The Abs's Of Zzzzs

Ask an honest scientist and they'll tell you sleeping is a cure for sleepiness.
Ask an honest scientist and they’ll tell you sleeping is a cure for sleepiness.

We know that sleeping is a necessary biological action for good physical and mental health, and we know our circadian rhythms generally dictate our sleep-wake cycles but sleep is also something millions of people worry about.

If you’ve had even one sleepless night, you’ll know that sleeplessness isn’t for the faint-hearted. Waking up bleary eyed, with a foggy brain and not-too-sunny mood can put a serious damper on the day. And if the tossing and turning lasts for more than one night, you may be on a downward spiral experienced by insomniacs throughout the world. Although we’re told that 7-8 hours a night is optimal, it really is an individual need – Winston Churchill claimed only four hours a night and he seemed to manage just fine during the Second World War.

If bed time fills you with trepidation, try our 15 tips to help you launch the journey towards the land of nod.

15 TIPS to help you sleep >

BREATHE FULLY: Many people don’t realise they don’t breathe fully. Take some meditative time before bed to breathe deeply, filling not only your lungs, but your entire body with life-giving oxygen. Sit or lie comfortably and inhale deeply to the count of 8. Exhale to the same count through your mouth. Repeat this four or five times, or until you feel relaxed and drowsy. Slow, deep and focused breathing sends signals to the brain that you are relaxed.

FIND YOUR SLEEP BUTTONS: Shiatsu pressure points offer some relaxation. Press both thumbs firmly on the centre of your forehead, in line with the upper edges of your ears, for 10-15 seconds. Another pressure point is on the soles of your feet, between the second and third toe joints, about a third of the way between the tip of your middle toe to your heel.

QUIETEN YOUR MIND: Not being able to fall asleep is often down to thoughts bouncing around in your head. If counting sheep doesn’t work for you, create a serene scene in your mind (a beach, waterfall or beautiful mountain). Water works well because of its natural ebb and flow which you can match to your deepening breathing – imagine a ball floating on the water and follow its journey as it moves in and out with the waves or tide. If you need something more complicated to keep your mind from straying, imagine a man cycling slowly down a mountain path towards the sea. Breathe in the fresh natural smells, taste the air and shut out all other thoughts. This will also open up your brain’s creative pathway, important for sleep.

READ A STORY: Ban TV from your bedroom and pick up a good book, (not so good that it keeps you up until all hours) Go for short stories so you can have a natural end instead of having to choose when to cut a longer story short, or try reading a really boring book, that’ll automatically make you sleepy.


LISTEN TO YOGA NIDRA: If you haven’t had enough sleep and need rejuvenation, try Yoga Nidra. This is a form of relaxing yoga also known as yogic sleep or psychic sleep and is defined as a deep state that’s sleep-like, but with your thought processes fully in control. It consists of targeted visualisation exercises that draw the participant into deep relaxation. It assists in reducing anxiety and tension, symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, headaches, chest pain, palpitations, dizziness and more. You may fall asleep during this practise, which is fine, but many yogis say that just 30 minutes of this practise offers the same rejuvenating benefits of several hours of sleep.

EMPTY YOUR MIND: If you’re just not able to push thoughts out of your head, keep a pen and piece of paper next to your bed so you can write down intrusive thoughts as they arise. Stay away from using your cell phone to make notes as the phone’s glare will jolt your system into being more awake. Once you have written down everything you might be worried about, your mind will feel more peaceful. It’s like taking the thoughts out your head and leaving them behind on the paper.

TAKE A BATH: A warm bath really does help. Everyone has an optimal core body temperature that induces sleep – no matter what the weather. A warm bath raises your temperature and as it falls into your sleepy-time degrees, you’ll begin to feel drowsy.

did you know?
Sweet smells can induce sweet dreams. A study revealed that people who are exposed to the smell of lemon or rose during sleep had happier dreams than those exposed to rotten egg smells. The dreams didn’t reflect the smells and participants didn’t remember the smells in the morning, but reported very different dream types.

ADD RELAXING OILS: Add aromatherapy oils with relaxation and somatic properties to your bath or pillow. Try these bath recipes: 3 drops lavender oil and 1 drop clary sage in a teaspoon of milk for sleepiness; 4 drops lavender, 4 drops roman chamomile in a teaspoon of milk to calm nerves.

LEAVE OUT HEAVY MEALS: It makes sense not to eat a heavy meal before bedtime as heartburn is definitely a sleep-killer. Eat your evening meal three to four hours before bedtime. If you need a snack, eat tryptophan-rich food (it’s a natural amino acid that has sedative effects), like a banana or glass of organic milk.  

CHECK YOUR BEDDING: It’s really quite obvious, but trying to fall asleep on a surface that’s lumpy, rickety, too hard or too soft will not help at all. A good, firm mattress is essential, so aim to replace yours at least every eight to ten years. Ensure your pillows are plumped and cool and your sleeping clothes are soft and loose. Use natural fibres both to sleep in and for your linen.

TRIP THE LIGHT: One of the main reasons insomnia is on the rise (other than stress) is that we’re constantly exposed to artificial lighting – from street lights to cell phone glares. Switch yours off in the hours before bedtime to help your body’s ability to produce melatonin and induce sleep. Use table lamps with 40 watt bulbs, dimmer switches or better still, solar lamps or candles (this also cuts down on energy usage). Invest in blackout curtains for your bedroom, or a sleep mask to keep out intrusive light.

WORK IT OUT: Your body needs exercise to function optimally. Sitting for most of the day not only reduces your core muscle strength and allows bad fat to accumulate in your belly and surrounding organs, it also doesn’t allow you to burn of the necessary energy needed for sleep. But, try not to exercise too close to bedtime if you can. Exercise is energising and can keep you awake for long periods afterwards.

AVOID CAFFEINE: Hydrating during the day is vital, but taper off the liquid close to bed time to prevent a midnight loo-run. While some people seemingly aren’t affected by caffeine, it’s wise to stop drinking caffeinated beverages by 3pm each afternoon. Keep water next to your bed in case you wake up and consider drinking chamomile tea or a cup of warmed milk with a dash of cinnamon and honey before bed.

CLEAN UP YOUR ACT: Good sleep hygiene is important – and one of these essentials is keeping your bedroom for sleep and sex only. Televisions, workout equipment, a work desk – all those are definite no-nos. Stay away from stimulating colours, keep the lights low and the temperature comfortable. Train your brain to trigger sleep when you are in the bedroom. Keep work and worry outside.

did you know?
Insomnia can be divided into two categories: sleep onset – difficulty falling asleep, and sleep maintenance insomnia – difficulty staying asleep.

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