We all need a good night’s sleep and we know that if we get a good sleep we are much nicer to be around, we feel more positive and have more energy to do what we want with our day. The opposite is true when we consistently have poor sleep; we are irritable, forgetful and cannot function at our best.
How much sleep do we need?
Every person’s sleep needs are different and although the norm is 7 to 8 hours, some people may only need only 5 or 6 hours and others as much as 9 to 10 hours. If you wake up refreshed and wake naturally around the time of your alarm clock and if you have enough energy to stay alert during the day, then you probably had a good night’s sleep.
What does a good night’s sleep do for us?
It is one of the top anti-aging things we can do for ourselves which is a good enough reason to give it priority in our lives. It is necessary for tissue regeneration and long term health both mental and physical. Anxiety and depression can be caused by lack of sleep so another good reason to get to bed early.
While we sleep, the immune system does much of its work helping our defense system be effective against infections. There is also an increased production of growth hormone which stimulates tissue and liver regeneration, muscle building and blood sugar regulation.
Is lack of sleep an issue?
Apart from the obvious reasons we can also get into a cycle of poor sleep, low energy and then we grab high energy snacks which are often loaded with sugar or go for a cup of coffee. Apart from making us feel sluggish, in the long term these habits can continue the cycle of keeping us awake at night.
Sleeping with a new baby or toddler in the house
As any new mother knows you may have to operate on much less sleep than you’d like but napping during the day, when your baby sleeps, can be a great way to catch up on a little. Still aim to get your eight hours, even if it is taken in bursts during the 24 hours, although napping too late in the day can disrupt your night time sleep so try and nap in the morning or after lunch. If you prioritize sleep then you’ll find you can cope with life’s stresses much more easily. Also see if you can snatch ten minutes here or there to do some deep breathing, or relaxing to a meditation CD or some quiet music. Calming the mind can be as good as a rest.
Ten tips to help you get to sleep
- 1. Avoid coffee, soft drinks with caffeine and alcohol. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others and it may be fine to limit yourself to one coffee a day before noon (caffeine can take as long as 10 hours to leave your system). Alcohol may make you drowsy but is also likely to disrupt your sleep. Chocolate is another one to be wary of in the evening.
- 2. Eat your evening meal before 7pm, but if you have a problem with waking in the night then consider having a small snack later in the evening before bed to regulate your blood sugar levels – oatmeal or other wholegrain snack is ideal.
- 3. Create a calm bedroom conducive to sleep without TVs, laptops and mobile phones. The ideal is a comfortable bedroom which is dark, cool and quiet with a comfortable mattress.
- 4. Have a relaxing evening routine to wind down especially in the hour before bed. This may mean turning the TV off half an hour early and enjoying a conversation with your partner, sharing a cup of chamomile tea or soaking in a hot bath with relaxing essential oils.
- 5. A hot milky drink can be useful because of its effect in producing the neurotransmitter serotonin which initiates sleep.
- 6. Exercise regularly but do any aerobic exercise early in the day or early evening to avoid being over adrenalized at bedtime. Although an early evening walk before or after dinner can be a good way to wind down.
- 7. Use your oil burner in the evening with some lavender or a relaxing essential oil mix.
- 8. Have a regular time to go to bed and to get up in the morning. Remember that the hours before midnight are more beneficial than those after so try and be in bed by 10pm.
- 9. If you tend to have cold hands and feet then warming your feet with a wheat bag when in bed can be restful.
- 10. Finally, when you are in bed lying there with worrying thoughts racing through the mind, do the progressive muscle relaxation exercise by starting at your feet and tensing and relaxing each set of muscles: feet, calves, thighs, legs, buttocks, stomach…all the way up to the face. As you relax after each tensing, let your body sink into the bed and feel the heaviness of the relaxation. You’ll often be asleep before you reach your stomach!
If you have chronic insomnia (either difficulty getting to sleep or waking in the night) or if you are going through a particularly stressful time when sleep is disrupted then it is worthwhile investigating the cause further. A consultation with your naturopath or health practitioner is advisable and herbs or supplements may be helpful.
So why not bring sleep up the priority list and let a few of the chores go. Sweet dreams!