I’m fortunate that I usually sleep quite well, but when things can be particularly stressful or have lots of plates spinning, I can lie awake, unable to drift off with over-active thoughts. Knowing how important sleep is for the next day, I can then start to worry that I am not falling asleep. This causes a vicious cycle.
We once held an event called BASECAMP, where we had lots of guests and speakers including Dr Barbara Mariposa, a sleep expert. Her talk is something that has stuck with me and provided me with a number of techniques which I have listed below, in the hope that they can help you too.
Things to avoid:
While in bed, three main things prevent people from having a good night’s sleep, the three Ps: pee, pain & people. You can go for a wee. You should treat pain and people - that depends on your situation. The three Ps are somewhat out of our control, but we can avoid the common barriers below:
Alcohol - be careful about alcohol intake, it's fermented sugar, so drinking too much can interfere with sleep patterns as blood sugar levels peak and trough through the night.
Caffeine - no brainer. We of all people know that caffeine keeps you awake, so if you are after a great night's sleep, having caffeine too close to bedtime is not a great idea (after 4pm). However, we know that there are plenty of people out there who love their caffeine - an alternative is our ENERGY gum.
Working out too close to bedtime - working out increases alpha brainwaves and makes us more alert, so if you work out late in the evening, this can have an adverse effect on sleep.
Digital activity - Nobody will die if you don’t reply to your email at 11pm at night. Social media especially can be damaging as your brain processes so much information as you scroll. Unplugging yourself from your digital universe will mean that your brain has a chance to calm down before you go to bed.
Big meals too late - falling into a slumber post-carb binge might be one of the best feelings in the world, but trying to get a good night’s sleep while digesting a big meal is never good.
Things you can do: sleep enablers
These are things you can do before you go to bed and when you are in bed to promote having a good night’s sleep:
Rituals - Some people like a chamomile tea, others like to relax with a hot bath, if this makes you feel relaxed then it’s not a bad idea.
Reading/meditation - If you usually lay in bed scrolling through Instagram then try reading instead, not on your iPad or Kindle though! Picking up a real book and reading requires a bit of effort, and it helps to clear your mind to help you nod off. Meditation also helps clear your mind. There are many ways to meditate, and you should look into what works best for you.
Write s**t down - If there is something that is bothering you then write it down. You process stuff out by physically writing it down in pen and paper, not on a device. You evaluate the issue as you write it out, and it will get the negative energy out of your head.
Disconnect from digital - At around 9.00pm commit to not looking at any screens and give your brain a break.
Pillows & Mattress - The average person spends 26 years sleeping. It is therefore worth the investment in a pillow and mattress that works for you. A mattress topper can make all the difference.
Techniques to help fall asleep
A filing system in your head - One of the most annoying things for me is waking up in the night and then not being able to get back to sleep because of all the thoughts running round in my head. Not being able to stop thinking about that one ridiculous thing that I know there is nothing I can do about, or preparing myself for something in the morning and I can’t stop thinking about it!
One method of dealing with this is by creating an imaginary filing system for your thoughts. Imagine creating folders, a virtual filing system in your mind, work, family, a to-do list, thoughts on things that have happened in the day, thinking about your next holiday.
Then when a thought is bothering you, with your mind’s eye, visualise putting that thought away - into its file. When it pops back to the front of mind again, imagine putting it back into its virtual file again. Eventually, one of two things will happen, either your mind will wander off to something else, or you will fall asleep.
What you are learning to do is cultivate peace of mind. Altering the relationship you have between yourself and your thoughts.
I am not my thoughts. I have thoughts.
Next time you find yourself lying awake thinking about stuff, think about one thing that you are willing to stop or start to take better care of your wellbeing, which will mean you can sleep more and worry less.
I’d be lying if I told you I’ve been practising all of the above, but the small changes I have made have meant so far this year I've been sleeping a lot better.
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