Most of us are aware that chronic stress can have a detrimental effect on our health. An overactive mind and an endless to-do list can keep us tossing and turning at night, and lower back pain or other niggles can feel like they get worse, creating an unhelpful cycle of poor sleep and a more stressful day.
‘Sleep hygiene’ is an expression that refers to how our evening routine could be adjusted to improve sleep quality, and I’ve set out a short list of things that might help you nod off that little bit easier and wake less during the night: –
1. Make sure you get outside in natural daylight for at least 30 mins (even when it’s horrid outside). Part of the hormonal cycle that helps your circadian rhythm (internal body clock) know what time it is, involves you seeing daylight in the morning between 6am and 10am. Nothing can mimic the full spectrum of sunlight which contains warmer red tones first thing (yes, even when it’s cloudy) and gradually becomes brighter as the sun gets higher in the sky. If you happen to be walking whilst outside even better, which leads onto the next point…
2. Move more. Having experienced insomnia and fatigue myself, I’m well aware that often movement is the last thing you feel like doing, but I’ve never once said ‘I wish I hadn’t done that’ after some gentle movement. Walking involves you going outside which is awesome because of the daylight element, but you can also do some gentle stretching or natural movement in the comfort of your own home, which leads nicely onto the next point…
3. Move more of you. If we happen to have a sedentary job there is the temptation to be, well, sedentary, for periods of time that are longer than is ideal for us. If you sit a lot, break it up every 15 mins or so by standing up, side bending, reaching your arms up, doing a few neck rolls, looking at things in the distance to give your eyes a rest. It doesn’t have to break your workflow, I’m talking 20-30 seconds. I will do another blog shortly on how to incorporate more movement into work time.
4. Even if you have a more active job that involves you being on your feet or rushing around from A to B, or you’re a parent who’s constantly running around after little ones, I’d wager that your movement is fairly linear and repetitive. Conscious movement involves co-ordination, concentration and lots of different planes of movement, all of which involve better circulation to allow blood flow into all of your cells, which ultimately helps to relax your nervous system.
5. Limit your screen use at night. The blue light emitted from LED screens has been proven to negatively affect your sleep because it tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daytime and therefore limits your melatonin (sleep hormone) production. If the idea of turning off all electronics is laughable, I recommend an app called Twilight for your phone, F.Lux for your laptop, and if you like to watch TV of an evening check out www.redpandatherapy.com for protective eyewear.
6. Preferably don’t use your phone for an alarm but if you do, put it on flight mode an hour before bed and don’t turn it back on until after you’ve had breakfast. Checking your phone last thing at night and first thing in the morning has been proven to set off anxious feelings and get you off thinking of other people’s priorities instead of your own.
7. A short meditation focusing on your breath can help to prepare your body for sleep. Meditation not your thing? Perhaps a short routine of stretching with conscious movement would work better for you, it’s easier to focus on your breath when you’re concentrating on what you’re doing.