This post is particularly timely as I had almost no sleep last night (I fell asleep eventually at about 5.30am) and I find that as I run my own business and am almost always thinking about that, I need to have some strategies in place to switch off at night and get some sleep. There are still the occasions when my strategies don't seem to work, BUT I have a strategy to deal with that too! :) So read on for my top tips to get that heavenly, rejuvenating slumber happening, and what to do when it's just not happening.
1. Improve your diet. The poorer your health, the poorer your body will function in every way, including how well you sleep. Over time, improving your diet to include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding or minimising processed, refined, unnatural foods will change your body's chemistry and you will begin to sleep better as your body responds. Not only will your physical health improve, but your emotional and mental health will also be positively impacted and sources of stress will become easier to manage as your body balances from the changes to your diet. Better stress management equals better sleep quality.
2. Stop eating at least 2 hours before bed. This is a good general rule of thumb to follow. This time allowance can vary greatly however, dependent on what you choose to eat for dinner. The heavier your food choices, the more time you should allow before you head to bed. If you are into a high raw, clean diet, then allowing even one full hour of being vertical before bed will be enough. If you are eating denser, heavier foods like meat or grains, aim for a minimum of two hours, preferably three hours before hitting the sack.
3. Kick the caffeine habit, particularly in the second half of the day. If you are knocking back coffee, tea (even green or white tea as these still contain caffeine) or chocolate (raw or otherwise) throughout the day and not sleeping well, then it might be time to quit your habit. Try cutting out all sources of caffeine in your diet for two weeks and see whether your sleep quality improves. If nothing else, you will be avoiding the negative impacts on your health caused by caffeine. If you are consuming a lot of caffeine, start by just cutting down on how much you take in to avoid feeling the potentially aggressive side effects of caffeine withdrawal. Continue to decrease your consumption over time until you have eliminated it entirely from your diet.
4. Turn off the TV! There's nothing wrong with watching a good DVD before bed or a favourite TV show if it's not one that will stimulate you, but turn off the drone of TV commercials, news and violent shows that will only leave your brain and body stressed, over-stimulated and certainly not ready for a peaceful night's sleep.
5. Trade textbook for tale. I know how time-poor we all are, I'm right there with you. So it can be easy to get some educational reading in right before sleeping. If you also enjoy the subject matter it can seem even more ideal. However, if we are reading books to self-educate, we are further stimulating our brains and pushing them to stay awake. Switch to a novel or inspirational tale that instead allows your brain to change its tune, rather than feeding it more facts and figures.
6. Meditate yourself to slumber. This strategy works for me 95% of the time, plus it helps me to fit in a regular meditation practice. Yes, it is ideal to stay awake while meditating and your meditation practice should ideally be built around doing it when sleep is not the target, however putting a guided meditation on and focusing on your breath once you're snuggled under your blankets at night, can be an excellent tool to induce sleep. Alternatively, you can purchase a self-hypnosis CD for sleep problems/insomnia and listen to that each night as you go to sleep. Not only will you be getting yourself into a peaceful sleep, the hypnosis will be changing your subconscious beliefs and healing your poor sleep habit while you are sleeping.
7. Get the monkey off your back. Got something on your mind from your day? Had an argument or a nagging thought on your mind that you haven't yet resolved or expressed? Do it before you head to your bedroom to call it a night. Getting any lingering unrest or annoyance off your mind before you turn in for the night will pave the way for a better transition to a peaceful sleep. Plus, the way you end your day is typically the way your next day starts. If you go to bed angry or annoyed, not only will you be compromising your sleep quality (and asking for crazy dreams), it is also very likely you will wake up feeling disgruntled, unhappy and off balance. I know that I certainly don't want to kick start another day with a case of the grumpy pants!
8. Keep a journal and pen next to your bed. This is a tried and tested strategy for expelling any thoughts, ideas, unhappiness, planning, or anything else at all that might distract you from a calm, clear, peaceful mind and thus sleep. Writing out your feelings if you have some turbulence going on in your brain (as per point 7) can really help to dissipate the energy that goes with those thoughts and feelings. It's also very helpful if you need to be "heard" but do not yet feel able to speak with the person your thoughts concern. Naturally, if it's an internal conflict, a journal is your perfect ally to put these issues to bed as you tuck yourself in. You can also use your journal to write out your list of things to do for the next day before going to sleep so that you are not thinking about it as you close your eyes. Having a journal handy also means that if you wake during the night and start thinking about the next day's plans, what happened yesterday, that thing you must not forget about next week, or what to get your sister for her birthday, you can reach over, grab your journal and quickly write down whatever is on your mind so you can then happily snuggle back into your pillow free of these thoughts.
9. Make your bedroom your sanctuary. Environment is SO important to how we function. As I'm sure you are well aware, if you don't have a kitchen equipped and stocked to support a healthy lifestyle, or an office that is organised and inviting, you are far less likely to stick to your healthy eating routine or meet your work targets, and remain happy, clear and centred while doing so. The same applies to your bedroom. Get rid of clutter, distractions, colours, designs and anything else that doesn't support a peaceful, calming, inviting environment that focuses primarily on rest, relaxation and intimacy. For me, this means keeping my bedroom clutter free, keeping technology in the room to a minimum, having my journal and a pen handy always, a light read nearby and my iPod with a range of meditations ready to go. I always have ear phones plugged in to my iPod also so I don't disturb my partner and I can go into my own peaceful meditational world at any time.
10. Get fresh air and move everyday. If you are staying indoors all day long and living a sedentary lifestyle as many of us do nowadays, we are naturally going to be less able to have a fitful night's sleep. Fresh air and movement regulate, balance and detoxify our bodies so that all of our bodies functions improve, including sleep. Get outside and take some deep breaths and take a walk everyday. Yoga and stretching are also great options and can be helpful to both wake you up and start your day and to help you wind down at the end of a night. Just keep them slow and gentle if you are doing them immediately prior to sleep. There is also a lot to be said for keeping a fairly regular routine each day. This will teach your body a pattern of when to wake and when to sleep that your body will get used to.
Finally, if you STILL can't get to sleep, like I couldn't last night, my suggestion to you is to embrace the current moment and do something more productive with your time. It may just be that you want to put on a great film or read a fantastic textbook or novel that you've not had the time for. Maybe you could just get up in the middle of the night and do a yoga DVD or some free stretching. Or you could go wild and just throw yourself into the work that you can't get off your mind. Last night, at about 3am, I chose the latter. I got up and did two very productive hours of planning for my coaching services and when I got back into bed around 5.30am, I felt very satisfied. Sometimes, despite everything you can possibly do to help yourself sleep, you've just got to roll with the punches :).
So, on that note, it's close to 11pm here and I have a very early start tomorrow and after my broken sleep last night, I need to listen to my own suggestions and head to my sanctuary for some journal writing, meditation, deep breathing and pillow snuggling.