It seems that two of the biggest issues my friends and clients suffer from these days are anxiety and sleep problems, with the former often being the cause of the latter. So how can we calm the mind and help our body give us a better night’s sleep? Different methods work for different people but over the years I have picked up quite a long list of tips which I thought I would share with you.
Preparing your body and mind for bedtime
You would be surprised how many things you can do to let your mind and body know it’s time to wind down.
1. Warnings on sugar, caffeine and alcohol
Everyone has different thresholds but eating sugar before you go to bed is not only going to fire up your system, it will also create a sugar low a few hours into your sleep which will probably wake you up. Some people can’t eat sugar an hour before bed, others will find they need to leave it as much as five hours. The longer the better if you are having trouble sleeping. It is worth experimenting to see what works for you. With caffeine it is best to stick drinking it in the morning if you can’t avoid it completely, or try de-caffeinated coffee and tea bags. If you didn't know they were de-caffeinated you would find it hard to tell the difference. Alcohol also causes sugar surges and makes it hard to get into a deep sleep so if you can’t avoid it try to keep it to a minimum if you want to wake up feeling refreshed.
2. Tryptophan rich foods
Eating supper early and then having a small bedtime snack helps maintain sugar levels during the night. Making your bedtime snack a tryptophan rich food such as an oatcake with marmite, peanut butter, a slice of turkey or chicken is even better. A banana, a handful of almonds or a bowl of cereal (as long as not a sugar laden cereal) with milk is also good. There is more information on tryptophan foods to be found at: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/food-and-sleep
Valerian and Chamomile teas are calming. Just make sure you don’t have too big a cup or you may find you need to get up in the night. There are also two other great bed time teas on the market, Snore & Peace by Clipper and Night Time by Pukka. They can usually be found either in your local health food shop or supermarket.
4. Warm bath
A warm bath (not too hot) before bed helps, especially if you add some Epsom Bath Salts or Himalayan Bath Salts and a few drops of lavender oil and/or any of the essential oils listed below. A bath before bedtime is a signal to your body that it is time to wind down.
5. Essential oils
You can also put a drop of essential oils on a cloth next to your bed, use a room diffuser or add a few drops to your bath. Good oils for sleep are:
6. Pillow spray
This Works do a very good Deep Sleep pillow spray – see link below. Many friends have reported that it really does work! http://www.thisworks.com/deep-sleep-pillow-spray.html#sthash.31pahEiQ.dpbs
7. Legs up the wall!
One of the most effective yoga positions for sleep is lying on the floor with your legs up the wall before bedtime, whether for just a few minutes, ten minutes or longer. This pose is called Viparita Karani and you can see how to do it with the link below. If you have lower back problems placing a pillow or bolster under your hips is also helpful.
8. Avoid technology
So many of us are guilty of checking our phone or iPad in bed or, worse still, when we wake in the night. This is a really bad idea and in an ideal world neither of these should be allowed in the bedroom. I find that hard so, as a compromise, I now set my morning alarm on my phone before I get into bed and then don’t pick it up again until the alarm goes off in the morning. If you can find a way to either minimise or cut out technology in the bedroom that will really help. You would be amazed how much these things fire up our brains.
Do you wake and then struggle getting back to sleep?
Some of the tips below might work for you:
9. Keep your clock covered
Cove your clock face by placing something in front of it before you turn your light off top stop yourself looking at the time when you wake up. It might sound odd but I think this is one of the most important tips because the minute you check the time your brain will start fretting – “It is so early, why have I woken now? I have so long to go before morning”, or “ugh, it is too early to get up but if I don’t get back to sleep soon it will be too late and I will wake up groggy” and so it goes on... It is worth being strict and making sure you can’t see the time to give you the best possible chance of getting back to sleep.
10. Seven/eleven breathing This breathing technique seems to work well for so many people. The main aim is to breathe out for longer than you breathe in as this calms the mind and slows the heartbeat to induce sleep. Some people say this sends you to sleep immediately. Whether it does or not, it generally allows you to fall asleep shortly after you stop, even if not immediately. I often think "this is not working" then realise the next morning that I must have gone back to sleep very soon after.
11. Relaxation tapes
A relaxation or hypnotherapy tape can also be useful at calming the over active brain, helping you get back to sleep. Caroline Outterside does a wonderful version – see below – which will hopefully result in you dropping off before you get to the end, or soon after.
Daily activities to improve sleep
Taking some time out in the day to do any of the suggestions below is bound to help.
A little physical exercise daily helps tire the body so that you sleep better at night, whether it is going to the gym or walking the dog, choose something that suits your lifestyle. If you can get some fresh air at the same time, even better, as it helps sleep and increases feelings of well being.
If you can take regular yoga classes that is fantastic but if that is too time consuming or expensive even one class a week can make a big difference to your sleep. If you only do one class a week you can still continue to practice at home the rest of the week, if you feel inclined. A Friday night Restorative Yoga class can be a wonderful way to close the week and start your weekend and help you wake up refreshed on Saturday morning.
Meditation is known to work wonders for sleep. If you are not familiar with meditation or mindfulness it may be worth finding a course locally or downloading some of the apps. There are many different types of meditation on the internet which can be downloaded for free. You don’t need to take a course or be an expert, you can simply listen to guided meditations if that suits you better. In addition to the Caroline Outterside relaxation tape mentioned above, Solara An-Ra also does a wonderful guided mediation taking you on a journey into a forest. You can listen to her free mediation here: http://www.solara.org.uk/userfiles/files/03_Earth_Connection_(A_Guided_Journey).mp3
Later in the year I plan to launch some of my own guided meditations as well as start running some simple meditation courses for all ages. I will keep you posted.
Homeopathy can also be very helpful with sleep issues and a whirring mind. For women of a certain age waking with night sweats can be an issue and homeopathic remedies are incredibly effective in this area too. It may take one or two attempts to get exactly the right remedy but once you do, problem solved, so well worth making the effort. Also, at risk of being the bearer of bad tidings, alcohol usually increases night sweats.
See which of these tips appeal to you and give them a go. The more the better of course. If you have any questions feel free to ask me and I will help where I can. Please note that these are simply suggestions, so if you have a serious problem it is always wise to seek professional guidance from your doctor.
Equally, if anyone has found other methods which work well for them please share them in them in the comments box below as they may be useful for others.