If you have struggled with your sleep for some time, it is likely you have come across Sleep Hygiene, a series of behavioural and bedroom environment changes to help you sleep. However, while sleep hygiene can set the scene for better sleep, recent research has shown that, alone, it has limited effectiveness in resolving sleep problems.1
A key reason for this is that sleep hygiene measures do not address potential underlying causes of your sleeplessness, for example, trauma, shock, anxiety and grief. One of the roles of dreaming – yes, research has proven that dreams have a purpose – in helping us to heal emotional trauma and wounds. While in deep sleep, it is a safe space to process and make sense of events, as well as to record useful memories. Dreams occur when we enter the deep, restorative REM stage of sleep, which continues in regular cycles throughout the night. The implications of not entering or benefitting fully from this sleep cycle means that sleep deprived people do not access REM cycles of sleep and remain in a chronic state of anxiety, shock or trauma.
People whose sleep is disrupted because of chronic pain may be concerned to learn that many pain medications contain caffeine and other substances which disturb the sleep-wake cycle.
And for many middle aged women experiencing hormonal shifts, HRT does not help and I often treat women who are in despair after trying everything else.
And this is where Sleepability can help. Whatever the cause of your insomnia, I have a cornucopia of natural remedies and relaxation techniques available to help treat your unique sleep disturbance.
The Top 10 sleep hygiene measures include:
To help reset your body’s wake-sleep cycle – one of your body’s internal clocks (circadian rhythms), you need adequate levels of daylight which helps keep us awake. At this time of day, the sleep hormone, Melatonin, reduces, and is triggered by early morning daylight. Produced in the Pineal Gland in the brain (as well as in the gut) Melatonin is our internal time keeper. To ensure you experience a wakeful and productive day, walk 20 minutes daily in the early daylight, even if overcast. Late afternoon and early evening sun are also ideal for absorbing safe levels of UV light. Avoid exposure to peak time sunlight and always use a mineral-based natural sunblock to assist the body in producing Vitamin D, which is activated by sunlight and which, in turn, helps to boost Melatonin later in the day.2
2. Dusk & Darkness.
Melatonin levels begin to rise at dusk, as daylight fades, to signal that sleep time is approaching. Melatonin peaks at midnight and reduces thereafter until dawn. An hour or so before bed, begin your sleep preparation and dim the artificial lights to help stimulate Melatonin levels. Crucially, limit exposure to artificial light – especially the blue light emitted by smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, laptops and e-readers. Ban tech in the bedroom and ensure everything is switched off at the plug – including your Wi-Fi router. I would go so far as to recommend you avoid any smart tech in the house (meters, voice-activated assistants, etc) as the electromagnetic fields emitted can interfere with sleep brainwaves. Finally, ensure your bedroom is dark when you go to sleep. Invest in blackout curtains and eye masks/pads to optimise Melatonin levels.
3. Your Bed & Bedding.
Do not underestimate the importance of a good mattress in terms of quality sleep. We should aim to spend 6-7 hours in bed per night so it is worth investing in a good night’s sleep, especially when you begin to learn just how important it is for your general health and wellbeing, your mental health and even longevity. The maximum life span of a quality mattress is 7-8 years. Turn your mattress bi-monthly and consider renewing if it is approaching the end of its lifespan. Invest in the biggest bed you can afford and accommodate in your bedroom and look for supportive comfort rather than anything too soft. Natural fibres in your mattress will help to avoid overheating – especially important to middle aged women. Equally, natural fibres should be used for your pillows and bedding (cotton, linen, silk, Kapok) to ensure optimum sleep conditions.
4. The Boudoir.
Your bedroom should be reserved for sleep and intimacy to optimise rest and relaxation. Ensure your bedroom is free of clutter, work-related materials and tech. The ideal bedroom temperature should be 60-67 degrees and, critically – should be dark and quiet (see above). Invest in ear plugs if noise is an issue – Sleepability recommends BioEars Silicon Earplugs (available at Boots, Ocado, pharmacies and of course, Amazon).
5. Ditch the Stimulants!
I know, easier said than done, but caffeine is the single biggest sleep hygiene factor that creates sleep disruption.
6. Exercise daily.
Any exercise will help you sleep better but aerobic activity is most effective (although ensure you do not exercise too heavily close to your pre-sleep relaxation time). Walking and cycling are free and get you outside into the sunlight (think Vitamin D and Melatonin levels). Aim for at least 20 minutes exercise a day, to increase your heart rate gently.
7. Evening Meals.
Avoid heavy meals in the evening as they stimulate your system. Eat smaller quantities and avoid spicy meals 2-3 hours before bedtime. Ideally, eat dinner 2-3 hours before bedtime to avoid discomfort and indigestion. If you’re still hungry as your bedtime approaches, choose foods rich in Tryptophan (nuts, seeds, eggs, yoghurt, oat cakes, tofu, tart/sour cherries, kiwi fruit) but no later than 45 minutes before bed.
In addition to the above, Sleepability recommends:
8. Relax & Unwind.
Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so an hour or so before bedtime, begin a calming routine:
Enjoy a warm (vs hot) bath using a handful of Epsom Salts to soothe and relax your body and mind. Add a few drops of one of the following essential oils for an aromatherapeutic effect (lavender, rose, geranium, jasmine or vanilla). Bathe 90 minutes prior to your desired sleep time and spend no more than 20 minutes in the bath. For top quality essential oils, see my Neal’s Yard website and shop. As a thank you to you there’s a free gift for any purchases over £10.
Read few pages of a paperback book (vs Kindle, which emits ‘blue’ light and interferes with melatonin production). There is nothing to replace the fully engaging sensory experience of choosing and touching a book, turning the page and the smell of the printed page.
If you’re still unable to sleep, get up and write what’s on your mind. You can start by using the Sleepability Diary. By doing this you will sometimes identify patterns and clues as to what’s on your mind and keeping you awake. By doing this over a month, you may identify the route to improve your sleep.
If you enjoyed using the Sleepability Diary, you might decide to continue writing. Journaling is creativity and liberation in motion. The act of writing your thoughts and worries onto paper will debunk your mind and enable you to find creative solutions to the thoughts that are keeping you awake. Record your moments of inspiration – your insights that seem to come out of the blue – you never know where they may lead. Start journaling now and rewrite your past, and more importantly, create a new future. For details of the Sleepability Journal, click here.
9. Bedtime Breathing.
Breathing has always been the key to relaxation. It is the route by which you can connect with your body, mind and inner self. It is the way you introduce energy and awareness – and oxygen – to every cell of your body, to feed, nurture and cleanse the body, cell by cell, and from where you can begin to heal. Learning to breathe effectively is crucial to your sleep, mental health and immune system, more so than ever in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic. Having prepared yourself for bed over the last hour or so, get into bed and allow yourself 5 minutes every night to practise this simple breathing exercise:
This is known as abdominal breathing and allows your lungs to fully inflate and deflate. Practise this simple but extremely effective technique and your sleep will improve. You will feel rejuvenated, your digestion will improve and you will feel calmer generally – so important for your mental health.
10. Yoga for Sleep.
Where would we be without yoga?! A Harvard Health article3 states the benefits of yoga for sleep problems, reporting that 55% of people experience better sleep while 85% say it reduced stress. Download Sleepability’s Top 3 yoga poses here.
I hope you found the above of interest and, if you have had limited improvement with sleep hygiene, contact me today for bespoke, natural solutions to your sleeplessness. Because sleep matters.
1 Irish et al, 2014: “The role of sleep hygiene in promoting public health: A review of empirical evidence”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4400203/
2 Vit D & Melatonin – 2018 – https://n.neurology.org/content/90/15_Supplement/P5.320
3 Yoga for Sleep – https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/8753-201512048753
4 Walker, M, 2018: ‘Why We Sleep. The new scence of sleep and dreams’ – ISBN: 978-0-141-98376-9