m WIDE awake and unable to get back to sleep (there’s many theories on this). One bottle of wine on the other hand will knock me out for the night, but (surprisingly) leave me feeling tired, unwell, annoyed, and craving sugar and fat the entire next day… Hence negating the ‘great nights sleep’, and not a particularly healthy method of getting sleep!. Avoidance tends to be the best method :-).
- Become independant of sleeping pills
I have in the past resorted to sleeping tablets for the first few days when travelling, to help re-set my body clock, but they can be habit forming, and do not actually induce a deep sleep, where repair takes place. It’s a whole lot more beneficial to take steps to adjust your body clock naturally if you can:
- Anticipate your time change and adjust sleep / wake times by an hour or two each night for 2-3days before travel
- Select a flight that arrives early evening if possible
- Change your watch to the destination time zone when you get on the plane, and try to sleep according to this
- If you need to nap during the day at your destination, follow the napping advice below
10. A word on Napping
In terms of insomnia causal, this is a bit of a grey area. Some sleep experts feel napping during the day can perpetuate bad sleep habits, confuse your internal clock, and send your insomnia into a chronic spiral. Sometimes I think it’s a necessity if you’re training hard, or just fatigued. Here’s the advice Sleep Specialist Dr Alex Bartle of Sleep Well Clinic gave me that I find works:
- try to nap before 2pm so as not to throw out the all-so-important circadian rhythm
- 15-20 minutes is ideal (set an alarm). Longer can result in ‘sleep inertia’ – basically several hours of feeling groggy. I have found I can manage up to 45mins-1hr without experiencing this, but any longer renders me useless for the next 2-3 hours.
- some evidence shows that napping can help recovery from training, by giving your body another hit of HGH – human growth hormone. It may also help prevent insomnia induced by over-training.
I sincerely hope, if you’ve been struggling to sleep, that something here helped, as getting a good night’s sleep is life-changing!.
As usual I’d love to hear your comments, and the things that have worked for you?
Mrs Perky x