Making Sleep a Priority
Giving advice about sleep makes me feel a bit like a fraud. Why? Call me at 3am, and we can chat.
We all know how important sleep is. Or do we? After a rough night, you feel rotten, moody, unable to function. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to a greater risk of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, dementia, depression, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Yet, we only get through the day with coffee, drink to sedate ourselves, send what's apps at midnight, ignore our circadian rhythm, eat at all hours and don't get enough sunlight exposure. Mindsets are changing, but many people still don't consider sleep a priority and carry a lack of sleep like a badge of honour.
Some simple habit changes that can help improve your nights ...
How well we sleep at night, depends on how we start our morning and is influenced by the choices we make throughout the day. Are we in tune with our circadian rhythm and the day-night cycle? Do we wake when it's light and go to sleep when it's dark, spending as much time as possible outdoors? Or do we ignore how we evolved as humans and stay up late, artificially kept awake by bright light and binging on devices; too tired in the morning to get in some morning light and, more or less, living perpetually in artificial light?
- Wake up at the same time each day.
- Upon waking, instead of scrolling, choose a breathing exercise (I do 10min of Wim Hof every morning) or meditation
- Get out of bed for some stretching (or even a 30min yoga class!), the 5 Tibetan Rites or some dry brushing and a hot/cold shower
- Get some morning light - drink your coffee/tea by the (open) window or even outside. Drink a big glass of water.
- Start your day on a high.
- If you are a grumpy-bum in the morning, try a positive affirmation - put a smile on your face and say "today is going to be a good day". It may feel forced and fake, but it helps.
Get your Thoughts out of the Way
This is just my theory: we are so busy all day, bombarded with stuff and never have or take the time to just sit and think. Maybe that's why we wake up at night with our mind racing? Quiet meditation or really just sitting and doing nothing might help.
My top tip for mind races at 3am ... think of daffodils ... or anything else that is non-intrusive. Go for a walk in a meadow. Practice meditation etc (see below) during the day, it will help you to calm your mind at night.
Regular sleep time may be a bit boring, but the rock 'n' roll lifestyle is overrated and makes you look and feel drained and sick.
- Switch off the telly and phone at a reasonable hour. Consider glasses that block out the blue light coming off screens. It's the kind of light that keeps you awake.
- Dim the lights, maybe use candles or Himalayan salt lamps.
- Treat yourself like a small child with a proper wind-down: a bath, a book, meditation or some restorative stretches. Some people like journaling or writing down what they are grateful for.
- Go to bed at roughly the same time each night. Don't stay up too late.
The difference between night owls and larks is not as big as we tend to believe. Often, super late bedtime is due to habits like drinking caffeine late or staying up late because we work or binge watch and can't find an end. In his book The Circadian Code, Satchin Panda talks about a friend who took his colleagues (who considered themselves night owls) on a camping trip. With very little access to artificial light, they all became early birds!
Being a night owl or a lark is real but the difference between the two is not as big as we think. When studying the Amish, the rhythm of night owls was roughly two hours behind that of larks.
Our sleeping patterns are to some degree influenced by external factors and behaviours (artificial lights, caffeine, ...).
I was always a night owl that was later quite extreme brought on by a party lifestyle. Sinc having kids, that has completely shifted. I get up and get going and do so much during the day that I cannot function in the evening and need to go to bed before 10.
If you have trouble dozing off, try listening to a sleep story. My favourite one on the calm app is Stephen Fry telling me about Lavender Fields in the Provence. Or fancy a bit of ASMR? Try the Velveteen Rabbit.
On Mondays, I teach Yoga to Unwind and sometimes we do Yoga Nidra = Yogic Sleep. It is a guided meditation that puts you in this blissful state between wakefulness and sleep. Maybe join next time!
TRE stands for Trauma/Tension Release Exercise and afterwards you feel physically so relaxed and I sleep much better afterwards. I teach that every Friday at 10:30am, and occasionally Monday during the Yoga to Unwind at 6pm.
What is your bedroom like? Messy, stuffy, multi-functional, too bright?
- Tidy and transform it into an oasis of calm. Need help? Ask declutter expert Camilla ... check her website or send her an email
- Remove all sources of light. Cover up small lights emitted from electronics etc. Choose blackout curtains.
- No electronic devices (phones etc)
- Conduct your business from elsewhere. It's tempting to work from bed but resist. Your bed is for sleeping and making love and cuddling only.
- Open the window at night and get in fresh air (don't breathe farts and stale air). A bedroom should be nice and cool at night.
Knocking oneself out with pills or alcohol is not the same as getting a good night sleep. You may have noticed that, waking up, parched and feeling horrid, in the wee hours of the morning. Did you know that excessive alcohol consumption also messes up your REM sleep? REM sleep is the place where you fight demons, run away from scary things, meet weird people, and sometimes your teeth fall out (welcome to my dream world). It is a bit like a shrink. You work through stuff and consolidate memories. Maybe that's why we wake up with hanxiety after a boozy night? But that's just my theory. And yes, even one glass is detrimental to your sleep.
Caffeine is another substance that can interfere with your sleep. It takes about 10 hours before caffeine leaves your system. It is best avoided after 12. Green and black tea and chocolate are also stimulating substances!
No, snoring and breathing through the mouth at night is not normal, cute or harmless. It is disruptive, for yourself and others, and sleep apnea is outright dangerous. You stop breathing and choke at night and feel very tired during the day. Imagine the long-term effects this has.
Reasons for snoring or sleep apnea could be too much weight or too small nasal passages, but often it is bad breathing habits. Sort this out. You will eat fewer bugs, sleep deeper, be less prone to sore throats and chest infections and enjoy better health and mood in general. Try breathing exercises during the day. Practice nasal breathing. Always. Even when you walk up a hill and get out of breath. Nasal strips can open small nasal passages and make breathing easier.
It may sound weird but consider sleep strips to keep your mouth shut at night. Your body and family members will thank you for it.
Further Reading: Breath (book)
Film scenes where people rummage the fridge at night 'because they can't sleep' are just so wrong. The body needs to rest and repair itself. Eating just before (or during!) sleeping hours when your digestive system needs to have a break, messes with your sleep-wake cycle and can also cause weight gain and inflammation. We cannot sleep and digest at the same time. Food that we consume just sits there. Yikes. You are more likely to build up acid and suffer from acid reflux.
Ideally, stop eating a few hours before bedtime. Eat well. Junk and too much sugar winds you up and reduces the quality of your sleep.
Drinking: Stay hydrated during the day and avoid too much liquid before bedtime or you will spend more time walking to the loo than sleeping.
Further Reading: The Circadian Code (book)
Menopause, hormones, pain or weak bladders can prevent you from sleeping. Consider consulting experts in these area as I don't know enough about it. I sometimes take cranberry extract tablet hoping to strengthen my bladder but it might be just in my head that this is working.
Chinese Medicine tells you which organ is responsible for waking you up at a certain time each night. I don't know anything about Chinese Medicine but I find it very interestin. For me, it would be the lungs ... after them having taken a good beatin during Covid, it really could be the reason!
All Books and podcasts are super easy to read and listen to and will be worth your while.
Satchin Panda: The Circadian Code (book)
James Nestor: Breath (book)