‘Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together’ – Thomas Dekker
‘When asleep we all become children again. Perhaps because in the state of slumber we can do no wrong…’ – Fernando Pessoa
It’s old news – sleep makes us feel better and keeps us healthy. We feel more alert, more energetic, happier, and better able to function if we get that minimum of seven hours’ sleep. Yet, for so many of us, sleep evades us.
Research shows that about a third of us don’t get enough sleep, and that, on average, today’s children and teens are getting less sleep than they need. Increased risk of major health problems like diabetes, heart disease, depression and obesity are now linked to inadequate sleep. Reduced immunity to disease and illness have been linked to poor sleep patterns. Unsurprisingly, many animals deprived entirely of sleep lose all immune function and die in a matter of weeks.
If it’s so necessary, why don’t we just do it naturally and easily? Research shows the answer lies in our lifestyles. We don’t live simple lives, our bodies and minds are overstimulated with artificial light, and the line between night and day has become blurred as we take online activities to bed. There is growing evidence that digital temptations and the use of blue light technologies near bedtime severely impair sleep.
Our lives are dogged with stress too, anxiety, uneasiness and ruminations, and so it follows the dreamy bliss of night is also invaded with the unease we may have in the day.
A simple approach to a good sleep is to consider routine, healthy lifestyle options, and de-cluttering the mind and the bedroom. Here are some science-based tips for a better sleep:
At night, darkness promotes feelings of sleepiness. In fact, research shows that darkness boosts the production of melatonin, an essential hormone for sleep. Consider black out curtains/blinds to increase melatonin levels and exposing your skin to daylight in the daytime.
The Sleep Foundation recommends the best bedroom temperature for adults is approximately 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18.3 degrees Celsius). The foundation recommends showering before bedtime to adjust body temperature for sleep.
Nutritionists recommend reducing caffeine, alcohol and sugar in the day and digesting foods and drinks which increase your melatonin levels in the evening. These include: 1-2 tbsp of tart cherry juice, chamomile or passionfruit tea, bananas, nuts and seeds.
Maintain an active daytime, walk for at least 15 minutes, be tired by the end of the day.
Create and stick to an evening routine, like winding down activities half an hour before going to bed, and going to bed at the same time each evening. Winding down could include progressive muscle relaxation, getting into pajamas, having a hot drink, switching off your mobile and reading.
Stress can keep you awake. Keep a worry diary. Write down all your worries and look for solutions. The more you solve these issues the less likely these worries will revisit you in the night.
Meditation can enhance melatonin levels and help the brain to achieve the ideal state for sleep. A one-minute meditation can make a difference.
See a doctor to address medical issues like restless leg syndrome, snoring, and apnea which interrupt sleep patterns.
Get up if you are awake in bed for 20 minutes or more. Sleep hygienists recommend not associating wakefulness with your bed. Do a one-minute meditation, relax or do something boring.
Make your bedroom your special place of rest. Create positive restful, relaxing associations with your bedroom by using décor that you love.
Sweet dreams are made from how you live. Live well, sleep well.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Sleep
For each muscle group, tense for 5 seconds, release, and then relax for 10 seconds.
Take a few deep breaths as you notice the sensation that comes as those muscles relax, before moving on to the next muscle group. Skip areas that cause pain when tensing.
Begin at the top of your body, and go down. Start with your head, tensing your facial muscles, squeezing your eyes shut, puckering your mouth and clenching your jaw.
Hold and release. Breathe in and out.
Tense as you lift your shoulders to your ears. Hold and release.
Make a fist with your right hand, tighten the muscles in your lower and upper arm, hold, then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with the left hand.
Concentrate on your back, squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold, then release. Breathe in and out.
Suck in your stomach, hold, then release. Breathe in and out.
Clench your buttocks, hold, then release. Breathe in and out. Tighten your right hamstring, hold, then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with left hamstring.
Flex your right calf, hold, then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with left calf.
Tighten toes on your right foot, hold, then release. Breathe in and out. Repeat with left foot.
Do this before you go to sleep. If you have only a shorter time just focus on the face and hand muscles rather than the whole body.
Take a moment for a big deep breath, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. As you breathe in, have a sense of taking in fresh air, and as you breathe out, feel a sense of letting go of any stress in the body and the mind. Soften your eyes if you’d like to. Breath in again deeply through the nose and out through the mouth. Take a moment to pause. Allow thoughts to come and go and then just gently open the eyes again.
A one-minute meditation at any point in the day will increase your happiness and relax you.
By Farah Naz
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Farah Naz is a psychotherapist of more than 30 years and has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. She is also a trainer and has trained doctors, teachers and health workers on stress management. Currently, she has an online international practice and lives in the Algarve.
[email protected] | www.iamfarah.com