“A Ruffled Mind Makes A Restless Pillow”
Bronte,C (1857) The Professor.
There are three major players in sleepless and the 21st century insomnia epidemic: LIGHT, FOOD and our EMOTIONS/MIND. But this blog is just going to focus on preparing the mind and emotions for sleep. Tricks and tools that will help you to hack into and govern your own nervous system, take you out of high alert (that stressed-out feeling) and get you sleep-ready.
If you’re reading this and you know you’re in an easily triggered, emotionally fragile state, then sleep is so, so important for you. Physical and mental fatigue makes us so much more vulnerable to extra stress but also sleep plays a vital role in helping us to emotionally recover from the day before. The saying “sleep on it” is a wise one.
Life is so busy that is it easy just to tag sleep onto the end of the day, without really prioritising it, and much less preparing for it.
Here are three practical steps to help you to zone into a better place to have restorative and refreshing sleep (by the way, if you wake up in the middle of the night this really helped us get back to sleep):
1 – Stop Everything Earlier
We are now living in a 24 /7 culture, but this is a new phenomenon thanks to entertainment from screens and bright light, fooling us into living the evening as if it were the day. There was such a time that people would engage in leisure activity, cards, games, talking, reading, and dare I say it, crochet. But there is one thing missing from all of these activities – screens. The problem with screens is they are blue. Or more precisely they give off a blue -green light, mimicking mid-day sun, increasing your stress hormone cortisol and very effectively suppressing your sleep onset hormone, melatonin. Added to this, screens very often push out scenes or information which are disturbing, upsetting or agitating. Ever come across a FB post that makes your blood boil or your heart pound?
- Compare that to reading – from a paper back, not a kindle. It’s much more meditative and I also wonder if there is a therapy in reading in that as your eyes swoop from left to right it may in itself be therapeutic. EMDR therapy (a psychological treatment for overcoming PTSD) is based upon eye movements and REM sleep (our emotionally healing phase of sleep) is Rapid Eye Movement from one side to the other. Just a thought….
- Turn off screens at least an hour before bed.
- Don’t engage in heated conversations or problem solving.
- As a mark of switching off, light a candle of natural essential oils containing therapeutic and relaxing lavender or chamomile.
- Turn ceiling lights off and go over to low, cosy lamps lit with traditional incandescent bulbs (newer, energy saving bulbs are terrible because their light is predominantly in the blue range).
- Treat yourself to the most wonderful relaxing epsom salt bath. Add a few drops of essential oil of lavender, step out of the bath into a low lit room, get your book and chosen sleep drink, like Beauty Sleep and enjoy the rarity of being in the moment.
2 – Do a mental download/mind-dump
Don’t go to bed with loose ends and to-do lists in your head or you will run the risk of the losing your peace of mind in bed.
- write down your to-do list for the next day on a piece of paper (Don’t type it out. Writing out with pen and paper is a double affirmative action). Writing down acts like a download from your head and onto the paper so that your mind doesn’t have to turn over unfinished business through the night
- if you have fears and regrets, write these down too. Sometimes we catastrophize and fear the worst case scenario but often when we write out our fears and see them in black and white, the fears dissipate as we realise most of the time, the worst case scenario is not based upon reality or that it is not totally unmanageable. Writing it out often helps to create a better perspective.
- if today didn’t work out the way you wanted or if you didn’t live out the day in a way you wish you had, tomorrow is a new day and a new opportunity to do it differently.
3 – Breathe Yourself Back Into A Relaxed State
Your breath, the way you breathe, can actually have a powerful effect on your nervous system. This is because exercising the diaphragm stimulates the vagal nerve which in response turns down the sympathetic or ‘fight or flight’ side of your autonomic nervous system and stimulates the rest and digest, or parasympathetic autonomic system. In essence it reduces the stress response and creates inner harmony between your body and mind.
This type of breathing is called diaphragmatic or slow abdominal breathing.
- do this by breathing intentionally long and slow breathes in and out
- you can breath in through your nose and out through your mouth, either through tight pursed lips like you are trying to blow out lots of candles, or through and rasping sound in your throat
- when you breath in your tummy should rise, when you breath out it should fall.
- this can be done at ANYTIME of the day, standing or lying
- good vagal tone is being increasingly associated with good health and vitality
If you would like to go one step further, I would highly recommend this particular breathing technique prescribed by the wonderful association, HeartMathe. It is called heart breathing. You can follow the directions in the link below. But once you have done ten breathe cycles and you are “heart-focused”, bring yourself back to a place in your life where you felt truly happy, joyful or peaceful. And then breathe that moment in for a further 10 or as many cycles as you would like. The body responds to it as if it were in real-time.
We have the capacity to sleep well and to heal. We just need to give ourselves the right internal environment and these tools above can help you step into that.
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