Updated: Oct 26, 2019
While you were sleeping – it sounds ominous doesn’t it, but it shouldn’t be. If your body were to write a journal every morning for you that began with “while I was sleeping”, you would be amazed at what had happened during the night. There is a great deal of cell renewal and repair that is critical to our day-to-day living (& maintaining our good looks!) and as well as that, sleep is involved in controlling over 600 of our genes, including one for weight loss which I know a lot of us care about. (Sleep deprivation is connected to diabetes and obesity.)
But good, deep sleep, the sleep that we need, isn’t always easy to achieve and it becomes harder to achieve the older we become. The long and short of it is that we need to be relaxed at bedtime, with negligible stress levels but in today’s busy world, that’s difficult.
Here are some quick changes that you can make today:
Follow your circadian rhythm – also known as your body clock: when to retire to bed, when to arise in the morning. Listen to your body and get into its groove! Then try to be as consistent as possible with those timings: research shows that going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time improves the quality of your sleep.
A reflexologist can help restore your circadian rhythm by stimulating and balancing the pineal gland reflex, a gland that releases melatonin which controls our body clocks.
Start a bedtime routine – there is a reason why we create bedtime routines for babies and that’s to show their brains that it’s time to go to sleep. The same applies to adults. The routine doesn’t need to be convoluted, could simply be reading for 20 minutes or writing a diary but those small actions will trigger signals in your brain that it’s time to recharge the batteries.
Create some ‘me time’ in the day – self-care is so important in reducing stress levels. Whatever you find relaxing to do, try to make time for a little of it every day. Regular reflexology sessions would fit into this category.
Reflexologists transport you to a place of deep relaxation by working the solar plexus and diaphragm reflex, allowing you to create positive pre-sleep affirmations, imagining how you’ll feel after an undisturbed, peaceful sleep.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol after 1pm. They are huge stimulants, raise cortisol levels (stress hormone) and can take eight hours to leave our bodies. It might feel tricky to cut out the evening glass of wine but try to do it for a few evenings and consider the quality of your sleep the next day.
Try to commit to 30 minutes of exercise each day, as it’s an excellent way to reduce cortisol levels: a dog walk, a run, a class at the gym. Don't do strenuous exercise in the evening though – turn to yoga or Pilates instead.
Have a light meal (instead of a heavy one) in the evening and don't eat after 8pm. I understand that this is a tricky one, especially if you’re waiting for a partner to return from work but it is important. If you eat later, your body is still processing food at bedtime rather than relaxing and dozing off.
Blue light detox – try not to check your tablets and phones in the evening as the blue light they emit stimulates the brain and it can take three hours to calm.
Breathing techniques can really help if you feel as though your mind is racing. One way is the 4: 7: 8 method: take a deep breath in for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, breathe out over 8 counts and relax into your bed as you do so. You’ll be so focussed on breathing and counting that your brain won’t be able to settle on busy thoughts. Before you know it you’ll be fast asleep.
If you’ve tried those for a few weeks and you continue to feel as though you’re not getting enough sleep, you could investigate the following:
Vitamin D - Vitamin D is also a hormone and appears to have direct effects on the brain for sleep regulation. The best sources of vitamin D are sunshine (book that holiday!), sardines and eggs. Failing that a good quality supplement.
Investigate if a lack of magnesium could be affecting you. Magnesium counters stress, helps muscles relax and as a result can impact sleep. As we age we lose magnesium so a good quality magnesium supplement may assist a good night’s kip.
If you're on medication though you need to check with your doctor before taking supplements.
Although sleep feels like such a natural bodily function, it needs some work and practice; just as you might refine your technique at a sport or hobby, so you must with sleep too, making tweaks here and there to ensure that your body’s journal is brimming with positivity when you wake up in the morning.