What To Do When You Can’t Sleep

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Sleep is the foundation upon which your inner temple of wellness, harmony and success is built.

When we’re tired, we can’t think clearly, we don’t perform optimally. The sails of your ship become wobbly, you’re difficult to steer. It becomes harder to stay on track. Trickier to navigate through a storm.

The process of cell regeneration, healing and repair is most active at night. Every system of the body requires sufficient sleep to function normally.

Insomnia sufferers are prone to adrenal fatigue – the term given to exhaustion resulting from high levels of stress, unrelenting over many years. Our adrenal glands repair themselves at night and if we don’t sleep adequately, our immune system is compromised – leaving us vulnerable to catching whatever is going around.

How much sleep do you need?

New research is finding that 9 hours may in fact be the ideal, rather than the 7-8 that most of us are aware of. Winter is hibernation time, and we need more sleep now than in the warmer months. Pay attention to yourself and how you feel in the morning, work out what YOU need. It may not be the same as your partner’s needs.

I’m a former insomniac who now sleeps easily.

Provided I do the things I know I need to do, I am one happy little sleeping vegemite! Zzzzz….

1. Create a peaceful retreat in your bedroom, and have a relaxation ritual at night.

Ultimately, if you can’t sleep, you’re not relaxed. Make your bedroom a cosy sanctuary, a place you love to be. Clear the clutter, keep it tidy. If a mess on the floor is the last thing you look at before lights out, it won’t be promoting a peaceful sleep. A cluttered room = a cluttered mind.

Burn some relaxation blend essential oil, use incense or an energy clearing spray to help you let the day go. You may like to meditate, or simply practise deep breathing into your lower belly for a few minutes. The simple act of deep breathing is so powerful. Not only does it calm us down – it helps to centre and ground us in our body. After a long busy day, we need a wind-down/switch-off technique of some sort.

2. Have a warm shower or bath in the evening.

Allow your muscles to be soothed by the warm water. Feel yourself wash the day away, letting the day go with the water down the drain. You will emerge feeling lighter, cleaner and renewed. I love to have candle-lit showers at night, especially if I’ve had a busy day working. So very relaxing.

If you’re a morning shower person, have a quick one in the morning too. You’re better off having two quick showers if it means you get one in at night, rather than one long one in the morning. Try it out, see what works for you.

3. Allow your body temperature to cool down before trying to sleep.

It is very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep if you’re too hot. During winter, turn the heaters off a good 30 minutes before bedtime.

4. Routine.

Us humans, we love routine! Whether we think we do or not, our body loves routine. Going to bed at the same time every night, means your body knows when it’s time to sleep, and you’ll fall asleep easier. Ideally we want to be in alignment with the Qi cycle (Circadian rhythm). Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that each meridian (channel of energy) is most active at a particular 2 hour block of the 24 hour day. To live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the Earth and the seasons is to live in harmony with ourselves.

5. Chamomile tea.

A soothing, relaxing herb which calms and soothes the nervous system and digestive system, excellent for anxiety and depression. Chamomile also boosts the immune system, great for when you have a cold. Calming nausea and menstrual cramps, chamomile is a mild sedative and anti-inflammatory. I cannot get enough of the stuff and drink a cup every night, as part of my bedtime ritual. If you tend to get up to go the toilet during the night, I recommend drinking a cup around 90 minutes prior to bedtime.

6. Help your hormones and dim the lights at least 30 minutes prior to bedtime.

Melatonin, the sleep hormone, is activated through darkness. Serotonin, the awake hormone, is activated by light. Bright light signals to the brain that it’s daytime, and it’s time to be awake. We can encourage the right hormones at the right time by dimming the lights early, and don’t put a bright light on if you need to go to the bathroom – I keep candles in the bathroom. Yes it takes a good few seconds longer to light a candle, a small price to pay to fall asleep sooner!

Don’t read anything before bed with a backlight, such as your phone, computer or kindle – the light is too bright and will interfere with melatonin production. Television has the same effect. Although it may seem to put you to sleep, it’s not helping you stay asleep.

Additionally, get outside into the fresh air during the day, to absorb more sunlight and enhance serotonin production. Lack of serotonin can compromise immunity and is related to depression, whilst adequate levels promote happiness and relaxation. A relaxed and happy person sleeps better than a stressed/unhappy one. Insomnia and depression are intrinsically linked.

7. Avoid caffeine after 2pm.

For some, this may be 12 noon! We all have different levels of sensitivity to caffeine. Personally I’ll be up all night if I have any caffeine after 4pm. Coffee, tea, chai tea, coca cola and chocolate all contain caffeine.

If you’re an anxious person, caffeine is not your friend, and will only exacerbate the problem. Swap for herbal teas instead. I love peppermint tea, lemon & ginger tea, or dandelion tea (great with soy milk and honey), for a refreshing and invigorating caffeine free pick-me-up. I do love my coffee, however I don’t have a cup every day. When I do, I enjoy it once a day, mid-morning. I’ll have a chai tea sometime before or around lunch. It’s recommended that no more than two caffeinated beverages should be consumed daily, for good adrenal health. That “energy” buzz you feel after your cuppa? We think it’s energy, but it’s not – it’s actually your adrenals under stress, it’s an adrenaline surge. The “energy” felt after caffeine is actually your body under stress, in fight or flight mode.

8. Avoid alcohol late at night.

Alcohol disrupts the natural flow of stages of sleep, and normal sequence of brain wave changes. Alcohol can reduce the time taken to fall asleep, but disrupts sleep in the 2nd half of the night making it easy to wake up. Moderation is key and a drink or two in the evening can be OK, depending on the individual, as long as consumption isn’t within 2 hours of sleeping.

Along with sweets and other refined sugars/carbohydrates, alcohol is an inflammatory, causing aggravation to your system, which may be contributing to a restless night. Adequate protein intake throughout the day is essential for good sleep. Please see your local naturopath for dietary analysis and recommendations.

9. Think to yourself: “There’s no place I’d rather be right now.”

And repeat. Keep repeating this, over and over in your head as you lie there in bed. A friend shared this with me many years ago and I absolutely love it, it works so well. When your body and mind realise the truth of this statement, you will begin to relax, feeling grateful and happy for the bed beneath you and the warm covers surrounding you.

10. Practise Yoga.

Yoga is the unification of mind, body and soul. Yoga eases and strengthens tense, tired muscles and minds. Doing just a few gentle yoga poses in an evening will help you relax. A more intense yoga class is recommended earlier in the day, for those of us prone to trouble sleeping.

It’s quite simple – doing yoga makes you sleep better. Try it and see for yourself. Ah, the benefits of yoga, I could go on for days! More on yoga in a future post.

11. Exercise.

Your body will sleep better if it is physically tired. Exercise helps us release pent up energy. Our muscles and lymphatic system store toxins that can only be released from the system by exercising. Exercise grounds us in our body – you will not fall asleep easily if you are not fully present in the moment, ie. if your mind is jumping all over the place – you’re not fully present.

Avoid stimulating, strenuous activity after dinner. It may wind you up. The earlier in the day, the better. Try to be more active in general throughout the day. We’re not meant to be sedentary creatures.

12. Catch the sleep wave.

Sleepiness comes in waves, every 60-90 minutes or so. Yep, just like surfing! If you start to feel tired but stay awake for some reason – you want to watch the end of the movie, or read a little more of your book – you may no longer feel sleepy when you decide you want to sleep. Has this happened to you? Frustrating, yes? I find the best way around this is to get ready for bed after dinner, so whenever that wave comes, you can ride it! If you do miss a wave, just like the surf, you can’t force another, you’ll have to wait for the next one. Get into bed, and do some relaxation, such as the deep breathing, or some reading. Keep the lights as dim as possible and don’t use the computer or TV. Allow that next wave to come, and catch it.

13. Be physically comfortable on your bed and pillow.

Is your mattress the perfect blend of firm or soft, just the way you like it? Personally I prefer a bed on the firmer side, it helps with my muscular and spinal alignment. We all have different preferences, find what works for you. Super important! I also find it very difficult to sleep if I haven’t been doing yoga regularly, as my muscles become tight and achy. Discomfort = lack of sleep! Yes, here it is again, go to yoga!

Choose a pillow that is comfortable for you too. I recently invested in a latex memory foam pillow and I cannot believe I didn’t do it sooner, it has changed my life! Comfort maximum. Yes it was about $60, on sale. Again, a small price to pay for quality sleep.

14. Keep a pen and paper on your nightstand so you can jot down any unrelenting thoughts swirling round in your head.

Write them down and tell yourself you’ll come back to it in the morning. The simple act of out of the head and onto paper is healing in itself, and can give you clarity.

15. Turn your phone off or put it on Flight mode.

I understand that people with kids feel differently about this one. I understand reasons why you feel you must be contactable at all times. If you must leave your phone on, please do not have it on your bedside table overnight. Keep it as far away from your head as possible, making sure the volume is turned up high.

Electromagnetic stress does effect us. If it feels right for you, give yourself a break overnight and put that phone on flight mode. Flight mode disconnects all incoming and outgoing signals. Did you know that every two minutes, your phone is sending and receiving signals transmitted to and from radio towers? If you’re near your phone, those electromagnetic waves are passing through you, disrupting your energy field.

Intuitively, I’ve been putting my phone on flight mode overnight ever since I’ve had one. I’ve noticed that if I forget to do it, my sleep quality is poor. Those close to me have my landline number if I am required to be contacted in an emergency. Unless you have a very good reason to leave it on, why would you want to risk being woken up while you’re sleeping anyway? Prioritise your health, wellbeing and sleep.

If you still have trouble sleeping after trying all the above, book a Kinesiology session. Every client I have reports sleeping better after a session, even if what we’ve worked on had nothing to do with sleep. There could be an energetic imbalance somewhere in your system that you’re unable to tackle on your own. Click here to book now.

With love,

Jacqueline

Image by Paul Szustka

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