Considering that sleep is something that we all do, it’s such a personal and different experience to every individual. There are those of who can sleep anytime and anywhere recharging on just a 30-minute power nap, those who need their full 8 hours and then those (such as myself) that just don’t sleep all that well. A good night’s sleep is not something I take for granted and it’s definitely not something that I can guarantee will happen. In my quest to find the recipe for the perfect night’s sleep I’ve tried every recommendation out there. There are certain habits that are guaranteed to ruin a good night’s rest for me, but ultimately it’s the ability (or lack of) to disconnect and switch my mind off that is my roadblock to a perfect night’s slumber. Due to my lack of sleep, I’ve had plenty of time to think about what my tips might be and whilst these are by no means scientifically proven or guaranteed to work every night, they are just some of the few things I find helpful and therefore would like to share with other fellow insomniacs!
1. Stimulants – avoid like the plague and this includes everything – caffeine (after about 2pm), alcohol, cigarettes, TV, smartphones and laptops (for at least a couple of hours before bed). The blue light will keep your brain active in much the same way as a cup of coffee and if you are watching something exciting or nerve wracking late at night your nervous system isn’t going to be primed for resting and recovering! I made the mistake of catching up on the last episode of True Detective one night and couldn’t fall asleep for hours!! (Great series though!)
2. Start preparing your body and your mind for rest at least 60 minutes before you get into bed. You can’t be rushing around doing chores and writing emails until 11pm and then hop straight into bed and expect to fall asleep. Winding down takes time – try using lamps, candles or low lighting rather than bright central ceiling lights, have a warm bath or shower and maybe have a hot herbal tea (chamomile, mint or fennel are nice and relaxing).
3. Try and get into bed at least 30 minutes before you’d ideally like to be asleep, this help to take the pressure off trying to fall asleep straight away. Read a book in bed; I’m a bit of a dinosaur and prefer an old fashioned book with a bed side lamp. Everyone has their preference but for me, escaping into a fictional novel helps me disconnect and move my mind away from the day, if I don’t read (even for just 10 minutes) I know that I’ll struggle to nod off. The last 3 books I’ve just ready were all great (I’ve listed them at the bottom)
4. Make a list, if there are things you have to do, people you need to call, emails you need to send etc – write it down before you get into bed. Maybe even keep a note pad and pen by your bed so you can jot things down if they are going through your mind whilst your trying to drift off.
5. Pull your sheets or duvet back and open your window (just a crack in winter) for 15 minutes before you go to bed to help clear any stuffiness from the central heating. If you’ve had a hot bath or shower your core body temperature will be a little higher and then slipping into a cool bed will make you feel more lethargic and sleepy. Epsom salts are fantastic for helping your body relax and easing achy muscles and joints. Experts claim that the magnesium in the salts can be absorbed into the skin and this helps to boost production of serotonin (calm and relaxing hormone) as well as counterbalance the effects of increased stress hormones. If you can’t face having a bath, pop your PJ’s on the radiator for 10 minutes. I also like to have clean feet – don’t ask me why, but getting into bed with grubby feet makes me feel agitated!
6. Along a similar theme to the Epsom salts; aromatherapy oils can also have a relaxing effect. Lavender mist that you can spray on your pillow or a lavender balm that you could rub along your pressure points can also invoke a calm and relaxed feeling. Like I said, the scientific evidence behind this may be minimal, however at best you may find it helps you fall asleep, at worst you will have a nice smelling pillow for several days after.
7. If you can’t fall asleep and you are getting frustrated both with yourself (and the person snoring next to you), get up and distract yourself. For me, this is to get up and have a swig of milk (yes from the carton, please don’t judge me!) and go back to bed. I wouldn’t recommend doing anything that will stimulate you further, but just something simple that will take your mind off sleep and allow you to go back to bed and get comfy may just help.
8. White noise – I first discovered this after I had my daughter. In our sleep deprived desperate attempts to get her to sleep (and stay asleep) we sat in the bathroom with the shower running and she zonked out! Whilst running your shower all night might not be terribly eco-friendly, there are range of apps out there that will provide these sounds for you (Sound Sleeper and White Noise Lite are both family favourites). The monotonous sound of the hairdryer, rainstorms, washing machine, waves etc are enough to drive some people up the wall, but for others are very soporific and can help to shut out disturbing noise (maybe from your neighbours or a street party down the road) but also slow down the mind and zone out.
9. Breathing exercises and meditation – this really should be at the top of my list as it’s without a doubt one of the most effective things I do to help me switch off. Focusing on your breath and counting to 5 as you inhale and exhale will slow the body down and not only will you shut out other thoughts as you count, you’ll also stimulate the ‘rest and recovery’ pathway of the body helping you to fall into a deeper state of relaxation (and then hopefully sleep). I like to lie in what yogis would call ‘Shavasana’ (or corpse pose), but resting your hands on your chest or belly can also help keep you tuned into the rhythm of your breathing. If you find this a struggle, there are plenty of guided meditation and sleep apps out there (of course).
10. And last but not least – don’t worry about it! If you aren’t falling asleep, try not to worry about the hours of sleep you aren’t getting and just relax. Even though you aren’t sleeping, simply lying in bed and being inactive will be helping your body to recover. Once I’d learnt this, it helped me to overcome the stress and frustration I felt whilst I tried to send myself off to sleep. Quietening the mind is the biggest barrier for many insomniacs out there and whilst it may be impossible to block out all thoughts as you try and go to sleep, simply accepting them and placing them on a ‘cloud’ and letting them drift on could be enough to let you wind down and gradually bring those thoughts to a gradual stop.
Sleep tight Xx
The last 3 books I read were
1. The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins). As good as the hype, really enjoyed it, despite finding Rachel incredibly frustrating!
2. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho). Devoured this in a day. Amazing, really thought provoking and definitely a book I will read time and time again.
3. The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah). I read this in 2 days whilst on holiday and was very glad to be wearing big sunglasses. Such a tear jerker and an important reminder of the sacrifices people made during the war, really beautifully written. I would highly recommend, but make sure you have tissues at the ready.