I have never been a ‘good’ sleeper, I’m definitely a night owl. Roald Dahl put it beautifully in The BFG:
“The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.”The BFG by Roald Dahl
I used to love that feeling; of having the world all to myself. I would regularly sit up til two in the morning reading. I would tip toe downstairs to the kitchen and watch the foxes from the backdoor ferry their young across the garden by the scruff of their necks. I adored the stillness of the night. The soft murmur of the wind on the roof, the dart of a bat in the corner of my eye. For some reason it energised me, my imagination would zip into life. Wired, wide awake. Alive, when everyone else was away.
This is still very much a part of me. Yet it’s something I’ve had to work on and change gradually. There is a lot of evidence and research that suggests that poor sleep not only effects us cognitively, but has a huge impact on our physical health too:
‘Studies have found a relationship between the quantity and quality of one’s sleep and many health problems. For example, insufficient sleep affects growth hormone secretion that is linked to obesity; as the amount of hormone secretion decreases, the chance for weight gain increases. Blood pressure usually falls during the sleep cycle, however, interrupted sleep can adversely affect this normal decline, leading to hypertension and cardiovascular problems. Research has also shown that insufficient sleep impairs the body’s ability to use insulin, which can lead to the onset of diabetes. More and more scientific studies are showing correlations between poor and insufficient sleep and disease.’Source from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/
To be honest, when I first read into the effects of poor sleep on our health I was a little scared. Sleep for me is like playing a game of cat and mouse; it can be a frustrating battle of wills. Studies and research say how important it is to prioritise, but where does that leave those of us who struggle to get ‘good’ sleep?
Firstly, I think it’s helpful to have a little bit of awareness about what our individual ‘sleeping sore spots’ are. For me, I am naturally a night owl. For others, they may be experiencing anxiety, depression or physical pain. Worrying and overthinking seem to also feature heavily. Perhaps you have little ones waking you up every few hours which may be preventing or disrupting sleep.
I think at this point it’s important to say that I’m not a sleep expert. I’m a therapist who has noticed that trouble with sleep and rest lists really high with the clients that I meet with. I think its a topic that is often dismissed or seen as being so ‘normal’ that it gets forgotten about.
Here are a few offerings that might be of interest:
- The book: ‘Why We Sleep‘ by Matthew Walker
A helpful and insightful book that helps explains why sleep is important for us as human beings written by an actual expert on sleep.
- No screens in your bedroom. I know this is a controversial one. Whenever I mention this to my friends they always say: ‘But my phone is my alarm’. I believe that our phones shouldn’t live in the same space as where you want to sleep. The back-lighting fools our brains into thinking its daytime and more importantly, we are distracted and compelled to constantly swipe and scroll on our phones. I kind of feel that having our phone in our bedroom is kind of like having an advertising executive crouching by you while you sleep…apologies for the creepy image.
- A walk or gentle exercise after your evening meal. This has been a big one for me, I can really notice a difference in how calm I feel if I engage in a little bit of activity to help my digestion before bed.
- Bedtime yoga. This is a relatively new addition for me but has really helped get rid of any tension in my body before sleep, This video is one I keep coming back to:
- If you can, watch the sun go down. This is the exact opposite to screens glowing in a dark room. If you can watch the sun go down then your brain (that is hard-wired with thousands of years of evolutionary biological ques) is going to acknowledge that night time is coming…it’s time to sleep…. Plus, it’s beautiful.
- A bath or shower. It’s a relaxing way to show yourself some tender care and kindness.
- Bedtime stories. I’m a big believer in bedtime stories and how soothing they can be. One of my favourites is The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S Lewis.
- If you’ve got a busy brain full of tasks, to-do lists, commitments or worries put pen to paper. Writing down the noise in our minds and letting these thoughts stick on paper overnight rather than swirling around our heads can give us the break we need to rest. Your notebook will keep them safe until morning: you deserve the time away from it too.
- Switch to decaf drinks from the mid-afternoon to give your body a chance to work through your morning and lunchtime caffeine. It takes on average 6 hours for one caffeinated drink to completely leave your system.
- Find a ritual in your bedtime routine. Lighting a candle, putting on a pair of woolly socks, washing your face with steaming water, cuddle an animal friend…it all sounds very stereotypical and generic, but I believe we all have something that could become a calming ritual if we wanted it to.
I’m always keen to hear how other people find calm before bed. Please feel free to comment below any of your top tips!
Hoping wherever and whenever you read this, that you rest easy tonight.