How do you fall asleep more easily?
If you're struggling to sleep at night, I have some tips to help. This blog looks at how the following tactics may achieve a restful, satisfying sleep:
- Turn off the lights
- use 'do not disturb' settings
- Distract yourself
- Fast from dinner to breakfast
- Keep yourself cool in bed
- Find your sleep rhythm.
1. Turn out the lights
Our body makes a hormone which has been called the 'Hormone of Darkness'1. Like a little Goth, it has also been called the 'Dracula hormone'.
Melatonin is its common name. It is produced in response to darkness and its function is to make us feel sleepy. What a useful and supportive hormone. It also works as an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant and an anticoagulant. Any bright light will inhibit the production of melatonin. The worst offender is the blue light found in electronic devices. As far as the brain is concerned, the blue light in your phone may as well be an interrogator's spotlight. Not relaxing. So, pull the blackout blinds – lock out all those halogen street lights. Switch off all the blue light devices. Summon your dark (hormone) side...
2. Do not disturb
Do you remember the last time you stayed in a good hotel? The good mattress after a long soak in a bath, the DO NOT DISTURB sign. So cosy! Did you sleep like a big baby? Why not plump up those pillows at home and set that DO NOT DISTURB button on your phone? All phones have them – it's a function that you can find in the settings. When you turn it on it will stop your phone from lighting up, vibrating or making so much as a blip. Be confident that all those Snapchats, WhatsApp groups and Tweets will be fine without you till morning.
3. Distract yourself
There is nothing more disheartening than lying awake in the dark stressing about how little sleep you are getting. Sleep angst is certainly not going to induce slumber. Find a knack or trick to distract yourself from worries.
- Imagine a small hot ball in your belly. Imagine that it grows a little smaller when you breathe in. And a bit bigger when you breathe out. Imagine that its warmth is spreading out, radiating a little each time you breathe out. Try to do this until the ball is covering your entire body. Feel its warmth radiate all the way to the tips of your fingers and toes.
- Name three boy's names and three girl's names beginning with A, then B, C and D.....keep going......Zzzzzzzz
4. Fast from dinner to breakfast
This may sound impossible if you are a couch picker or a midnight feaster. It makes sense though - the digestive system needs its rest too. Nothing will keep you awake like an unhappy digestive system.
If food is eaten close to bedtime, it will be digested, but very slowly. That means the meal just lies there. For those who suffer from acid reflux, this is not ideal. Gravity is playing a role here too because sleeping people are lying down and acid from the stomach can flow back into the throat more easily. Acid clearance is slow to happen. It hangs around for longer and makes suffering far more likely. All that acid doesn't just give you heartburn. It can cause wheezing and a cough.
Eating at night also stops the digestion from carrying out important work. Repair work is done at this time, but also a type of housekeeping. This is called Migratory Motor Complex, which sounds like a car rally venue but is actually a self-cleaning mechanism. This process starts about 90 minutes after a meal. The small intestines push every little crumb and bacteria along. It gets sent to the large intestine and beyond. The movement is like a wave, this is similar to the way an earthworm moves. Sometimes this can be a noisy process and it sounds like a growl in your tummy. This housekeeping is important. We don't want bacteria and waste products hanging around in our small intestine. Here, it can cause all sorts of digestive havoc and may cause Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).
So, brush your teeth after your dinner. You won't starve. Treat your tummy to a good night's sleep.
5. Keep yourself cool in bed
Overheating will disturb sleep and will reduce both Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Slow Wave Sleep (SWS)2. As well as disturbing your sleep, being too hot will make you sweat more. This increases your chances of waking up dehydrated. Does a dry mouth sound familiar?
It's really important to make sure that bed covers are not too heavy. Couples who share a bed may have very different heat settings. My partner is only happy under the heaviest winter duvet which would reduce me to a soggy mess. Separate duvets – I recommend! Hormonal fluctuations can cause the body's thermostat to go bananas. The herb sage can be really helpful in menopause. It can help with the symptoms of hot flushes and excess sweating.
REM or Rapid Eye Movement is our dreaming stage of sleep. We can be quite active and near to waking during this. During REM, all our thoughts are processed and our memories laid down.
SWS or Slow Wave Sleep is a deep sleep stage. Our heart rate slows during this stage of sleep. The immune system needs this sleep stage, and valuable repair work is done all over the body during it.
6. Find your sleep rhythm
We all have a body clock that operates best when we stick to a regular schedule. This is our circadian rhythm and it determines how well we function. Before we had clocks, we would have used natural light to decide how to organise our days. Our cavepeople selves would have risen at dawn and slept in the dark. The daily tasks were probably mundane and repetitive - finding stuff to eat and eating, for example. It can be a bit more complicated these days with our many choices and busy lives. A certain amount of flexibility may be fun, if not necessary. Chaos is another matter altogether – it can have a very disruptive effect. Insomniacs often have less routine in their lives3. Sleep routines work for babies and toddlers4 - going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every day. It has been found to improve the tempers of mothers too!
Sometimes it can take a while to establish a sleep routine, even when you try to do everything right. Dormeasan Sleep contains the herbs valerian and hops, both of which are useful sleeping aids. This tincture can be used before bed to help you get to sleep, whilst you're creating a regular routine and getting into the good habits I've suggested. There is no restriction to long-term use, and it's not addictive or contraindicated with other medications. Keep working on the sleep tricks, though: you're aiming for your best sleep ever!