How to Sleep Better

  • Do you wish you could sleep better than you do right now?
  • Are your sleeping patterns having a negative impact on your life?
  • Do you find that you either cannot fall asleep when you go to bed or wake up in the night and cannot get back to sleep?
  • Are your sleep cycles generally imbalanced so that you feel exhausted during the day, most days?
  • You are not getting enough restful sleep and not sure what to do about it
  • You are someone who over-sleeps, which can also be counterproductive for your day and your week
  • You have tried everything suggested from mainstream resources but have found that nothing works long-term

If one or more of the above apply to you, then this blog is definitely for you.  I spent most of my life with sleep issues, varying from not being able to fall asleep to restless sleep, waking up from restless legs, sciatica or dreams of trying to run away or hide from someone.  I had  inconsistent bedtimes ranging from 11pm to 2am and  sometimes I felt tired and sometimes wide awake, doing things around the house at all hours.  I thought that if I went to bed later than midnight, I might sleep better.  If I got one good night’s sleep in 20, then I was so pleased with myself. This was all in vain as I just woke up exhausted and grumpy and craved caffeine or sugar to keep me awake and drank wine in the evening to help me sleep.

Does that sound familiar to you?

Sleep plays a direct role on your overall health

I would urge anyone to address this before you tackle any other health concern as this can affect what you choose to eat, when you eat, your food cravings, mood, motivation and cognitive function throughout the day.

Having a balanced sleep cycle plays a very important role in your overall health and well-being on a number of levels. Some of the benefits of sleep are fairly obvious from a personal level and difficult to completely access, but you do need sleep to survive, function and clean your brain.

Indigenous cultures around the world have long valued the altered states of consciousness that occur during sleep as an important means of receiving information, healing, and guidance from the unseen world. Many traditions view dreams as the language of the soul. Even Western science has confirmed our capacity to release both stress and anxiety and to process unresolved emotions through our dreams.  Try writing down your dreams next time you remember them and see if there is a pattern you can spot.

  • Sleep helps to restore our level of alertness.
  • Research has shown that your brain cleans itself when you sleep, which may reduce the risk of Alzheimers.  The flow of cerebrospinal fluid increases, washing away harmful waste proteins which build up when you are awake.
  • Sleep plays a role in the repair and rejuvenation of all the tissues, including muscle growth, tissue repair generally and helps to heal wounds.
  • Sleep promotes the more efficient removal of metabolic wastes and very directly supports the immune system. 
  • Studies have also linked sleep deprivation with increased cancer growth and a decrease in the immune system’s ability to control the growth of cancer cells.
  • The amount of sleep you get can have in influence on your appetite, influencing whether you eat more or wake up hungry for breakfast
  • Sleep is linked to important changes in the structure and function of the brain. Have you ever noticed how your memory reduces when you know you have not had enough sleep?
  • It affects learning and retention of information – again a link between sleep and cognitive function.

Lack of sleep causes mental anxiety

Doctors had believed for years that mental illness triggers abnormal sleep but new research has shown that it is lack of sleep that can cause and aggravate mental anxiety.  There is a big link between lack of sleep and mood, depression and schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There is also increasing evidence in the field of psychology that sleep plays a critical role in supporting the emotional side of the brain. Poor sleep has also been linked to poor cognitive function and poor memory. 

I personally understand that link, having lived it for years.  It is frustrating when you want more from life but physically cannot function the way you want simply because you have not slept well.  I must add that I now sleep soundly from 11.00pm to 7/7.30am and go to bed feeling naturally tired.  I wake up between 7.00am and 7.30am (adjusting to the seasons accordingly).  Most of the time I get a restful, comfortable sleep and feel refreshed, energised and excited to start my day.  What a wonderful change to how things used to be.

What type of sleep disorder do you have?

I see sleep problems as classified into different characteristics for different people.  This is why one solution does not fit all so, if you have tried everything that has been suggested by other sources but with no real success, then it might help you to know what type of sleep issue you have. You may then be able to tune into your own mental state and start addressing the relevant long-term solution for you.

Sleep issues can often be so highly linked to how you manage your lifestyle, past experiences and your current characteristics.  I have listed the variations below. Work out which one you can more closely relate to:

You have light sleep with irregular patterns.  When you are often exhausted you may sleep a bit heavier but this happens infrequently. You grind your teeth, talk in your sleep, maybe sleep walk.  A snoring partner can greatly affect how you sleep at night so that you may end up sleeping separately. You have issues remembering your dreams which may consist of running away, being chased or adventures.  When you are more in balance, you dream of flying (unless you have a flying phobia).  Depending on what time you go to bed, you tend to wake around 2am or 2.30am and 4.30am/5am and cannot get back to sleep.  You tend to be of a thinner physique so you might wake in the night because of an ache in your hip, back or legs. You may wake up  feeling cold or are worrying about something that is not ‘quite right’.  Your mind is thinking about the day and a clutter of emotions and actions that you have not processed, cleared or ‘sorted’. You prefer softer mattresses but do not care about going to bed because you are anxious about not sleeping.  If you are really out of balance you only prefer your ‘own bed’ and find it difficult to sleep in new places such as hotels for the first few days on holiday. Your emotional state is often that of anxiety, fear, worry, insecurity and indecisiveness.  In a balanced state, a good 8 hours of quality sleep is perfect for you.

The second type of sleep issue is where you generally have no issue falling asleep but sleep lightly and when you wake up, it can often be for a few hours (so much so that you may get up and do some PC work or play words with friends or something similar).  You do not want lots of sleep but can benefit from around 7 hours to fully function. You could sleep for around 9 hours every few weeks to ‘catch-up’ on sleep missed over the previous weeks. If you are busy with a project or work deadline you are okay with less sleep.  You may wake up in the night because you are too hot or because of an active or vivid dream or thoughts of work. You often call yourself a ‘night-owl’ and can be more productive at night (often to the detriment of your family).  You function well in the day or the week but then feel exhausted at the weekends or on Monday when it is time to go back to work.  You can easily ‘overdo it’ between the hours of 10pm and 2am and wake up tired but ready to go. You prefer a firm mattress with not too much covering as you get too hot. Related emotional imbalances can show up as unprocessed trauma, anger, irritation, frustration or  jealousy. You can be over critical to oneself and others and blame others for things not going right.   A hot-tempered nature may be affecting your relationships and you will likely suffer from indigestion or heartburn.

The third type of person is generally a heavy and deep sleeper and can sleep anywhere without much disturbance.  You love your bed and love sleeping, relaxing and daydreaming. You like a soft mattress and crave comfort in your bed, your life and your relationships. You feel sleepy between around 6pm and 10pm. You wake up tired and it can take a while for you to ‘get going’.  You are seldom hungry for breakfast and a sluggish, lethargic feeling continues throughout the day. If imbalanced, your emotional state tends towards sadness, depression, over-eating or emotional eating, attachment, dull mind and mental fogginess. You seek comfort and security and like comfy sheets and pillows. You are overweight and would like to lose some.

Prescription pills and alcohol are not the answer

Around the 1970’s benzodiazepines like Valium were invented.  Sleeping pills and sedatives can increase the risk of pneumonia….. These include diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, lorazepam and temazepam. The drugs also increase the risk of infection and blood poisoning, or sepsis.  Some non benzodiazepine hypnotics are no better than a placebo with 20% of people taking them suffering from side effects . These can also increase the chances of mental problems by 5 times , physical or motor problems by 3 times and daytime fatigue by nearly 4 times.   The amygdala, the part of the brain which registers emotions, can become heightened by 60%.  Have you noticed a pattern between feeling depressed, sad or irritated on sleeping pills?

A big impact on sleep is your internal clock and your melatonin levels

It pains me to discover that melatonin is now sold as over the counter and can have side effects like headache, stomach issues and seizures.  Melatonin is a natural by-product of your lifestyle and should not be synthesised and bottled up for popping before bed…

Sleeping pills only mask an underlying issue which you might need help to understand.  This is often not obvious to the sufferer (if it was, the solution would be easy!)

Good sleep falls within how you live outside the bedroom

There are so many angles to approach to change and re-balance your sleeping patterns and it can take some time for you to re-adjust. Sleep is such a natural thing to do that we should not be deprived of the amount we naturally need.

The issue with mainstream recommendations for sleep disorders is a one fits all approach such as avoiding coffee, cooling your room or getting natural light.  Whilst these are not be dismissed, there is more to it than that.  This approach does not help the variants in sleeping patterns which I mentioned before, such as whether you can fall asleep in the first place, if you sleep lightly or heavy. Even if you do sleep through the night, it can be so light that you wake up exhausted.  Even the times you wake up can be a clue about what the underlying issue is.

Here are some ideas for you to think about

I suggest you start with what is going on inside your head and ask yourself …”what is your reason for getting up in the morning”?….

If you have a good reason to get up that inspires and motivates you, there will be a good reason to wind down and go to bed with a calm mind.

As I have mentioned already, it is important to know that not everyone can follow a simple routine to change their sleeping patterns.  Many sleep issues can be linked to an underlying cause going back years.  The 3 types of sleep disorders I mentioned above also need tailored diets, routines and herbs based on the person.  However,  start by trying to incorporate these small changes and find what works best for you.

The real answers are not always in how much coffee you drink.  However, I do get my clients with a nervous disposition to reduce caffeine and go on decaf for a while.  If you do need coffee in the morning, go for a good quality ground coffee bean (not dried and processed into jars!)-buy yourself a cafetière or a grinder.  Coffee contains antioxidants which can be beneficial for health, so in a balanced state of mind we should be able to drink two cups of good quality coffee a day without it affecting sleep.  I love my 2 coffees a day but do not need one to wake me up!

  1. Do NOT eat a heavy meal at least 3 hours before bed-this can play havoc on your digestion and sugar levels and wake you up in the night.  Sadly, it is our culture to eat out late or cook dinner between 7pm and 9pm.  Everyone should aim to have their main meal between 11.30am and 2pm.  This is when digestion is at it’s best and you digest, absorb and assimilate the nutrients from your foods at this time.  If you regularly eat late at night, you are causing toxins to build up in your tissues and this can affect your sleep, among many other things.
  2. What do you eat during the day?  The foods you eat can have a direct impact on your gut, your brain and your energy levels.  Eating the right food at the right times can make all the difference to how you sleep and varies depending on the sleep issue you have.
  3. Eat your oats-not everyone will agree with this but oats are a natural source of tryptophan. Tryptophan helps regulate our body’s natural circadian rhythms and melatonin is produced from Tryptophan.  It is  the melatonin that influences you to feel sleepy. Do you notice how good you feel after eating porridge in the morning? Eating turkey, bananas and some dark chocolate in moderation may help also induce sleep but not too much and not too late please!
  4. Get up early or at the same time-get up between 5am and 7am where possible.  If you suffer from ME or Chronic Fatigue this is not as straightforward as we think.  You will need a tailored approach to your lifestyle for this to change.  Otherwise, just try to at least get up at the same time every day (even at the weekend).  You can get your body to shift its sleeping schedule by getting up 15 minutes earlier each week over 4 weeks.  Again, if you have serious fatigue and mental anxiety, you might not be willing, or able, to get up early.  If this is the case, contact me to kick-start your new health programme to better energy.
  5. Consider what is missing from your life to motivate you in the mornings and work out what the best time for you to get up is now.  Then aim to stick to that time , no matter what (even if that is 9am or 10am for you!).  You will need to get to the underlying cause of this too as a healthy, happy person will naturally wake between the 5am and 7am times.  I always ask my clients the question “what is your reason for getting up in the morning”?  If they cannot answer that, we work on finding one.  This can have the greatest impact on empowering change in you.
  6. Create a morning routine-having a routine of sorts in the morning can be beneficial for motivation and adds structure to the start of your day.  Keep it simple to start with until you get used to it.  Write it down with a copy in the bedroom and a copy in the kitchen, if necessary. This can help you feel more organised and less over-whelmed and can help set you up for a calmer evening.
  7. Your evening routine (or lack of one)  If you are wired to dislike going to bed or worry you will not sleep, start creating a routine which you know will wind you down.  Turn your TV off an hour before bed and when you are watching it in the evening, turn the contrast, brightness and volume down!  Set a time where you put your phone/laptop onto airplane or silent mode or better still to turn it off.  This can be difficult if you use it as an alarm clock.  Put it on airplane mode no later than 9pm and stay off social media after that time.  Make sure your room is dark for going to bed with no bright lights. Have your room at a temperature to suit you before you go into it.  If it is too cold, take the chill out with an oil filled radiator 1/2 hour before bed.
  8. Exercise- if you are the type that loves your exercise, try to do it between 6am and 10am or 6pm and 9pm.  If you find evening exercise puts you into high alert, schedule your week to exercise only in the mornings.  Make sure you choose an exercise or activity you enjoy-otherwise do not do it. Remember: Yoga is exercise too and you learn mindfulness at the same time.   Many people with fatigue or ME are too tired to exercise so we do not start here.  I can offer you some basic morning stretches or sun salutations to wake up your body and stimulate your lymphatic system.  You will also need to look at balancing the micro-biome in your gut and thus your brain with the right foods for your constitution.
  9. Reflect on your day-how did your day go?  Can you record this in a journal or notepad?  Focus on what went well and if something was not right, just record and note it.  Your subconscious brain may process it whilst you sleep.  What would you like to achieve tomorrow?
  10. Keep your room only for sleeping.  Many people have turned their bedrooms into offices.  Try to train your brain to associate your room for relaxing sleeping and sexual activities.  Do not eat, watch TV (electricity in your room at night can cause havoc on your cells) or use your tablet before winding down or before your morning shower.  Read at night using a low lit lamp.
  11. Use a sleep meditation/relaxation app-remember if you use this, your phone will be turned on so bear in mind what I said about checking emails  or social media.  Turn your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’.  Some apps allow you to download sessions to listen to later – do your research.
  12. Spa music or meditation apps– if you are not too sensitive to noise late in the evening some gentle spa music or meditation could help to calm the hyperactive brainwaves that keep us awake.  This form of mindfulness may assist to focus the breathing and mind to induce a calmer state for sleep.
  13. Learn to Breath!  Yes, as obvious as it sounds most people walk around in a state of shallow short breathing and mindlessness.  Learning to breath slowly and deeply releases endorphines (the happy pills for the body), brings more oxygen to the lower part of the lungs and calming the heart.  Meditation and Yoga can help to tune you into this breath of life (Prana).
  14. NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming/Coaching) has been used to effectively treat other related conditions such as depression, phobias and eating disorders.  A few coaching sessions may give you the kick-start to prioritising and re-balancing your life and setting your own personal goals.  I have had great success with many of my clients using a combination of NLP, relaxation techniques and food changes.

Herbs and Oils which may help

Herbs can be used temporarily to help whilst balancing your life in the meantime.  Some herbs just help you feel sleepy and do not necessarily keep you asleep.  However, it is worth trying the natural remedies before opting for toxic pills under prescription.

1.Ashwagandha is an indian herb which I use in my ayurvedic medicine.  It can lower emotional stress and anxiety and help improve sleep. It has been known to regulate central nervous system issues and adopts to the body.   In some cases, it can help increase libido too.

2. Valerian-this herb has been used by the greeks for insomnia for over 2,000 years and can help you to nod off if you have difficulty falling asleep, taken about 30 minutes before bedtime.

3. Low serotonin levels can impact on sleep so taking 5HTP is another suggestion.  Remember that it does not address the reason behind the low serotonin which can often be cuased by mental anxiety, low mood, too many processed sweet stuff (especially before bedtime), feeling irritable and of course sleep disorders-so the cycle continues all over again.

Self massage with a blend of aromatherapy essential oils can help to calm the central nervous system before bedtime.  As a qualified Aromatherapist I see Lavender being overused.  Aim to blend it with Marjoram, Geranium and Chamomile to get a balance for your body and mind (avoid during pregnancy).  A medicinal ayurveda oil such as Mahanarayan Oil is highly nutritive and rejuvenating and a good quality oil can contain up to 15 herbs or roots, seeds and flowers. It is highly nourishing and conditioning and helps to restore elasticity.  Self-massage is a caring action for yourself and can help to release tension, anxiety and restlessness and aid sleep if done in a quiet, calm environment.  

Please ensure you source your oils from a reputable supplier and not tested on animals, as many random sellers on-line offer poor quality, chemically produced oils.  

Teas to drink in the evening

Some of my personal favourite teas to drink in the evening are from the Pukka range.  Many herbal tea manufacturers use bleached teabags.  Pukka teabags are made of a special blend of natural abaca (a type of banana) and plant cellulose fibres.  They are also staple-free, the bags are stitched together with organic cotton. The tea bag strings are made from 100% organic, non-GMO, un-bleached cotton.  You pay a bit more but you will notice the taste and they are cheaper than a bottle of wine!

My personal four favourites are:

  • Pukka Night Time – contains chamomile, lavender, licorice, oat straw flowering tops and tulsi (tulsi is an Ayurvedic herb I use to help promote sleep)
  • Three Chamomile-organic Egyptian, Croatian & Hungarian chamomile
  • Chamomile, vanilla and manuka
  • Pukka Love-Organic Rose-Chamomile flower (25%), limeflower, elderflower, marigold flower, licorice root, rose flower (5%) lavender flower (5%)

Conclusion

  • Work our what your main sleep concern is
  • Try one or two changes a month from the suggestions to see if it makes a difference
  • Plan less but keep your mind stimulated
  • Stop trying to please everyone and look after yourself
  • Pay attention to your daily eating habits, good sleeping patterns and anxieties during the day
  • Block time in your diary for an evening wind-down ritual and herbal tea in your favourite mug
  • Talk to your doctor about reducing your sleeping pills by 2mg a month to get off them
  • Be aware of much you rely on alcohol to wind down – face  up to what is causing your stress?
  • Do not accept a sleep disorder as permanent – it is not your genetic make-up and can be changed!

If you would professional help to sleep better and have more energy throughout the day, call me for a FREE 30 MINUTE TELEPHONE CONSULTATION 07903 215524

Costs are £65.00 per hour thereafter 

 

 

 

Clock photo by congerdesign / Pixabay
Frustration photo by typographyimages / Pixabay
Sleeping pills/wine glass photo by Bru-nO / Pixabay
3 Alarm clocks by Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay
Teabags by Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Christine Southwell

Christine Southwell

Holistic Health Coach helping people achieve the best from their lives by being their own best versions of themselves. Addressing all aspects of life from self-esteem, energy, goals, relationships and balance are key to optimum health and happiness. Based in West Looe in Cornwall.
(Ayurveda Health Consultant, Neuro-linguistics Practitioner, Remedial Massage Therapist, Lymphatic expert) www.makingyouhealthier.com
Christine Southwell

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