“Sleep is the best meditation.” – The Dalai Lama
Sleep is one thing that everyone needs to give them the motivation to function fully and have a productive day. Some people will sleep all night and the following day too given the chance, while others can’t even get to sleep in the first place. This is known as ‘insomnia’.
There are several known reasons for which people may not be able to sleep and during the summer months, it can be even harder as the weather temperature is often erratic, leaving us sweating on some nights and shivering on others. Are you guilty of any of these traits? It might be time to rethink your nightly schedule…
1. Using electronic devices
The bright light that is produced by phones, laptops and tablets will affect your sleeping pattern. The light affects the melatonin which is produced within the body (this is basically a hormone which induces sleep). Televisions can also affect this… or simply wake you up at random times. Have you ever fallen asleep with the TV on? Sometimes programs feature loud noises which may wake you during the night. So, how can you protect your melatonin? The best idea is simply to stop using technology a few hours before bed. And don’t fall asleep with your TV on! Swap it for a good book, magazine or podcast – but make sure it’s nothing too good or you won’t want to sleep and that totally defeats the point, doesn’t it?!
Why not try reading a book instead?
If you don’t have a bookshelf full of books waiting to be read, take a trip to the local library or a charity shop to find something that’s an easy read or you’ll be up for hours trying to make heads or tails of it, or will be so enthralled, you can’t put it down (for example, the DaVinci Code). Find something interesting that piques your interest. Or something so boring that it sends you to sleep… either works. Encyclopedia of chemistry/ applied physics/ politics (delete as appropriate), we’re looking at you. Reading before bed us more relaxing than using a phone or watching TV as the lights given off by devices only keep us awake. If you prefer to relax in the dark, find find a podcast to listen to until you drift off. Warning: try to stay awake long enough to switch it off – this is a phone battery killer and we all know the dangers of leaving phones on charge overnight to overheat and potentially explode. (Yes, you read that right. Stay safe!)
2. Taking sleeping tablets
Many people find that taking sleeping tablets before bed helps them get their much-needed rest. The only problem with this is that the body begins to rely on these quick fixes, meaning you will be unable to sleep without them. On the other hand, the body can eventually begin to get used to these fixes, stopping them from working properly. Find relaxing activities such as reading a book before bed with a mug of hot chocolate and if you must take a sleeping tablet, take half of your regular dose.
Why not try meditating instead?
Practise the art of meditation or yoga before bed to get you into a zen-like state of relaxation. Sit in a comfortable position and try to clear your mind of all distracting thoughts whilst breathing deeply, focusing on your breathing. Have a good stretch and take the time to focus on breathing calmly while trying to relax all of your muscles.
3. Drinking stimulating substances or, well, anything actually
It seems obvious, but many people do not think this through… Eating meals and drinking fluids close to bedtime actually makes it more difficult for us to sleep – especially if it contains sugar or caffeine. Did you know we actually shouldn’t drink ANYTHING within 90 minutes of bedtime?
Caffeine can be found in coffee, Coca-Cola, and many other sugary and fizzy drinks. It can cause your hormones to fluctuate, meaning you might wake up irregularly during the night. Drinking a glass of alcohol before bed might help you get to sleep faster, however can affect sleeping patterns, leading to drowsiness the following day. Although better than a hangover, it is not the best method for getting to sleep… Another thing to avoid is cheese. Although unlikely to affect your sleeping cycle, cheese is said to promote nightmares, so you just might want to skip the cheese toast before bed. These options will help you to relax your body and hormones.
Our bodies have to work harder to process and digest food at night time, making us feel bloated in the morning due to us having put on weight overnight. When we drink before bed it can disrupt our sleep, leading us to wake up needing the toilet during the night. Professionals actually recommend not to drink anything within 90 minutes before we go to bed.
If you have to drink, try some sleep inducing drinks instead
Cuddle up with a blanket and a relaxing to help you wind down after a long day. Try chamomile tea, water and milk. Many health companies sell a variety of night time drinks that boast they will help you to sleep. Have a browse online for some reviews and find the perfect drink to get you yawning. Try not to drink anything for at least half an hour before bedtime to minimise sleep disruptions.
We all get stressed from time to time and sometimes it seems never ending – especially right before bed. You might feel like your brain will never shut off, especially if you’ve had a difficult day, week or month.
Why not try some sleep inducing scents?
Have a warm, relaxing bath with a helping of scented bath salts. The most calming including lavender, chamomile, rose, jasmine and bergamot. We don’t all have time for a bath every night though, so luckily this works almost as well if you buy scented candles or perfume versions of the scents. Dab a bit on your wrists, rub them together and take lots of deep breaths.
Many people complain that their minds ‘wake up’ when they are lying in bed. All of a sudden, their minds are full of unnecessary and irrelevant thoughts. Lying awake for hours can be stressful in itself, especially when you’re trying to remember something important for the morning or if your mind is full of burning questions like ‘but does it matter that were Ross and Rachel on a break?’ and ‘wouldn’t now be a great time to count the days until my summer holiday?’
Why not try writing down your thoughts to tackle in the morning?
We know it’s not easy to write in the dark but it is easier than forcing your brain to remember that you need to buy a new loaf of bread tomorrow or that you need to finish off some important jobs at work. Many of us can store thoughts until the morning but it’s healthier to keep a pen and paper by the bed to write distracting reminders and ideas down on so they aren’t forgotten by the morning. And why should you not write them on your phone, you ask? Extensive research has proven that the light of our phones wakes our brains, making them active and stopping the natural sleep cycle. To combat this, try keeping a cheap notepad and pen by the bed and write down any important notes, so they aren’t forgotten by morning. Writing down your thoughts should allow your brain to be emptied and encourage a peaceful sleep.
6. Trying to ‘catch up’ on sleep
If you lose out on sleep one night, it is a common misconception that you need to catch up on this the following evening. Try to stick to your regular sleeping pattern to feel better, happier and healthier.
Why not try to be more active during the day instead?
After a busy day, it’s much easier to fall asleep. The exhaustion of staying active is enough to tire out your body. If you find that you don’t do enough in a day, go for a jog or run on the spot in the living room in front of the TV. It’s all helpful when you’re trying to exhaust your body.
7. Sharing the bedroom with pets
Animals have varied sleeping cycles. Ever been disturbed by animals jumping around the bed or a hamster running on his squeaky wheel at daft-o-clock in the morning? If so, it might be worth moving their pet beds or cages from the room for a few nights and see if your sleep pattern improves.
Why not try to get them into a routine instead?
It’s easier said than done – especially if your pets like to sleep on your bed or under your covers – but they can be trained into a routine. Leave out extra water and food before you go to bed so they won’t wake you up early for breakfast and shut the bedroom door. Ignore their scratches and cries and wait for them to give up and walk away. Sure. the neighbours might hate you for it but with stubbornness comes routine.
8. Being overly cold
We can’t all afford to heat our homes every night before bed and it can get very cold, even in the summer months! No one wants to shiver under their blankets before falling asleep… Invest in a good quality hot water bottle to keep you warm throughout the night. It may be tempting to curl up in a ball and begin hibernation, especially during colder nights, but stretching your legs out helps improve the circulation of blood, making your body warmer – plus, it’s healthier for your joints to stretch them.
Why not invest in a warm blanket instead?
Investing in a warm, high quality blanket or a thick winter duvet is the ideal way to keep you warm for years to come. It can be stored away during the warmer months and brought out whenever you need it.
9. Nothing else seems to help!
You’ve written down all of your thoughts and you’ve tried all of the stress-relieving tips and tricks. Your mind is blank and you couldn’t sleep is there was an award on offer. What now?
Have you tried forcing yourself to yawn?
Ok, so we know it sounds strange, but yawning*, even when we’re not tired, tricks our brains into thinking we are ready for bed. Many people have never actually yawned out of boredom, despite the belief that this is the reason for doing so in the daytime. Whilst lying in bed or on the sofa, try your best to yawn and it might just be the sleep-inducer you need. Plus, it’s the most natural option available.
* Sorry, we know it is compulsive and you probably yawned at least once whilst reading this section. If you find it hard to yawn on cue, maybe re-read this in bed tonight!
Make a change to your pre-sleeping habits and hopefully you will notice a change in your quality of rest, giving you a new lease of life and a spike in energy levels during the daytime. Sweet dreams!