Sleep. It’s that thing that each of us reveres and revels in. The essential activity that keeps us going but can also be overly elusive.
The trouble is, that the mind can get into a destructive habit cueing the body into sleeping at times when it’s important to be at most alert. Only to have the mind active and racing in the dark of night when it’s time to be getting shut-eye.
Getting the right amount of sleep at the right time can be life-changing.
For those who struggle with it, getting on-board with better sleep offers the chance for not only healthier days, but happier ones as well.
Joanne loved her life. A working mother of two school aged girls, Joanne’s days were filled with glitter and tea parties, muddy boots and coloring books. She and her husband were both high school teachers, who were passionate about their jobs and felt secure in their family life.
On the outside, her life seemed to be perfect, and by all rights it should have been. However Joanne struggled with sleep.
She’d fared well through the infant years when her daughters had kept her up all night for feeding sessions and dirty nappies, but had never felt as though her rhythm of sleep was quite right again. Joanne had continued to wake at least once in the night long after the girls slept in their own rooms. But for years it was easily solved with a visit to the loo, a glass of water, and heading back to bed.
But for more than a year, since her mother passed away from breast cancer, Joanne found that she couldn’t find her way back to dreamland once she awoke. Sleep became more and more elusive with each passing month. At night she’d lie awake in bed, her mind racing. Once awake, sleep never seemed to come for her.
She’d begun to take longer naps on the weekends to try to catch up, but rather than fixing the problem she discovered that things only got worse. She found herself falling asleep during those afternoon tea parties with the girls, and even at her desk during class. On the way home from a short country trip, Joanne had nearly fallen asleep behind the wheel of her car and almost hit the guard rail. The experience was enough to wake her up to the seriousness of her sleep problem.
Reaching out to her husband, Joanne and he embarked on a mission to make sleep a priority. She cut out all caffeine from her diet, changed the layout of her bedroom, added blackout curtains, forewent those weekend naps and even began a bedtime ritual to get herself ready for sleep. Also important were the sessions that Joanne began with a grief counsellor to help her come to terms with the loss of her mother.
With time and diligence, sleep did finally come again for Joanne. She was more alert, less irritable, and had more energy to put into playing with her daughters. Eventually Joanne found that sleep was easy and natural again.
6 tips for better sleep
Everyone has the potential to get the sleep that they need – just like Joanne did. It’s a matter of taking action, because everything that’s great in life begins with just one step forward. Here are five tips that will help you to get a better night’s sleep.
1. Exercise regularly
This might seem completely strange – what does exercise have to do with sleep? Most people today spend their working hours sitting still, which means that the physical body doesn’t get nearly the kind of energy release that it needs for balance. Exercising has been shown to be a powerful way to change sleep habits. It doesn’t matter what time of day the workout happens, but thirty minutes of movement per day whether it be a jog, a weight training session, a swim or whatever is preferred will help those who struggle with sleep to fall asleep more easily and stay asleep for longer.
2. Black out
Extra light is a serious problem where sleep is concerned. Streetlights or outside light of any kind interferes with the body’s signal that it’s time to rest. Getting rid of all outside light is an easy and essential part of getting good sleep.
3. No blue
However it’s not just the outside lights that are the most common problem – the blue light from smart phones, televisions, tablets, computers, etc. causes a serious disruption of the brain itself. Cutting screen time for at least an hour before bed can have an immediate effect on the quality of sleep. Read a book, do a crossword puzzle, or take a bath before bed instead of cuddling up with a favourite show or social media. The added bonus of cutting out screen time is that it cuts out distraction and lets the mind release and relax.
4. Write it down
Keeping a notebook next to the bed is a great way to get things out of the brain and onto the paper so that they don’t continue to keep the mind active. This works for emotional turmoil as well as for the little things in life that tend to nag in the wee hours of the morning and keep the mind turning and unable to sleep. This doesn’t have to be a to-do list, but the act of putting pen to paper is a powerful one.
5. Talk to someone
If there’s been a significant life change like the loss of a loved one, a relationship that’s different or a new job situation, expect to see ramifications across life. Talking to a professional counsellor about these changes can be a critical step into uncovering the underlying reasons for the loss of sleep. For many people, insomnia is a symptom of something that’s unresolved in their life that they need to address. Getting the underlying issue remedied is a long term solution for sleep troubles.
6. Learn to surf off to sleep
Sleep comes in cycles or waves of around an hour or so. That’s why you’re suddenly so exhausted in the middle of the day, you could put your head on the desk for a snooze. And why you have a second wind at unexpected moments. Learn to recognize when the wave is approaching. Get completely ready for sleep (toilet, teeth, dog out, in bed reading), and surf the wave into sleep.
Could you do with more sleep?