Angela Thompson, yoga teacher and yoga therapist, is our guest writer for this blog full of tips to help you sleep better.
Sleep expert Matthew Walker, author of the excellent book - ‘Why we sleep’, describes sleep “as the best health insurance protection available”.
The benefits of sleeping well include greater creativity, improved memory, emotional resilience and enhanced immune function. In general, it is recommended that we sleep between 7-9 hours to achieve the full healing and powerhouse effects of sleep. The belief that some of us can manage well on less than 5 hours sleep has been shown to be so unlikely that the odds are less than those of being struck by lightning!
Unfortunately, many of us struggle to sleep soundly: either struggling to get to sleep, waking frequently during the night or just waking up feeling tired. The latest research by the Sleep Council found that 43% are presently finding it harder to fall asleep with unease about the current situation (global pandemic) affecting sleep for 75% of the respondents. Sleeping less than the recommended 7 hours affects us physically and emotionally.
There are many causes for poor sleep including stress, medication, sleep routine, pain, lifestyle, gut health, hormonal imbalance, and major life changes. It is always advisable to discuss chronic sleep conditions with your GP to rule out any underlying health conditions.
There is no “one shoe fits all” solution to improving sleep. However there are many simple tools and techniques that you can try to see what may help you achieve a better night’s sleep.
Reduce caffeine intake:
Caffeine is one of the most common reasons for broken sleep. It acts as a stimulant in the brain and stops the signals telling us it’s time to sleep. Caffeine has a half life of 6-8 hours, so that 50% of the caffeine from your afternoon cup of tea is still in your system at bedtime. Try and limit caffeine drinks to the morning. Also be aware that many over the counter medicines, as well as chocolate, contain caffeine. It seems our ability to process caffeine declines as we get older. If you are sensitive to caffeine it is worth noting that it can take 24 hours to completely leave the system.
Limit alcohol consumption:
Alcohol is used as the number 1 sleep aid but it actually disturbs sleep, and in particular blocks REM sleep which is when we dream and process the emotions of the day. Alcohol acts as a mild anesthetic and does not bring about natural sleep. In addition, it can cause up to wake constantly during the night (although we are often unaware of this) and we then wonder why we wake in the morning feeling unrefreshed. Alcohol also works as a mild diuretic and so we are more likely to need to get up during the night.
18°C is the optimal room temperature for sleep. Also, our core temperature needs to drop by 1°C to start the sleep cycle. Try sleeping with a lighter duvet, opening the windows, or having a warm shower before bed which helps to reduce core temperature.
It’s really important to maintain a regular sleep routine - going to bed and in particular getting up at the same time every day (weekends included!). The sleep survey found that currently 40% are going to bed later than normal but found the total amount of sleep to be less. In another study 29 per cent of people said they have slept for longer but feel less rested than usual. Smart phones have a sleep timer which might encourage a bedtime routine.
Reducing sugar intake can help reduce stress hormones which negatively affect sleep. Introduce gut-friendly pro- and pre-biotics such as fermented products, garlic, leeks and onions, which help maintain a healthy gut microbiome and aid the production of sleep hormones. Eat foods rich in magnesium (known as Nature’s tranquilizer) such as green leafy vegetables or alternatively magnesium bath salts can be helpful. Other foods such as cherries, bananas and oats all help boost the sleep hormone melatonin.
15-30 minutes of sunlight from being outside in the morning can help reset the body clock as well as lower stress levels. Reduce blue light exposure at least an hour before bed as it massively affects the production of melatonin and can delay sleep by up to 2 hours.
This can be a useful tool to manage anxiety or worries. At bedtime write down what is on your mind ending with 3-5 positive things that have happened in your day. You could also write down how you want to feel in the morning, such as energised, confident, and happy.
Find ways to reduce stress:
Stress is one of the biggest factors underlying poor sleep. The tight muscles, digestive issues and shallow breathing associated with stress signal to the body that it is not the time to be sleeping and instead it should be in a state of alertness for potential threats!
I would suggest not watching the news before bed as this often contributes to stress and worry which will hinder falling asleep. Perhaps try identifying what is causing you stress and see what steps can be taken to address the situation. For example, it may be that social media is causing you to feel more stressed so perhaps try limiting time you spend checking Facebook. At the moment, many people are feeling stressed by coronavirus and the knock-on effects such as financial worries, home schooling, loneliness and health concerns. Maybe think about how you could alleviate some of this worry by talking to a counsellor, financial adviser or friends.
There are many options including homeopathy, aromatherapy, flower remedies, herbal remedies, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), acupuncture and grounding (walking barefoot for 20 mins a day outside has been shown to be helpful in improving sleep). Your local health food shop is often a good source of helpful advice and products. However, be sure to consult your GP if you are taking medication.
As a yoga therapist I also suggest some yoga techniques that can be helpful in either getting to sleep or quieting the mind if you wake during the night.
Options include breathing techniques, affirmations, physical exercise during the day and more gentle yoga exercises before bed to release tension in the body, meditation practices and yoga nidra (a form of guided relaxation).
A really useful breathing technique, called alternate nostril breath, can be helpful before bed or if you wake during the night - imagine breathing in through the left nostril and out through the right nostril, in through the right nostril and out through the left - repeat 6 or 7 times.
You can experience the combined power of EFT and yoga practices in our Sleep Well with Yoga Therapy and EFT online masterclass on May 26th.
Thursday, 26th May • 19:30 PM - 21:30 PM • £30
About Angela: Angela Thompson, Yoga teacher and Yoga therapist, works with clients on an individual as well as group basis and loves sharing the practices of yoga to improve sleep and enhance well being. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website www.angelathompsonyoga.co.uk Join her on Facebook and visit her dedicated sleep website.