Struggling to drift off at night, or always waking up in the early hours? Getting a good night’s sleep and help you cultivate mindfulness during your waking hours. In this article, discover precisely how to get a good night’s sleep naturally.
You turn and look at each other on the sofa; why not? Just one more episode of Killing Eve or Game of Thrones won’t hurt, will it? You know it’s late, but there are no ads, so you’ll be tucked up by oh, at least midnight. But deep down, you know that this nightly binging on box sets is having a significant impact on your sleep.
Anyone who has endured a night of tossing and turning knows what that means for the next day; a foggy brain, bleary eyes and higher odds of misplacing your keys. For those who practice mindfulness, whether that’s a dedicated meditation practice or trying to stay centred no matter what your day may bring, getting quality sleep is vital. “It’s tough to be mindful and present if you don’t get enough sleep,” says Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep specialist at thesleepdoctor.com. “Sleep deprivation affects every organ system. You do everything better with a good night’s sleep, and mindfulness is no exception. To be in the state for mindfulness, you have to be well-rested.”
A survey by The Sleep Council (sleepcouncil.org) found that while most adults need around seven to eight hours of sleep a night, a third of Brits are getting just five to six. A growing body of research suggests that mental and physical problems become more pronounced in those sleeping for less than six hours. That extra episode delaying your bedtime could amp up the fight or flight response to the stress level, releasing hormones that speed up your heart rate and raise blood pressure.
Ironically, while you might think practising mindfulness before bed will make it easier to nod off, it can actually backfire, says Breus, who notes that research shows mindfulness can be counterproductive to those suffering from insomnia because it can make you more alert. “It just makes you more mindful when you can’t sleep, which produces more anxiety,” he explains.
“It’s important to remember though,” says Lisa Artis from The Sleep Council, “it’s also about the quality of sleep you are getting, not the quantity (although we will spend a third of our lives in bed). If you are sleepy, exhausted and unable to function, then chances are you are not sleeping very well.” Sometimes it can be hard to switch off (and not just the TV), with stress one of the most common causes of you lying there, staring at the ceiling. “If something is playing on your mind, write it down,” says Lisa, “whether that’s worries or even a to-do list.”
Tech should be avoided before bed; in particular, the hour before it. “The blue light that emits from devices messes around with your body’s circadian rhythms by suppressing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin in the brain, which is what we need to feel sleepy,” says Lisa. “Bedrooms should be kept for sleep (and sex) only,” says Dave Gibson, a health care practitioner. He specialises in helping those with sleep problems (thesleepsite.co.uk).
“This is so the brain associates this room with getting to sleep. Smartphones and tablets should, as much as possible, be kept out. Try using a dawn simulator, which is a great way to wake up. Even if you do use your phone, avoid hitting the snooze button as it confuses the brain over when it’s time to wake up. Just get out of bed and open the curtains to let in the daylight.”Practice your mindful techniques well before sundown; otherwise, they can interfere with your sleep habits Click To Tweet
Consider Your Surroundings
So what helps? Follow a five-step plan to a solid night’s slumber so you can make up feeling refreshed, energised and ready to mindfully take on the rest of your day.
Step one: Stick to a schedule.
That’s especially true when it comes to your wake-up time. “The more closely you wake up at the same time every day, including weekends, the better off you’re going to be in terms of falling asleep quickly, getting into a deeper sleep and staying asleep,” says Breus. Having a consistent bedtime can also be helpful, but it’s not as critical, he adds.
Step two: Avoid caffeine after 2 pm
This favourite pick me up has a half-life of six to eight hours, so that late afternoon latte means caffeine can still be lingering in your body well after you’ve turned the lights out. And be careful of hidden sources of caffeine. Ice cream (especially coffee flavoured), energy bars, chocolate, non-cola soft drinks and certain flavoured waters all harbour caffeine.
Step three: Eliminate the nightcap.
Alcohol may make you feel more drowsy, and as a depressant, it can actually help you fall asleep faster. But that glass of pinot can make you toss and turn a lot more once your sleep progresses. According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), alcohol may interfere with brainwave patterns that inhibit restorative sleep while also blocking deep REM sleep, so you wake up feeling more groggy and less focused. It can also disrupt your circadian rhythms, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night, make you more prone to snoring and sleep apnea by making the muscles in your throat relax, and keep your bladder full, which means more late-night trips to the bathroom. Breus advises cutting out all alcohol at least three hours before bed.
Step four: Make exercise a habit
“There is no better way to improve the quality of your sleep than with 20 minutes of daily exercise,” says Breus. In fact, the NSF says as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise each day can dramatically improve the quality of night-time sleep while reducing sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. Physical activity has been linked to improved sleep quality and duration while also reducing stress and making you feel more tired. It can also reset the sleep-wake cycle by raising your body temperature slightly then allowing it to drop, which triggers a feeling of drowsiness several hours later, according to the NSF. Some people may find exercising too close to bedtime makes it harder to get some shut-eye. Still, recent research shows that it may actually help others fall asleep more quickly. And keep in mind that exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym, Breus adds. “Walk the dog, take the stairs, park farther away at work; whatever ways you can move your body help.”
Step five: Get out and enjoy the sunshine.
Aim to get at least 15 minutes of sunlight every morning; ideally within 30 minutes of waking up, says Breus. This cues your brain to stop releasing melatonin, the natural hormone that regulates the sleep cycle. Stay under the covers too long, and that melatonin production will give you a morning brain fog that makes it even more challenging to wake up. Getting sunlight also regulates your sleep cycle, so you’re more likely to be tired at the end of the day.Healthy habits during the daylight hours can make it easier to get a solid night's sleep when it's time to turn in Click To Tweet
Try these proven strategies to help you nod off faster tonight.
Practice a Relaxation Technique
Progressive muscle relaxation can help relieve stress and tension, making it easier to fall asleep. Starting with your feet, contract the muscles, curling your toes in; hold five to 10 seconds and release. Rest about 20 seconds and repeat, working your way up each leg into your glutes, abs, back, chest, hands and arms.
Create a Sleep Friendly Space
About an hour before bedtime, dim the lights to signal that it’s time to get ready for sleep. Use room darkening shades to keep light out while you sleep. Run a fan or air conditioner to keep your room cool. Reduce noise, either with a white noise machine or a fan. And keep electronics out of the bedroom so they won’t distract you.
Have a Healthy Snack
Consider a light snack (no more than 250 calories) about an hour before bed if your tummy is rumbling. Some good options to consider:
Nuts (especially almonds and walnuts) contain the hormone melatonin, helping you sleep more soundly.
Cottage cheese is high in the amino acid tryptophan, which may increase serotonin levels and make you sleepier.
Or try raspberries, bananas, pineapple, or orange or tart cherry juice, which are all excellent sources of melatonin.
Herbal tea, such as chamomile, ginger and peppermint, can also promote feelings of sleepiness before bed.There is a time for many words, and there is also a time for sleep Click To Tweet
I hope you enjoyed my article on how to get a better night’s sleep naturally.