Written by Beth Alexander.
There’s nothing better than that feeling of waking with the morning light from a long and untroubled sleep. We feel refreshed, steady, energised and enthusiastic to welcome in a new day. A good night’s sleep is such an important key to health and happiness on so many levels.
If you have trouble sleeping it can disrupt pretty much all aspects of life. When we’re sleep deprived we often feel grouchy and less tolerant of others and ourselves. Problems are blown out of proportion and our thinking could become foggy and certainly less effective. This can disrupt our work, relationships and also our health.
Interestingly, a good night’s sleep could well start with a morning routine. Studies have shown that those who get plenty of natural daylight in the morning fall asleep much more easily at night.
So throw open the curtains each morning, and if you can get outside first thing. This could be for a morning walk or simply coffee in your garden. If you work in an office, try to take a morning tea break outside and open up the shutters to let the natural light flood in.
Stick to a regular rhythm
One of the most effective ways to develop good sleeping habits is to have a regular sleep and wake up time. The ideal hours for sleep for most are between 10pm and 6am. And there’s science to back this up. For most of us, at about 9pm the body starts to produce melatonin. This is produced in the pineal gland and lets the body know that it’s time to Getting a good night’s sleep is all about living in tune with our circadian rhythm. This means basing our lives around the natural cycles of day and night and the seasons. It is simple really, but our modern lives often run counter-intuitively to the logic of nature. Here are some ways that we can help to bring ourselves back in sync.
Let the light in
Wind down and rest. Melatonin plays an important role in regulating our circadian rhythm.
Modern day lives can be somewhat sedentary. We drive to work and sit at a desk then drive home and sit on the sofa. We may feel drained but our bodies are not always tired. Using our energy by getting active will naturally make us more inclined to sleep.
From 9pm when the body naturally begins to prepare for sleep we should work with it as much as we can. Computer, TV and phone screens can all disrupt our circadian rhythm and our sleep patterns.
It is best to keep your bedroom completely device free. No watching TV in bed or scrolling through your phone. Even electronic power lights can disrupt sleep. Make your bedroom a tranquil space with low lighting as you prepare for sleep and then complete darkness when its time for lights out.
Stress, the breath and meditation
Stress and lack of sleep often feed one into the other. We’re stressed out, so we can’t sleep. We haven’t had enough sleep, so the pressures of life feel even more stressful. It’s a Catch 22 situation and one that it is not easy to extract ourselves from. Making small changes to counter stress is the only way to move forward here.
When you do find yourself lying awake at night, mind racing from thought to thought there are some useful tools to turn to. Meditation and the breath can be extremely powerful. Try taking longer, steadier and fuller breaths. Perhaps introducing a count of four in, six out. Making the out breath longer sends a signal to the nervous system that it is time to rest.
Meditation can also work wonders. Draw your mind away from its back and forth and instead settle on a tranquil scene. This could be a garden or a lake, anything that works for you and feels calming. When your mind wanders, as it naturally will, gently bring it back.
Knowing these tools is all very well, but they can be difficult to action in the haze of insomnia. This is when Yoga Nidra can be a great resource. Yoga Nidra is a form of meditation or yogic sleep. There are a myriad of Yoga Nidra recordings available to stream or download online. Find a few that align with you and keep them on standby.
Eating and drinking
What we eat and drink affects our systems profoundly and has a great impact on sleep. It is far better to eat our larger meals at breakfast and lunch and then keep it light in the evening. Going to bed on a full stomach can be uncomfortable and disrupts sleep. Likewise, caffeine in coffee and tea and excessive alcohol. Instead sipping on a calming herbal tea in the evening can help us to digest and calm the system. Teas with camomile and lavender both promote calm and sleep.
An evening routine
As mentioned, the body naturally starts to power down from about 9pm. So help it along its way with soothing practices. Perhaps with a gentle restorative yoga, a long bath with lavender and candles or a cup of coco and a book. This could be anything that switches your mood in the direction of calm and sleep.
Reset your internal clock
Think about how tied to the clock most of us are in our daily lives. How many times do you check the time, your appointments, your diary, every day? So, how about the radical idea of putting it all away and following the rhythm of your internal clock?
This would be tricky to do on a normal week at home. So a 3-4 day camping trip is ideal. Put away any demands on your time and listen to what you are naturally compelled to do. You’ll likely find that you get sleepy at nightfall and wake early and refreshed with the sun. Especially as you’ll be cooking, eating and spending the day outside in nature. This kind of simple reset can do wonders for our sleeping patterns and for our general wellbeing too.