Exhaustion is an all-too-familiar feeling that seems to be so common nowadays. Your alarm goes off and you wake up feeling like you’ve had all but one minute of sleep. And if it's not yourself complaining about lack of sleep, we bet at least one of the closest people in your life vents to you about it.
This feeling of exhaustion seems to last for the entire 9-5 grind, the post-work spin class you ambitiously committed to, and the long walk home from the bus station. You’ve dreamt of bed all day, but when you finally hit the pillow, you can’t seem to find the off button and your mind goes to work, family, relationships and even social media. And so begins the repetitive and exhausting cycle of insomnia (pun intended).
Why is sleep so important
Sleep is an essential and important part of our daily cycle. This is the time when our bodies and minds can switch off, repair and restore balance and health. When this sleep cycle is inconsistent, or in some cases non-existent, it can take an extreme toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. Insomnia is present in many forms – from difficulty getting to sleep, wakeful and restless sleep, early waking before fully rested, and difficulty getting back to sleep after a disruption. In most cases, getting to sleep in the first place is the hardest feat.
To help you on your way, here are some of the best pre-sleep habits and routines you can cultivate for yourself so you can finally catch those restful, quality zzz's.
How to sleep through the night without waking up
1. Ditch the digitals a half hour before bed
How many of us scroll through our Instagram feed in bed trying to fall asleep? We tell ourselves we'll only look for five minutes, and one hour later we've Instagram-stalked our way to our ex-boyfriend’s mother’s niece’s best friend’s page. So, step 1 is simple: put down the phone. Bedtime is for switching off, so make a rule to leave all digital devices aside at least half an hour before hitting the sheets. What about your alarm you ask? Traditional alarm clocks do the job too! Keeping your phone away from your bedside table ensures you won't feel the urge to scroll or squint your eyes from that harsh light.
2. Rest and digest well before hitting the sack
Some people love a midnight snack, but your body is just not designed to digest heavy food at this time of day. Try not to eat a heavy meal for at least three hours before bedtime so you can make sure you don't toss and turn from a tummy ache.
3. Create a bedtime curfew
If you set an alarm to wake up, why not set a time to go to sleep? Try to aim to be in bed by 10.30pm and asleep by 11pm, as this is when your body’s natural rhythms want you to slow down and rest. If you are in the habit of going to bed later than this, bring your bedtime forward fifteen minutes at a time until you are back in sync with your body clock.
4. Practice breathing exercises
Slow down your brain waves by taking four deep breaths to the count of four and exhaling slowly to the count of four. Repeat this cycle three more times, sixteen breaths in all. Whether you drift off to sleep or not, this exercise can be highly restorative and restful – a study conducted by the University of Arizona's Center for Integrative Medicine shows that this breathing technique to help you sleep works fast because it allows the lungs to become fully charged with air, allowing more oxygen into the body, which promotes a state of calm (1).
5. Comfort is key
Make sure your bed and bedroom areas are places of comfort and calm. Get rid of clutter and mess and remove anything that activates your brain. You are in this space to rest, and this is exactly what vibe this space should exude! Grab yourself an extra comfy blanket, maybe have a lavender pillow spray by your side, and create that ritual of goodness to help you get better sleep naturally.
6. Let it go
An overactive mind is the enemy of sleep. Take some time to let go of the day. Review what happened from start to finish. If there are any unresolved issues from the day, write them down on a piece of paper and leave them there for now. They can be addressed in the morning with a fresh mind and new thoughts. Journaling is a popular mindfulness tool people use to help them understand their anxieties – so by jotting them down, you are actually acknowledging them but then placing them aside to be faced at a better time, not right before bed.
7. Cut the comparisons
Avoid comparing your sleep to this artificial idea of what 'good sleep' actually is. People vary in their needs and natural sleep tendencies, and many researchers actually believe that bi-phasic sleep patterns are the norm for humans, as opposed to the idea of an eight hour continuous period of sleep that we as a society have been conditioned to believe is 'normal' (2). You may need 8 hours a night to feel energized and functional, but someone else could do fine on just 5, and another might need 10. Acceptance has a powerful, calming and healing effect.
8. Relax your body and the mind will follow
Releasing any tension in the body can really help in getting to sleep fast. Systematically explore your body from the feet up when you're in bed, noticing how each part of your anatomy seems to be right now, and invite it to soften, release and expand. While your body relaxes, see if you can allow yourself to mentally stay in that half-way space between fully awake and sleep. Allow your thoughts to drift softly and watch them with a sense of curiosity, rather the getting sucked into them.
While what you do immediately before bed is important, how you operate during the day also plays a major role in how effectively you are able to wind down later. A lot of people collapse into bed after a hectic, relentless whirl of activities during a long day and expect there bodies and brains to switch gear immediately and pass out. All too often we fail to deal with the stresses and strains of the day, which in turn allows the tensions and pressures to subconsciously accumulate. By the time we flop into bed, our brains are overactive, and our systems are revved up with adrenalin and cortisol.
So how do we avoid this? What can we do during our days to prepare ourselves for a good night's sleep?
Healthy habits and home remedies for good sleep
1. Take time out to breathe
All it takes is one minute per hour to press pause, decompress and allow those stress chemicals to subside. Try to take a deep breath in and exhale slowly, counting to twelve as you do so. This exercise will cumulatively take a mere 24 minutes out of your entire day.
2. Get out in the green
Most people eat lunch at their desk in the office, however try to make a habit of being outside in nature, even if it’s only for ten minutes in a park on your lunch break. Find a spot and simply sit quietly with yourself. Bring your attention to your breathing and feel the firm connection between your feet and the ground. This active rest has a hugely beneficial effect on your mental and emotional wellbeing and will promote a good night’s sleep later.
3. Before getting horizontal, focus on the horizon
Allow your eyes to rest on the horizon as often as possible during the day. A study done by the University of California showed that this form of resting your eyes and breathing accordingly at this point stimulates an ancient reflex to bring us into a state of very wakeful but peaceful awareness (3).
4. Don't sweat the small stuff
When things or people upset you, don’t ride roughshod over your emotional reaction. Take a moment to scan through your body, noticing your breathing and identify where there is tension. Take a deep breath in and exhale slowly. If you can resolve the matter now, take steps to do that from this space of calm. If not, make a note of what steps you can take to resolve it later. Try not to accumulate emotional baggage.
In the wise words of Eckhardt Tolle, “Change the situation, leave the situation or accept the situation. Everything else is insanity.”
Any form of insomnia, whether mild or extreme, can be tremendously debilitating and stall your productivity in the workplace, at home and in your relationships. Nutritious food and good quality sleep are the primary sources of fuel needed to sustain a healthy body and mind. And just like your car won’t run on empty, your body won’t function without sleep. So if you suffer from disordered sleep patterns, try using the techniques mentioned and give yourself the best chance at a decent night’s rest.
If you continue to struggle with insomnia, please get in touch with your medical advisor.
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1. University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine: https://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/about/publications.html
2. US National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9845015
3. University of California: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/meditations-calming-effects-pinpointed-in-brain/