How To Sleep
Sleep. Can’t live without it and yet sometimes can’t live with it either…
For those of us that have ever experienced insomnia, bedtime can feel like a form of torture, coming with a sense of doom, dread and pleas of ‘please God let me sleep tonight’. I spent the majority of my teenage years lacking the ability to sleep like a normal person. I was the girl that lay awake until 3 A.M at a sleepover, preferring to roam a stranger’s hallways and stare out the window than to lie there listening to others sleeping like babies. However with a bit of help and a mind over matter attitude, I managed to overcome what felt like a disability at the time and now, for the most part, sleep easily, deeply and can’t remember the last time I had to rely on Nytol. Sunday nights, ridiculously early alarms and anxious periods still make sleep hard to come by (I’ve been known to lie awake until my 4 A.M alarm goes off while I’m looking at it) but for the most part, I feel like I’m much better at understanding how to switch off and the triggers that keep me awake.
I know Liv did a post like this recently too, so clearly sleep is on the brain at this busy, stress-inducing time of year. So here’s my ten cents on getting to the land of nod and staying there…
Can’t Sleep, Won’t Sleep
When people say to me ‘I can’t sleep on planes’ or ‘I can’t sleep unless it’s pitch black’, I’ve been there and I know that the ‘can’t’ in that sentence is normally at the root of the problem. Thinking you can’t sleep will always stop you doing just that so give yourself all the tools you need (eye mask, comfy pillow, ear plugs), close your eyes and see what happens… Go into it thinking you’re just going to have a rest and let your mind wander and you never know, sleep might just surprise you.
If I feel the slightest stomach growl when I get into bed, I get up and have a small snack before going back to bed. An empty stomach makes sleep even harder to come by and normally makes for a lighter, less restful kind of sleep too. For me, a banana or a small yoghurt is perfect – something around 100-150 calories that just takes the edge off hunger. Plus potassium in bananas is great for helping you doze off.
I’m a big believer in sleep spray and having been using one or other since I was 13. Yes the herbs and scent aid sleep, but for me I think it’s more of an association thing. Spraying the same scent on your pillow night after night works to create a kind of sleep trigger, so your body begins to associate a certain smell with the act of sleep and knows it needs to switch off. I love This Works Pillow Spray – the ‘plus’ one is designed to release scent all night so as you toss and turn in your sleep, the smell keeps releasing. Don’t give up after one night, try it for a month and see what happens.
Butterflies and churning mind? Try the 1-1-1 rule I outlined in my Happiness post here… It’s a great way to quell nerves and fears and is a bit of a go-to trick of mine. If you’re running over your to-do list in your head, rather than trying to mentally squash it, turn the light on and write it down in a notebook next to your bed. Put everything down that’s in your head, then just put the notepad aside, turn off the light and let it go.
And rather than counting sheep (which never worked for anyone ever), try this mind game. Try going back to your childhood home or school in your head; walk in the door and look round every room, opening drawers, wardrobes and cupboards. Take in all the furniture and the memories associated with it. Do it slowly so as not to make your mind race… Normally, by the time I’ve got to my mum and dad’s bedroom, I’m nodding off.
Remember Rescue Remedy? That stuff we all used to douse ourselves in before exams at school… Turns out it’s still great at taking the edge off when you’re feeling super stressed and provides a much-needed bit of calm in a natural way. We all know lavender is great at making you sleepy but did you know that any more than 4 drops in a bath and it works as a stimulant? That tip is courtesy of my friend Jules (check him out here) who also said we should mix our oils with a little milk so it doesn’t sit on the surface of a bath and actually blends into the water. Who knew.
While you might think alcohol helps you sleep, for me at least, it does the exact opposite. You might pass out when your head hits the pillow after two glasses of wine, but you’ll feel like you’ve had half the amount the next day as it stops you getting that good kind of REM. If you really need to feel properly rested, avoid the booze altogether.
To Tech or Not to Tech
It always annoys me when every sleep tip feature involves a ‘no tech for an hour before bed’ rule. My views on technology before bed are slightly different… For me, watching 30 minutes of a good show before bed is my one time of the day to totally switch off, relaxing me even better than a book sometimes, where my mind can wandering back to that email I haven’t replied to two pages in. If you want to watch an episode of something in bed, why not? Just leave your phone on the otherside of the room… For me, it’s double-screening that really makes my mind whirl and sleep harder to come by. However, ideally you want to keep it to a minimum. You don’t want to be in bed any longer than an hour before you turn in if you can, any longer and that and it starts to do more harm than good in terms of sleep.
If you wake up in the middle of the night, try to avoid turning the lights on if you can. Even if you go to the bathroom, keep the lights off (as long as there’s enough light to just about see!) and don’t whatever you do check your phone. Don’t treat waking up as the end, just as bump in the road to morning. Have some water, turn over and settle back in.
Surely everyone has had one of those nights that goes like this; ‘if I got to sleep now I’ll get X amount of sleep’… an hour later, you’re still lying there re-calculating how much sleep you’ll get and whether or not you’ll be knackered for that work presentation. This has to be the cardinal sin of sleep… Clock-watching is a recipe for disaster so try and forget the time as soon as you get into bed. Once you turn the light out and have set your alarm, don’t check your phone again, even if you’re struggling to sleep and quite frankly, are pretty bored staring at the ceiling. Sometimes just seeing that it’s past 1 A.M on a school night is enough to put you into panic mode and we all know actively trying to sleep never works.
We’ve heard it before but making your bedroom into the kind of space that instantly feels inviting, relaxing and comfortable is key to making the idea of sleep more inviting. Too cold? Invest in a thicker duvet or an electric blanket (yep, I’m a grandma but they’re great). Bad back? Look into getting a mattress topper to help. Try and turn it into the ultimate haven that’s designed for sleep. Dimmer switches are great as it means you can soften the light before bed so you’re letting your body know it’s time to start winding down rather than abruptly plunging it into darkness and expecting it to do what you want. An eye mask, wax ear plugs and socks are decidedly unsexy and uncool but they definitely work at making sleep easier to come by… Even if you’re room’s dark, putting on an eye mask can help push you over the edge into the land of nod.
Any other reformed sleepers or struggling insomniacs out there? How do you switch off?
Aside from my own images, others sourced via Pinterest, Fashion Toast, Tumblr and So It Goes archives.