You know the familiar feeling. Your alarm goes off at the crack of dawn, and you wake up feeling like you’ve had all but one minute of sleep. This feeling of exhaustion seems to last for the entire 9-5 grind, the post-work spin class you ambitiously committed to, and the long walk home from the bus station. You’ve dreamt of bed all day, but when you finally hit the pillow, you can’t seem to find the off button and your mind goes to work, family, relationships and if you’re a millennial – social media.
And so begins the repetitive and ironically exhausting cycle of insomnia.
Sleep is an essential and important part of our daily cycle. This is the time when our bodies and minds can switch off, repair and restore balance and health. When this sleep cycle is inconsistent, or in some cases non-existent, it can take an extreme toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. Insomnia is present in many forms: difficulty getting to sleep, wakeful and restless sleep, early waking before fully rested, and difficulty getting back to sleep after a disruption. In most cases, getting to sleep is the hardest feat.
Here are a few key healthy pre-bedtime habits that you should be adopting to give yourself the best chance at a good night’s rest:
DITCH THE DIGITALS
How many of you scroll through your Instagram feed whilst lying in bed willing sleep? You tell yourself you’ll only look for five minutes, and one hour later you have Instagram-stalked your way to your ex-boyfriend’s mother’s niece’s best friend’s page and you’re obsessing over why your ex liked the photo she took over the burrito she ate at lunch. Step 1: put down the phone. Bedtime is for switching off, so make a rule to leave all digital devices aside at least half an hour before hitting the sheets.
REST AND DIGEST
Everyone loves a midnight snack, however your body is not designed to digest heavy food at this time of day. Try not to eat a heavy meal for at least three hours before bedtime.
You set an alarm to wake up, why not set a time to go to sleep? Aim to be in bed by 10.30pm and asleep by 11pm as this is when your body’s natural rhythms want you to slow down and rest. If you are in the habit of going to bed later than this, bring your bedtime forward fifteen minutes at a time until you are back in sync with your body clock.
Slow down your brain waves by taking four deep breaths in to the count of four and exhaling slowly to the count of four. Repeat this cycle three more times, sixteen breaths in all. Whether you drop off to sleep or not, this exercise is highly restorative and restful.
COMFORT IS KEY
Make sure your bed and bedroom areas are places of comfort, calm and space. Get rid of clutter and mess and remove anything that activates your brain. You are going here to rest, and this is exactly what vibe this space should exude.
LET IT GO
An overactive mind is the enemy of sleep. Take some time to let go of the day. Review what happened during the finish to start. If there are any unresolved issues from the day, white them down on to a piece of paper and leave them there for now. They can be addressed in the morning with a fresh mind and new thoughts.
CUT THE COMPARISONS
Avoid comparing your sleep to this artificial ideal of what good sleep actually is. People vary in their needs and natural sleep tendencies, and many researchers actually believe that bi-phasic sleep patterns are the norm for humans, as opposed to the idea of an eight hour continuous period of sleep that we as a society have been conditioned to believe is “normal”. Also, avoid making calculations in your head about how much sleep you have or haven’t had. Acceptance has a powerful, calming and healing effect.
RELAX YOUR BODY AND THE MIND WILL FOLLOW
There are many other phases of consciousness that are restful. Release any tension in your body. Systematically explore your body from the feet up, noticing how each part of your anatomy seems to be right now, and invite it to soften, release and expand. Whilst your body relaxes, see if you can allow yourself to mentally stay in that half way space between fully awake and sleep. Allow your thoughts to drift softly and watch them with a sense of curiosity, rather the getting sucked in to them.
Whilst what you do immediately before bed is important, how you operate during the day also plays a major role in how effectively you are able to wind down later. A lot of people collapse into bed after a hectic, relentless whirl of activities during a long day and expect there bodies and brains to switch gear immediately. All too often we fail to deal with the stresses and strains of the day, which in turn allows the tensions and pressures to subconsciously accumulate. By the time we flop into bed, are brains are overactive, and our systems are revved up with adrenalin and cortisol. So how do you avoid this?
TAKE TIME OUT
All it takes is one minute per hour to press pause, decompress and allow those stress chemicals to subside. Take a deep breath in and exhale slowly, counting to twelve as you do so. This exercise will cumulatively take a mere 24 minutes out of your entire day.
GET OUT IN THE GREEN
We know it is tempting to eat at your desk, however try to make a habit of being outside in nature, even if it’s only for ten minutes in a park on your lunch break. Find a spot and simply sit quietly with yourself. Bring your attention to your breathing and feel the firm connection between your feet and the ground. This active rest has a hugely beneficial effect on your mental and emotional wellbeing and will promote a good night’s sleep later.
BEFORE GETTING HORIZONTAL, FOCUS ON THE HORIZON
Allow your eyes to rest on the horizon as often as possible during the day. This stimulates an ancient reflex to bring us into a state of very wakeful but peaceful awareness.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
When things or people upset you, don’t ride roughshod over your emotional reaction. Take a moment to scan through your body, noticing your breathing and identify where there is tension. Take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. If you can resolve the matter now, take steps to do that from this space of calm. If not, make a note of what steps you can take to resolve it later. Don’t accumulate emotional baggage.
In the wise words of Eckhardt Tolle “Change the situation, leave the situation or accept the situation. Everything else is insanity.”
Any form of insomnia, whether mild or extreme, can be tremendously debilitating and stall your productivity in the workplace, at home and in your relationships. Healthy food and healthy sleep are the primary sources of fuel needed to sustain a healthy body and mind. And just like your car won’t run on empty, your body won’t function without sleep.
So if you suffer from disordered sleep patterns, try using the techniques mentioned and give yourself the best chance at a decent night’s rest.