5 Steps To Getting A Good Night’s Sleep, Naturally
Posted Apr 25 2012 1:24am
In my house, a deep, restful sleep does not come easily! We have one highly sensitive 6yo who takes forever to wind down from the day to get to sleep, and one energetic 3yo who thinks he no longer needs day naps and then wakes constantly all night, which of course leads to one worn out mama who would kill for just a couple of consecutive hours of sleep! My husband is blessed to have the ability to simply close his eyes, fall instantly into a deep sleep and not wake till morning, despite the nocturnal shenanigans of the rest of us. Over the years I have found that a consistent pre-sleep rhythm and avoidance of all stimulants is essential for ensuring a good night’s sleep in our family.
When things are flowing well, we take steps to call in sleep each evening. We focus on winding down from the energy of the day and relaxing our bodies into a peaceful slumber. We stick to a rhythm of activities, so that my boys know exactly what comes next. This is not a strict routine of each activity to be done at exactly the same time, but rather, an order of activities that flow from one to the next, creating safety in familiarity. I definitely notice that at times when we are harried and forget to take these simple steps, sleep takes longer to arrive and is less settled.
Here are some steps to help you get the sleep you need. We use all of these in our house at different times.
Television, computers and video games are all stimulating and can impede sleep. Give yourself at least an hour before bedtime without these distractions and by all means, keep them out of your bedroom. I rarely watch television, but if I choose to stay up late on a weekend and watch a movie, or even if I’m on the computer at night time, I usually lay awake in bed for an hour or so with my mind zinging before I finally drift off.
For a long time people advised against eating before bed however, the problem isn’t necessarily with eating, it’s more about what you eat. Foods high in starch and carbohydrates, and all sweet sugary foods, can cause a spike in blood sugar and a subsequent plummet. This blood sugar roller coaster ride is terrible for sleep. Instead, if you need a snack, consume some protein or a small portion of whole grains.
Some people are particularly sensitive to caffeine and may not know that the cup of coffee they’re drinking in the morning may be preventing them from sleeping that night.
Consider quitting caffeine for a few weeks and monitor your sleep. If your sleep doesn’t improve when you’re off the caffeine then you know that’s not your problem, however it’s still wise to not drink any caffeine after noon. Be aware that teas and some foods also contain caffeine, not just coffee. Personally, if I have a cup of black tea or eat any chocolate after about 3pm, it takes me forever to get to sleep that night.
Alcohol makes sleeping quite difficult for most people. While it’s a depressant and causes relaxation, alcohol doesn’t let your body fall into the deeper stages of sleep. This means you may fall asleep quite well once your head hits the pillow, however you’ll wake a few hours later and be unable to fall back to sleep.
Sleep schedules are important. They tell your body what to expect, and you’ll sleep better when you develop a schedule and stick to it. For example, if you feel you need 8 hours of sleep a night, then aim to go to bed at 10pm each night and wake at 6am.
Just like a schedule helps your body know what to expect, a pre- sleep routine can also help get your mind prepared for a good night of sleep. Many people read before they go to bed, they listen to calming music, journal or pray. Create a sleep routine that calms your mind and prepares you for a good night’s sleep.
In our house, the pre-sleep routine is more like an evening rhythm. It goes something like this: bath for the boys – back massage with calming oil – dinner – play with dadda while mama cleans up the kitchen – brush teeth – read books in bed – lights out and relaxation CD on.
Both are wonderful for creating a restful ambiance. Light a candle and visualize yourself completely relaxed and falling asleep. You can also try meditating and clearing your mind completely. Something I often do is play a meditation CD in my bedroom when I go to bed, which helps relax me into a sleep state. Once I fall asleep (usually fairly quickly) I still gain the benefits of the meditative words and music as the CD works on a sub-conscious level while I sleep.
You don’t have to do many exercises or be a yoga expert to do this. You only need to learn one pose – the corpse! Lay on your back with your arms and legs outstretched and completely relaxed. Slowly, starting with your forehead, go through each part of your body. Think about the body part, tense it, then let it go. As you let it go, see the body part dissolving completely. Start with your forehead and move down to your mouth, face, shoulders, back, stomach, arms, hands, legs, knees, and finally the feet.
Our bodies are regulated by our circadian rhythms. These rhythms are directly influenced by light. This means that even a trip to the bathroom where you turn on the light can have a negative effect on the rest of your sleep that night, and a cumulative effect over time. Pull the shades tight so you’re sleeping in darkness. To wake, consider investing in a natural alarm clock – there are some which gradually brighten, emulating the rising sun, and others which use natural sounds like birdsong or chimes.
If your bedroom is too hot, then you’re not going to be able to sleep. Keep it at a comfortable temperature, around 22 degrees. A ceiling an is useful to keep the air moving above your bed.
Your body naturally produces melatonin, a hormone that influences sleep. Light and darkness play a role in your body’s production of this hormone, however sometimes it can get off kilter and the result is poor sleep and insomnia. You can find melatonin supplements in your natural food store.
Magnesium is a mineral greatly lacking in Australia’s soils, and most of us just don’t get enough of it from food sources. If you often experience sore muscles, backache, headache, PMS, and anxiety as well as poor sleep, then consider a magnesium supplement or try an Epsom salts bath before bed.
Recently my 6yo started being very restless at night, tossing and turning and waking frequently, which is unsual for him – he does take a long time to get to sleep, but once asleep, he is usually a sound sleeper. A friend reminded me about magnesium, and from the first dose, his sleep has returned to normal.
Another item you’ll find in your natural food store is the herb, valerian. It’s commonly used to treat insomnia by calming and relaxing your body. It comes in both capsule form and valerian tea, which tastes much better than it smells.
Lavender has wonderful soothing qualities. Buy it as a pure essential oil and use a few drops in a warm bath. This will help your body relax. You can also drop a few drops of lavender onto your pillow to help you fall asleep.
This is another wonderful tool to help you fall asleep. A warm chamomile tea after a lavender bath will help soothe the senses and relax you to sleep. There are many blends of relaxation/sleepy teas available in health food stores or online, so try a few to find one you love and make it a part of your pre-sleep routine.
Ultimately, diet and exercise play an important role in your sleep and in preventing insomnia. The better care you take of yourself, the better you’ll be able to sleep.
These 5 steps to getting a good night’s sleep, naturally, can be used as a complete plan to help you to establish a restful sleep pattern for chronic sleep issues, or you can pick and choose options that appeal to you when you have an occasional night of wakefulness.
Do you have a special sleep routine that you follow at your house? Do you have any favourite natural ways to help you get to sleep on those night’s when it just doesn’t come easily to you? Please share below, I’d love to hear from you!