Insomnia robs millions of people of life quality on a daily basis. Lack of sleep can not only leave us fatigued and less able to function, but it can also steal away our physical and mental health. Our fast-paced, busy lives, leave us little time to relax while worries and anxious thoughts often interrupt our much-needed sleep time. Becoming familiar with and aware of the signs and symptoms of insomnia is a good first step to diagnosing what could be a serious sleep disorder.
While we all know about the importance of getting enough sleep in order to balance our lives, being able to actually do so is a completely different story. Even when we can diligently carve out enough time to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, how often do we find ourselves lying in bed with our minds running at a breakneck pace?
Slowing down our minds to get some good quality sleep can be challenging, but it’s not impossible. Getting enough sleep at night is probably not left down to one magic trick. It’s more about a general shift in thinking and habits that can help us go from crazy-and-crabby to cool-and-calm. Some of these tips can be practised after your head has already hit the pillow. But many of them come in earlier in the day, in preparation for your sleep at night.
What to Do Before Going to Bed
Getting a good night of rest begins long before you actually put your pyjamas on. Plan ahead to get a good night of sleep by following these tips:
Embrace the Idea of Rest.
Many busy women feel guilty because they spend time sleeping when they could be getting something else done. But skimping on sleep is like setting yourself up to fail before you even begin. Getting a full eight hours of sleep is not a ‘treat’ that you can squeeze in every once in a while as if it’s a luxury. Getting enough sleep is a necessity for your body and mind. And if you can get enough sleep at night, of course, you’ll be more productive during the day.
Exercise During the Day.
Making sure you’re burning off the day’s energy will help you sleep at night. Even if you don’t feel you have the energy for a full-scale workout, just a few minutes of brisk walking can help you sleep better in the evening. When you exercise your body releases serotonin—which is a ‘happy’ hormone. But serotonin is not only helpful for making you feel better while you’re awake, it also turns into melatonin when the sun goes down and melatonin is responsible for making you feel drowsy at night. Just be sure to finish your exercise with a couple of hours to spare before bedtime so you won’t be on an exercise high when it’s time to go to sleep.
Keep a Sleep Schedule.
If having a set bedtime makes you feel like a child, then maybe that’s good—because children get a lot of sleep! Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day means that you are working with your body’s circadian rhythms, helping you to get better quality sleep on a regular basis.
Cut Back on Screen Time.
Did you know that the blue light from electronic screens (televisions, computers, smartphones, & tablets) may be hijacking your ability to sleep? The light from devices acts as a stimulant to the brain. So if think that watching television before bed will help you to relax and go to sleep, think again. Give your brain a couple of hours to ‘digital’ detox before trying to sleep and turn that tv off. Your brain will thank you.
What to Do After You’re in Bed
Once you have tucked yourself in under a cosy blanket, you can try out these things if you are having a difficult time sleeping:
Practice Mindful Breathing.
If you’re having trouble harnessing your thoughts, consider concentrating on mindful breathing. Although your body will breathe on its own without you having to think about it, breathing intentionally can be very helpful for relaxation. When your brain focuses on your breathing, this can help you harness your thoughts and worries about other things. Take a few slow, deep breaths after getting comfortable in your bed.
Start with a few slow, deep breaths that allow you to get lots of oxygen in and then clear out your lungs. Now, return to a more natural breathing pattern and pay attention to it. Consider the way the air feels when it enters your body and then leaves. Visualize your breath as it flows down through your airway and deeper in the core of your body. As you breathe, feel the parts of your body that are tense and imagine the oxygen flowing into them in order to soothe and calm. Feel the sensation of your heart rate and blood pressure slowing down. If your mind wanders away from your breath, gently restore it as you continue thinking about breathing.
Write Down Your Worries.
If you keep tossing and turning because you’re thinking about something that you’re afraid you’ll forget in the morning, then write it down. Keeping a pen and paper on your bedside table allows you to jot down important thoughts (Dad’s birthday, for example, or buying toilet paper) and then you can rest your mind knowing that the note will be there for you when you wake up in the morning.
It probably sounds a little silly but there’s a reason that this practice works. If you can engage your mind in a distracting, non-stressful activity, then you can keep yourself from thinking about all the things you are actually worried about. It doesn’t have to be counting of sheep, but counting backwards can help. Even better, try counting backwards by 7’s or 3’s. Start at 1000 and work your way backwards. I do this all the time and never, ever get even close to 0!
If you’re having trouble sleeping, you’re certainly not alone. But that doesn’t mean you have to accept the insomniac lifestyle. You can take control of your sleeping schedule and get yourself the rest you need to feel better, function better, and look better all throughout the day.
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