Mind and Body
5 tips for a better night’s sleep
The other day a concerned co-worker craned over our partition, eyed me worriedly, and said, ‘Fi, are you alright?’ Perplexed, I said I was fine. ‘Because your shirt is on inside out.’
I wasn’t fine, as it goes, I was buggered. My sleep pattern was completely out of whack. And I’m not one of those lucky people who can function on four hours.
Studies show that four out of 10 people suffer from insomnia or troubled sleep at some point in their lives. And the effects can be dramatic, from greater irritability to diminished productivity, even to issues with memory.
I’m a troubled sleeper from way back. I don’t have one specific problem, it’s more of a collection of difficulties that manifest in different ways. I might fall asleep quickly, but wake up twenty times in a night. Or I might go to bed and stare at the ceiling for hours, despite feeling exhausted. Or I might sleep soundly and then have a nightmare, which startles me so much that I lie there waiting for my alarm to sound.
I’ve read article after article about getting a good night’s sleep; this is the advice I’ve tried — and that has failed — for me: tea that’s supposed to make me sleepy, avoiding drinking liquids at night, weird shaped pillows, not using a pillow at all, cutting out caffeine, cutting out booze (interestingly, drinking more booze helps, but it’s not a responsible solution and I’m trying to be a grown up these days), watching what and when I eat and hypnotherapy.
Luckily, as I battled through orthopaedic pillows and impulse-purchase tea, I did happen upon a few helpful techniques that usually see my off to the land of nod:
Create a night-time routine
For this, I have to thank writer Gretchin Rubin. In her books The Happiness Project and Better than Before, she discusses the importance of sleep and this tip has really helped. Twenty minutes before I go to bed, I start preparing for bed. This means, I make a cup of tea, wash my face, get my outfit ready for the next day and climb into bed to read. Going through this ritual at night means by brain knows it’s time for bed. When I use this consistently, the reading part of the process lasts ten minutes before I start to drift off. When I am not consistent with this ritual, I need to read for a longer period.
No napping and no sleeping in
It took me a while to agree to this one. I’m an adult, if I’m tired and I’m home in the afternoon, I should be able to nap if I want to. And no sleeping in? Even on weekends?! Even after a friend’s classy birthday dinner party degenerates into a 4am YouTube karaoke session?! But, eventually, I did try it and it does work for me (annoyingly).
By limiting my sleep to certain times for going to bed and waking up, and being consistent with it, I no longer feel the need to nap or sleep in because I’m getting the rest I need. However, I still have my rough nights and this rule is hard to stick to when I’m running on two hours sleep. But I try my best.
Sweat it out
It’s taken thirty years, but I’m finally coming to terms with exercise. It wasn’t that I didn’t like exercise, exercise didn’t seem to like me. However, it’s now clear to me that on the days I exercise, I sleep better. Obviously because I’m more physically tired than other days, but also because it helps me de-stress and clear my head, which allows me to rest at night.
Write it down
Not only am I a troubled sleeper, but I’m an over-thinker (there’s a chance the two are related). This is why the exercise helps and this is also why I keep a notebook by my bed. I used to lie there and run through every little thing I needed to do the next day, the next week and even into next year. Now, when I want to remind myself of something or make a quick list, I write it down and forget about it. This way my brain doesn’t feel like it has to hold on to something all night.
No television in the boudoir
Again, I fought this one. I liked having a T.V in my bedroom. I used to watch a little before going to bed and if I woke up I’d switch it on to put me back to sleep. But like the lists that kept me awake, the T.V shows kept me awake. ‘I’ll watch one more episode’ I’d tell myself and next thing I knew it was 3am. Now that I’ve shifted it out of my room, it’s no longer an option and that little red light is no longer bothering me.
These are the tips that have worked for me. And even though they haven’t fixed all my sleeping issues, they’ve certainly kicked a few of my bad habits.
Any other handy hints out there? Comment below with what has worked for you.