I have been reading a lot about sleep recently - studying books, articles, research and browsing online forums. Now in general I have always been what I would say is a good sleeper and a deep sleeper, but the arrival of a new baby has pushed my own sleep patterns all over the place and made me really appreciate what others feel when they suffer from sleep deprivation, insomnia or other sleep-related issues. Lack of sleep seems to be a common problem with students in my yoga classes and something I'm not sure we place quite enough importance on here in the UK.
I am interested in ways to catch up on sleep (yoga nidra!), what happens to the body when you don't get enough sleep and ways to establish good sleep habits and routines. So in this blog I wanted to share some handy tips for building good sleep habits. These are simply ways to help yourself to get to sleep and to get better quality rest when you do drop off.
1. Go to bed when tired
Obvious I know, but when you feel tired - go to sleep. Many people seem to have the bad habit of staying up later than expected watching TV, working or just chatting with others when really their body is crying for rest and sleep. When it gets to that time of night and you are feeling sleepy, head upstairs and get into bed.
2. Follow a bedtime routine
Following a routine as you are going to bed and creating a consistent wake-up time every morning, even at the weekends, is essential for good quality sleep. Your body and mind will become programmed to fall asleep at a certain time if you begin a bedtime routine 30-60 minutes before your sleep time. And then you will be ready to wake up at your chosen wake-up time too - hopefully rested and refreshed. Now let me stress that you need to keep it consistent every day of the week regardless of whether you are working or not.
3. Avoid eating late
It is always helpful to avoiding eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime. Sleeping on a full stomach can be uncomfortable and cause digestive problems but it can also mean that your body is focused on food rather than sleep and it can be hard to drop off.
4. No caffeine late afternoon - evening
Caffeine is a common 'cure' for tiredness, and trust me I do love a coffee in the morning. But caffeine can work against the body's natural sleep patterns when consumed late in the afternoon or evening when the body wants to wind down and relax ready for bed. I would recommend avoiding caffeine entirely from late afternoon onwards. Why not try a camomile tea or herbal infusion instead? If you know that you are reliant on caffeine to get through your day I would also suggest cutting down gradually - weaning yourself off this drug or cut down to 1-3 cups per day so that your body is not craving caffeine when you wake up or relying on it just to function.
5. A suitable space to sleep in
Keeping the bedroom quiet, dark and a comfortably cool temperature for sleeping in will help you to get good rest. Unnatural lights (such as that from a TV, digital clock or phone) can interrupt your sleep patterns as well. Why not try black-out curtains so you have a lovely dark space to sleep in? I would also make sure that you have the right weight bedding for the time of year, that your bed has the correct type of mattress for your body and that you have the right type and number of pillows so that your back, neck and entire body are entirely comfortable.
6. Regular exercise
Regular exercise during the day will also help you to sleep better at night. I know myself that if I have gone for a long walk outside, been to the gym, practiced yoga or done any form of exercise for at least 20 minutes in the day I sleep better. Exercising the body regularly each day is a great habit to get into generally but has this added benefit of helping you to sleep.
7. Try again later
Now if for any reason you are unable to fall asleep after 20 minutes of trying, go to another room and read or do something quiet like listen to an audio book until you feel sleepy. There is nothing worse than sitting in bed and 'trying' to sleep. Just abandon ship, do something else for 30 minutes, stop worrying and occupy your mind with something relaxing, then return back to bed.
8. Unplug from technology 60 mins before sleep
Now this is a biggie for me and one I feel many people forget. I believe that it is essential to turn off ALL electronic devices when you go to bed, including mobile phones. I am quite opinionated in that I believe TVs have no place in the bedroom (where you sleep) and the same goes for all technology now. Turn it all off, unplug from everything for at least 60 minutes before bed. You need to unplug from the buzz, from the input and from the noise so that you can allow your brain to wind down and become calm ready for sleep. No TV just before bed I'm afraid!
9. Adopt a regular relaxation practice
Training the body and mind to relax at other times of the day can also be a great way for you to boost your ability to get to sleep and get better quality rest. Finding a regular relaxation practice such as mindfulness meditation, Yoga Nidra (guided relaxation), yoga, gentle stretches, Tai Chi, or pranayama (breathing exercises) can help you to calm your mind and teach yourself the art of relaxation. Why not try my free 10 minute guided relaxation as a starting point? Try listening to it 7 days in a row to build up relaxation as a habit - do this at another time of the day to bedtime (e.g. just after work) and see if it helps. Once you have started this habit you can build up to longer relaxations such as the 20-30 minute Yoga Nidras on THIS PAGE of my website.
10. Prioritise your sleep above all else
Can you honestly say that you prioritise your sleep above all else? If not, then try it. Block out your diary, set a bedtime alarm, or do whatever you need to do to prioritise your sleep. I know many people that set an alarm to wake up but very few that set an alarm to go to bed. For you to get the right amount of sleep for you and to feel rested and refreshed in the morning you need to put sleep at the top of your list and ringfence that 8 hours (or whatever time you allocate) to sleeping, compromising for no-one or nothing (well at least 95% of the time anyway!)
If you are reading this and feel that even one or two of these tips resonate with you, then give them a go. Try one tip at a time and see the difference it can make.
I hope these 10 tips help you to get better rest and some 'good sleep'.
For more information on Yoga Nidra and my special classes and workshops click here
To download a FREE 10 minute guided relaxation click here
For information on my Pregnancy and Postnatal Guided Relaxation / Yoga Nidra online courses please click here