Hit the hay and can’t fall asleep? Toss and turn and wake up tired? Frustrated and EXHAUSTED? You aren’t alone! Most people will have trouble sleeping at some point in their life. Read on for 15 ways to improve your sleep TONIGHT!
Insufficient sleep or poor quality sleep affects everything from your emotions, thinking and moods to your concentration, hormones, and weight management. It makes daily life … HARD. It impacts all biological functions which are at the core of optimum mental and physical health.
A lack of sleep also contributes to lowered immunity because the body isn’t getting the chance to complete the vital repair work it normally would. This therefore means you experience the dreaded feeling of being ‘run down’ and are more vulnerable to attack from all manner of lurgies.
Did you know sleep deprivation was (and still is!) used as a form of torture by many government authorities the word over? Yes, a lack of good sleep, or in the case of torture, any sleep, is THAT bad.
So, what can you do? READ ON to find out 15 ways to improve your sleep TONIGHT!
Avoid blue light for an hour before bed
Blue light from mobiles and other devices is a huge problem when it comes to sleep. The bright light interrupts our body’s circadian rhythm, that is, our internal body clock which regulates sleep and wake cycles. The light effectively tricks our brain into thinking it’s still day time and this in turn tells our brain that less melatonin is required. Melatonin is a hormone produced by our brain based on the amount of light detected by our eyes. With low levels of melatonin it can be much harder to switch off. If you want to improve your sleep get a regular alarm clock and keep your mobile OUT of the bedroom!
Engage in some quite time before turning out the lights
Calming activities including reading, listening to gentle music in headphones, meditation and filling in a gratitude diary all tell your body it’s time to slow down. Think sleep cues for babies… we put them in their pjs, wrap them up and may give them a dummy. This tells bub that it’s time for sleep. It’s basically the same for adults. Call it ‘setting the scene’.
Don’t have a hot shower right before bed
Many people think having a hot shower before bed will help improve their sleep. But, did you know that your body temperature needs to drop approximately 2-3 degrees to actually initiate sleep? By having a hot shower what you’ll do is increase your body temperature, thus increasing the cooling workload for your body. So whilst going and having a lot hot shower might feel great, it won’t help you head to zzzzzz land fast. Your best bet is to stick to a cooler shower earlier in the night.
Keep your room cool
Continuing on with temperature… be aware of how cool or warm your sleeping environment is. Too cool or too warm and you’ll not drift off easily at all. That’s why it’s so hard to sleep on those 30 degree summer nights! If you can keep your room at between 16c and 18c you give yourself the best possible chance of better sleep because brain activity slows with the drop in core body temperature.
Try to avoid eating a big meal before bed time
Interesting… have you ever heard people saying late night calories cause weight gain? From the research I’ve done for this blog, I’ve found that there is actually evidence both for and against that idea. Crazy right because day time calories and night time calories carry the same nutritional value. But what researches tend to focus on as far as pre-bed eating is the habitual nature of snacking on junk food as a contributor to weight gain. For more technical information check out this article but, suffice to say eating a huge meal late at night means more digestion work for your belly and possible heart burn when you try to get to sleep.
Drink plenty of water during the day
How many times have you got to dinner time and thought “I’m sooooo thirsty”? You know, that dry horrible feeling. Me? Heaps of times. Life is busy and you just forget to drink. I get it, but cramming our daily water needs in at the end of the day is a recipe for poor sleep. No one likes 2 hourly bathroom breaks right? Did you know also that caffeine and alcohol are ‘bladder stimulants’? Yep. So limiting your favourite beverages of a night will also help you get a more solid night's sleep.
Consider environmental distractions in your room
Distractions make sleep challenging, obviously. Things like excessive noise or light can be a real problem for some people. You may need to consider sleep aids like ear plugs or an eye mask. Wearing an eye mask creates total darkness which your brain will sense and react to, again, by way of increased melatonin production. They also stop you opening your eyes and being distracted by objects in your room. Also, consider clutter. Having a messy, disorganised sleep space creates chaos for your brain. It can compound feelings of hopelessness and overwhelm because it tells your brain that your work is never done which in turn can lead to other negative feelings like guilt and frustration. If you want to get on top of the mess and disorganisation, start small. A small change in just one area of your life could be all you need to improve your sleep!
What are you thinking so far? Feeling like these will help you improve your sleep? Read on for more!
Creating a routine around our sleep helps prevent erratic sleep patterns which can leave us feeling less than average. By picking a bed time and sticking to it as much as life allows, we are able to take back control of our body clock and enjoy the benefits of consistency. Never forget that a few small changes can have a huge impact for the better. If you’re trying to bring your bed time forward for example, don’t shift it 3 hours earlier on the first night and expect to nod off immediately. The key is to take small steps. Perhaps you could aim for 15 minutes earlier tonight, another 15 minutes earlier after a week or so and then a final shift over the following few weeks. Whatever you do, allow your body time to adjust. Like that famous quote “It won’t happen overnight but it will happen”.
One sure fire way to crash out of a night and to have better sleep, is to be physically exhausted. Exercise obviously has countless benefits for physical and mental health and on the sleep front, it’s a no brainer. The only real thing to remember here is that exercise shouldn’t be done late at night when you would be otherwise starting to settle down for the night. Doing high energy physical exercise late at night might leave you too energised and alert for sleep. Don’t forget exercise also creates an increase in the happy hormones like serotonin which does wonders for you mood and helps you to avoid mental health related distractions when trying to fall asleep.
As a Women’s Health Counsellor I am far from an expert in the nutrition and natural medicine arena. I like to stick to what I know so, I'm calling on my friend Jill at Dear Mother to help you out with some information on this front. Jill is a qualified Naturopath and Holistic Nutritionist based in Sydney. She helps women with a variety of health related challenges including, you guessed it, sleep problems! She can walk you through natural options for improving sleep including things like vitamin and mineral supplements and diet changes etc. Check out the Dear Mother website for more information. Jill is available for consultations in Miranda, Sydney or she can arrange a phone consultation at your request.
Get a health checkup
This one is so obvious that it’s easily forgotten. If you’ve tried making changes and doing things differently but still you find no relief from your sleep worries, speak to your Doctor. A Doctor can assess your physical health and look for any underlying health concerns that may be contributing to your sleep disruption. Many medical conditions and drugs affect our sleep so it’s worth having the conversation. Things like heartburn, nasal obstruction, sleep apnoea, diabetes, heart problems, chronic pain, arthritis, kidney diseases and anxiety disorders are known to be associated with sleep problems. Don’t ignore your body, listen to it. Book your appointment TODAY and improve your sleep tonight!
View sleep as the investment in your health that it is
Sleep isn’t a waste of time, or a luxury. It isn’t even an option. It is vital to life. So instead of prioritising it LAST, work backwards from bed time and only squeeze in what you can before retreating to your sleep sanctuary. I find myself actually looking forward to sleep, almost like it’s a reward for getting through my busy day. If you look at sleep as a ‘chore’ or something you just can’t do, you set yourself up to fail by overthinking.
Get stuff out of your head
Do you get into bed and turn off the lights only to find BOOM… your brain wants to start its HIGH INTENSITY daily analysis? It wants to nit-pick everything and everyone from your day, it wants to worry and analyse what you could have and ‘should have’ done differently, it wants to plan for tomorrow. Next week, next month, next YEAR? It wants to catastrophise everything? What I would suggest is that you get a note book or journal and use it to get that stuff OUT of your head! You may like to write down a to do list for tomorrow, a prompt of things you need to look into or research, a list of things you need to buy or get. You may want to write down 3 things you are grateful for or 3 things you did well that day. Doing this will help clear you mind and take back your power from that wandering brain of yours.
In case you don’t know, affirmations are statements said with bold confidence which we use to affirm something positive. They allow us to create new neural pathways in our brain by interrupting unhelpful or untrue thoughts. Did you know that your brain doesn’t know the difference between reality and fiction? That it will believe, and find examples of, ANYTHING you tell it? By using positive self talk we shift our attention from the negative, therefore creating a different reality. If you are struggling with sleep, affirmations may help you create new, more helpful thoughts which will therefore bring relief from the brain chaos.
What you need to do is write some affirmations in a journal and say them a few times once you’re in bed. You may also like to say them out loud. Whatever you choose, do it your way and create affirmations that sit with you where you’re at right now in life. Here are some examples to try; “I am safe and warm”, “I am so grateful for…”, “I deserve this peaceful sleep”, “I choose peace”, “I love and am loved, “I have so much to look forward to”. Basically what you are doing is giving your body PERMISSION to sleep.
Enforce a problem free zone
If you want to improve your sleep you really have to set your own boundaries. Make a commitment that the bedroom is for POSITIVE only. No arguing, worrying, negativity or self-criticism. Your bedroom is your safe place. Your sanctuary. Somewhere you MUST reserve for peace, warmth and comfort. Going to bed should be something you look forward to, not something you dread. Use your imagination and think about the good things that come from being in bed… being relaxed, cozy and free of all troubles. Tune into your senses and ground yourself in reality by using good quality bedding, candles (carefully!) or diffusers to set the scene for rest and relaxation. Remember, after a long hard day sleep is your reward, physically and mentally.
(If you’re a Mum or a Carer you may also like to check out my article Women’s Health Tips 'n' Tricks for some more ideas on how to achieve better health and wellness that will help you improve your sleep.)
Let me know in the comments below if any of these tips help you get better sleep, I love hearing from my readers! And, as always, if you need some guidance or support, I’m here for you on your journey to better slumber! My services are available AUSTRALIA wide so wherever you are, I can help. x
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Erica has a passion for Women’s Health. She works with women who want to be heard, supported and empowered! Erica is a survivor of many life experiences. A Mum. A travel lover. A green thumb in training and an eternal optimist!