Before I begin my article, I would like to say I’m a terrible sleeper. In fact, I’m currently writing this post on four hours of sleep with a coffee in hand. I am clearly no sleep expert in the slightest, however, I have found what works for me, and more importantly what doesn’t. What’s great is that at least I’ve acknowledged this and can actively make a plan where I try and take the time to relax before bed. I digress.
My mother has always said I’m the night owl of the family, and who knows you better than your mother? As a kid, I would be coaxed into morning service at the local synagogue by my father, and I’d bat them away at 10:30 am telling them I’d had a hard week and to let me rest – I was 11 years at this point and the only difficulty I had during my week was not being guaranteed the dessert at lunchtime. This pattern continued until my late teens.
I’d struggle in the morning and when the clock hit 8 pm it was all systems go for me. I would wake up like I’d had an IV of caffeine wired into me and when it was time to sleep my mind would whirl, thinking about everything and anything and I hated it. Even the times I would get to bed early, I would toss and turn my mind on overdrive. I’d look at my watch after an hour of staring pertinently at the ceiling and start to get frustrated about how long I’d been failing to sleep for – which doesn’t help in the fall asleep part, ya know?
I’ve noticed that whilst backpacking, I was able to get up pretty easily and go to bed in good time, but now that we’re going through a pandemic, the extra anxiety surrounding it means I’ve had to rely on what I’ve learnt during those travel times and apply the knowledge to the here and now. I’m not going to put ANY pressure on myself this period, but I’ve figured out the 5 things I should do and 5 things I shouldn’t do in order to give myself the best sleep. Let us begin:
DO: CHAMOMILE TEA
Don’t: Decaffeinated Coffee
DO: Chamomile has been used for decades to help those who suffer from Anxiety and Insomnia. It’s rich in antioxidants which can benefit your overall health, and also contains Apigenin, which promotes sleep by attaching itself to your sleep receptors. I used to think it was a myth, but after dropping a Chamomile tea bag into some hot water, and drinking it 40 minutes before bed, I felt relaxed and sleepy.
DON’T: In contrast, I am never having decaffeinated coffee before bedtime. I always had a cup beforehand, thinking it would relax me (whilst still offering that great coffee taste) but oh no. Despite the fact the MAJORITY of caffeine has been removed, it turns out that there is still caffeine present – approximately 3mg per cup. This isn’t just in the normal decaffeinated coffee you buy in the supermarket, but those at major coffeehouses too like Starbucks. If you’re an individual who finds themselves more receptive to caffeine effects, I wouldn’t recommend a decaf coffee at night.
Don’t: Message the world and its brother on your phone
DO: I first discovered the app Headspace a few years ago when I lost someone very close to me. It was a traumatic few weeks while he was in the hospital, and from that period to the time he left us, sleep went out the window. This wasn’t even the usual tossing and turning scenarios, but more heart palpitations and vivid night terrors. As a last resort, I turned to Headspace, and I still remember listening to one of the sleep casts offered and not remembering falling asleep.
Years later, it’s come in handy and I recommend it to anyone. They have a whole page dedicated to sleep, with different options to choose from depending on what relaxes you the most. You can listen to 45 minutes of a sleep cast where someone describes a scene to imagine, there’s music to listen to or quick bursts of ten-minute meditation and breathing sessions specially designed for if you wake up in the middle of the night. It is, without a doubt, life-changing and I find when I listen to a sleep cast now, I wake up feeling very rested.
DON’T: I’m a chatterbox. I also like talking to my friends who are awake on the other side of the world when I’m meant to be sleeping. As much as I love engaging with them and finding out about their lives, 2 am is not the right time to do so. I’ve also found looking at a screen late at night causes a glare to stay behind my eyes when I try to close them. Not good people.
Don’t: Get too hot
DO: Season dependent, I find it comforting to sleep with quite a few blankets laid on top of me. Weighted blankets have become quite popular as they mimic a therapeutic technique called ‘deep pressure stimulation’ to calm the nervous system. If you don’t fancy buying one, having blankets laid on top of you can mimic the pressure and I find it helps me a lot.
DON’T: I’ve found when I’m too hot I can’t sleep. Ensure you’ve got fresh air coming through an open window of some sort.
DO: CRYSTAL SALT LAMP
Don’t: Watch TV just before sleep
DO: I discovered these when I had daily yoga classes and decided that the glow was so relaxing, I needed one in my room. It makes SUCH a difference to the ambience as opposed to the harsh light from the bulbs in the ceiling. Pairing this with my Headspace sleep cast is perfect.
DON’T: This is a tip I need to adhere to a little bit more, seeing as I’m obsessed with a series on Netflix and can’t stop watching it. The glare from the TV or my phone always keeps me up, as does the action, the storylines and the drama – not very relaxing at all. I find ending my series an hour before bedtime, and instead of reading a book for ten minutes before starting my meditation session with my crystal salt lamp on, relaxes a lot more than a shooting scene. Who knew?
DO: EXERCISE DURING THE DAY
Don’t: Exercise intensely at night
DO: It’s very important that we include exercise into our daily routine, not just to keep us physically fit but to improve our mood and mental wellbeing. If you can manage even a 15-minute walk then that’s great, and if you fancy a challenge there are some great online workouts on Youtube or Instagram to try. My personal favourites are Team Body Project that gets your heart racing and offers you easier workouts if you’ve not participated in exercise for a while and Alice Liveing’s exercise challenges on Instagram which have helped me gain strength and provided some much-needed structure to my day.
DON’T: Exercise intensely late at night if you’re prone to sleepless nights. Everyone is different, some people can exercise late at night and feel NO effects, some can finish their workout an hour before sleeping and be fine, but for those of us who struggle with sleep, increasing our heart rate and getting that energy boost just before sleeping might not be the wisest of choices. A study found that moderate exercise completed an hour before bedtime might even improve sleep. This could include a gentle walk or a relaxing yoga session which would be less likely to wake you up compared to vigorous exercise like running or HIIT workouts (High Intensity Interval Training) which will raise your heart rate and therefore should be avoided before bedtime.
So there you have it – my top 5 DO’s and DON’Ts for better sleep. What do you recommend for a good night’s sleep?