Almost everybody knows that sleep is important- it’s easy to see the effects that a sleepless night have on our ability to function normally the next day. I, for one, know that if I don’t get more than eight hours sleep per night then I’m bound to wake up to a headache; foggy memory and slower response time (even foggier than normal!); poor decision making; irritability; and emotional roller coasters. I know how badly it impacts on my own health and functioning; so it worries me hugely to know that such a large amount of the population are living on so little sleep!
Why does it matter?
Many studies have shown why sleep is so important for your health- it is linked with all sorts of diseases and health conditions, such as obesity; hypertension; diabetes; mood disorders; immune function; and our life expectancy over all . However, I think that poor sleep is a world-wide health hazard, even without taking personal health into consideration.
Scientific studies have shown an alarming correlation between driver fatigue and car accidents, particularly in those accidents causing injury or death . The NZTA also found that between 2008 and 2010; 13% of all road deaths were caused by insufficient sleep on the part of the driver ; and a University of Auckland study by the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences found that 19% of car accidents causing death or hospitalisation could be attributed to driver fatigue . In August last year, a driver was found to have driven 300km while apparently asleep .
If this is the kind of problem we have with drivers being sleep deprived, then I can only imagine the potential dangers for people who are working in potentially dangerous jobs (such as operating machinery; pilots; train and bus drivers etc.) who may be putting others at risk by not being fully alert.
On a personal level, I have found that the correlations between the amount and quality of my sleep, and my performance are huge. Since sleeping better I have lost weight; am more effective at work; can work out longer and better without injury or pain; and am generally a much nicer person to be around. So I thought I would share my own sleep routine with you in the hopes that those of you who, like me, find themselves on the internet on nights they can’t sleep, can find a proactive and positive solution, rather than scrolling through more LOLcats GIFs 😉 Of course, we’re not all perfect, so sometimes I don’t manage to complete the full routine, or I don’t do it early enough or sometimes I just don’t do it at all, so don’t beat yourself up if it’s hard to get into the habit every night. However- it takes 21 days to change a habit so you could find yourself onto a good thing by February!
My Sleep Routine:
During the Day: Cut Caffeine; Have a Smaller Dinner; Keep Active
Try having a smaller or earlier dinner if you find yourself being kept awake or having poor sleep due to digestion. I also don’t drink any caffeine at all, but if you feel you must, try to cut it out after lunch time. I also find I sleep much better when I have been active during the day- particularly when I have been outside. You know that feeling when you spend the day at the beach and you coma on your bed at dusk? There’s a reason for that! Get into a groove with nature by spending some time outside during the day time, and naturally winding things down as the sun goes to bed too!
Turn off or stop using electronic devices an hour before bed
The stimulating light, particularly the blue light from phones and computers really keeps me awake. So I try to make sure I wean myself off these as early in the night as possible. Also, if you can’t bring yourself to turn it off, try Do Not Disturb mode. I’m a serial worrier about my loved ones- so I hate the idea of people not being able to get through to me so if you’re on an iPhone you can also change your settings to allow calls from certain groups of your contacts, or allow repeated calls. You can do this by: Settings > Do Not Disturb > Allow Calls From/Repeated Calls; and you can also schedule in your bed time so you don’t forget.
Though they’re not for everyone, I personally find a herbal sleep supplement really useful. I use GO Healthy: Sleep Support and take two capsules an hour before bed. I also find Rescue Remedy is great to have in my bedside table drawer for times when I’m in bed and still have thoughts racing around.
Go to the bathroom!
TMI, I know, but save yourself getting up throughout the night and go to the bathroom before you go to bed. Of course, the other pet hate is getting up to get a glass of water, so keeping a water bottle next to the bed nips this in the bud.
I use an aromatherapy candle in my room, and a dim desk lamp if necessary, while going through the rest of my sleep routine. I find this really useful to calm my senses and signal my body that it’s sleep time. Lavender oil is great for sprinkling around the room, and particularly on your pillow.
Quietening a Busy Mind
If I am particularly busy or have things playing on my mind that will prevent me from sleeping, I like to write them down before bed. Writing up a quick To Do List is helpful to make sure that you won’t forget anything you think of during your quiet time. I also write down emotions or situations that are bothering me, and remind myself in the case of past events that mulling over them won’t change them. Write down the proactive action you can take to make things right if you have done or said something you’re unhappy about, otherwise acknowledge your emotion and write it down to worry about in the day time if necessary. If, like me, you’re most creative at night (hence why all my blogging gets done so late at night!) then it also helps to keep a note pad next to your bed to jot down ideas, rather than getting carried away with them as you’re trying to sleep.
I love to start and end my day with Yoga, and I particularly find it calming before bed. I do 15-20 minutes of my favourite poses to release tension and to address my problem areas to make sure I’m not being kept awake by pain. I love Cat and Cow and Baby Back Bends for my back; and I also use Pigeon pose (some know it as Swan pose) to loosen up my flutes and hips problem areas. Child’s pose and Happy Baby are also perfect for winding down. If I find I have too many thoughts racing around my head, I make sure that I play relaxing music to distract me and get into a good breathing pattern- I inhale for 6, hold for 2, and breathe out long and slow for 8. I just personally find this works for me, so have a play and see if you can find a breathing pattern that works for you.
This year I started writing one post-it note every night before bed, expressing gratitude for my day. There is always something to be grateful for, and it helps to find this so I can go to bed in a happy mood, even if during the day I haven’t felt so great. I initially wanted to write this all in a book to keep, but was initially put off by the price of all the pretty books I was looking at. I have also been taking photos on my phone and putting them in a private album on Facebook; so this could be an idea for those of you who would like to create a memento (though I wouldn’t recommend Facebooking during your sleep routine as aforementioned, so maybe do what I’m planning on doing and take photos during the day to print in batches and then match them up to your notes from the night.) Though, I have to admit, it is actually kind of nice having a wall of sticky notes, to remind myself just how lucky I’ve been so far this year, every time I walk into my room.
Back to aromatherapy, I have a gorgeous lavender sleep balm that I rub on my temples and under my nose once I’m in bed. I find self- massage is very relaxing, and especially great for those of us with aches and pains. I especially find I have a lot of neck pain which keeps me awake, so I like to use the sleep balm on my neck and give it a good massage while I’m in bed.
Now keep that deep belly breathing going and make your way to dream land!
Failing that- a few other ideas to try:
-Reading before bed- particularly some complex Non-Fiction or otherwise something quite dry
-Meditation- if the Yoga’s not enough, perhaps try a longer or more focussed meditation
-Prayer- for those of you who are religious (or even those who are not) sometimes this can be a good sleep aid. Even though I would no longer attach myself to a particular faith, I did find this useful when I was more religious, and sometimes still say prayers to whoever is listening!
-Warm milk- I personally don’t drink dairy milk; but if you do this works for babies and adults alike, so it could be worth a try.
-Relaxing music throughout the night: I know some people who just can’t sleep without music. I used to be one of them, so make yourself a play list if necessary to set the mood for some good Zs.
Edit: This site also has some great tips, many of which I practice myself without realising it!
Wishing you all a great night’s sleep- goodnight!