If you have ever lain wide awake at night, mind racing, wishing you could fall back to sleep, watching the clock, knowing tomorrow is going to be a write-off – you will know that insomnia can be cruel. Too many of us are not able to sleep soundly enough to feel rested and rejuvenated the next day; it is estimated that a third of people in the UK suffer with sleep problems. Not getting enough quality sleep affects every aspect of our health and lives; and when you’re not well rested, the world has a way of seeming more stressful and overwhelming, which can further contribute to a self-perpetuating cycle of under-eye bags.
But there is relief. According to experts, it’s not just what you do at night that affects your sleep, its’ also how you go about your day and shift into the evening that also plays a big role. So, here’s a list of restorative solutions to help you to connect with your body, calm your nervous system, breathe out tension, and relax your mind – maximising your time asleep, every night. Follow as many as you can, making them part of your routine.
1. Wake Up Right
According to sleep researchers at the Mayo Clinic if you need an alarm clock to wake you up, it’s a sign that you’re not sleeping right. Alarm clocks interrupt the sleep cycle and prevent sleep from completing naturally, pushing sleep problems into succeeding days. Dawn simulation devices are much more effective at establishing a healthy sleep cycle and gently rousing you from sleep.
2. Create a Regular Sleep Routine
Getting up at the same time each morning and going to bed around the same time each night is one key to fighting sleeplessness. Most of us stay up late on weekends, expecting to make up sleep later or use the weekend to make up for sleep lost during the week. Both practices disrupt bodily rhythms and can cause insomnia during the work week. The body clock’s ability to regulate healthy sleep patterns depends on consistency. A regular sleep rhythm reminds the brain when to release sleep and wake hormones, which in turn effects all the other hormones, ultimately effecting our overall health. Be assured the body will naturally compensate for lost sleep.
3. Cut back on Caffeine
Caffeine, even in small doses, blocks sleep neurotransmitters, the calming chemicals your body makes to make you sleepy. It is a powerful stimulant with effects that can last up to 7 hours. If you have a sleep problem cut out all caffeinated beverages, even your morning cup of coffee. However, if like me you are a coffee addict, restrict all caffeine to before midday. Note that caffeine is not just in coffee. It’s in colas and other soft drinks, teas and chocolate. Swap it for a great quality caffeine free herbal tea – especially one designed to aid sleep
4. Eat Sleep-Promoting Foods
Try and eliminate sugary foods including chocolate which contains both sugar and caffeine. These are metabolic disruptors which overstress the organs involved in hormone regulation and can seriously affect your sleep cycles. Also cut back on spicy and high-fat foods, which can cause indigestion and heartburn, and for some of you, dairy and gluten products, especially wheat, as these can cause food reactions or sensitivities which can affect your sleep cycle, too. Instead eat melatonin boosting food throughout the day which will help regulate sleep patterns – almonds, cherries, black rice, sesame and pumpkin seeds are great sources.
5. When to Eat
Your digestive system function peaks at lunchtime, so most of your food should be eaten by then. Your metabolism slows down in the late afternoon, leaving you poorly prepared to digest a large dinner; in other words: have a small one. If like me, lunch tends to be eaten on the go, with my main meal in the evening, try to eat early in the evening, at least 3 hours before going to sleep. This gives your body a chance to recover and rebuild, instead of having to work on digestion while you sleep.
6. Get Exercising
Exercise is one of the best defences against insomnia because it signals the body to promote deeper sleep cycles. The best time to exercise is 4 – 6 hours before bedtime, but studies also show that people are more likely to stick to a routine if they exercise first thing in the morning. So, walk part of the way to work, school or college, this will wake you up for the day and help set up your circadian cycles.
Try to avoid exercising after 8pm especially intensive aerobic exercise, as it may be too stimulating to your body and make it more difficult to get to sleep. Studies have shown however, that light exercise like evening power walks can function as an anti-depressant, clear the mind and help bring on a restorative night of sleep.
7. Take Time Out
However impossible it may seem, with all the demands placed on your time by work, family or friends, attempt to maintain a sense of calm throughout the day. Try and find a quiet spot and get comfortable. Just take 5 minute breaks throughout your day and focus on your breathing with breathing exercise – more to follow shortly on this. Quieting and slowing your mind calms the body, which is the perfect antidote to the over-stressed state we are often in.
8. Get Natural Sunlight Every Day
To a large extent, we now get up without the sun, go to bed long after dark, work long days indoors under artificial lighting and spend little time outdoors, even in summer. During the day, we receive artificial light from fluorescent bulbs rather than the vitamin D-rich sunlight that our bodies need. Then, at night, when we need the dark to trigger essential melatonin production, excessive light throws our body rhythms out of balance even more.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in the US found that it’s actually light itself that governs our sleeping patterns. As sunlight enters our eyes it regulates and resets our biological clocks, which involves triggering our brains and bodies to release specific chemicals and hormones that are vital to healthy sleep, mood, and aging. Try to get at least half an hour of regular exposure to natural sunlight a day. In the grey winter months try light therapy it is a great option to reproduce the energizing and regulatory effects of the sun’s light on the body whilst on the move.