A lot of my conversations lately – with friends, colleagues and strangers – have found their way to the topic of sleep (or lack of it). It seems almost everyone I talk to is having trouble finding their way to dreamland.
I’ve had times in my life when I have struggled to sleep. Years ago, during university and after a couple of traumatic events, I found myself wide awake until 4 am each morning. I’d manage to get some shut-eye for an hour or two before I was due to get up, and then I’d walk around like a zombie for the rest of the day until it was time to hit the hay again. And then I’d repeat the no-sleep cycle. This went on for many months.
Last year I found myself not sleeping again. Not quite to the same extreme, but I had enough trouble sleeping that I couldn’t think clearly during the day. It was extremely frustrating.
Both these periods have something in common – they were triggered by stressful or painful things that I was (or wasn’t) dealing with. In other words, when I’m not content in myself or working through my emotions properly, I can’t sleep. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? The tricky thing is working out what to do about it.
Over the years I developed a routine that now gets me to sleep easily, and helps me to stay that way throughout the night. This routine is about ensuring our sleep is restful, restorative and nourishing for the mind, body and soul – especially important during times when you may feel like the rest of your life is in chaos. I encourage you to give it a try and then alter it if you need, in a way that is best for you.
Wake up half an hour earlier.
It might seem crazy – waking yourself up early when you’re not getting enough sleep – but doing so will help to get you into a routine where adequate sleep is a nightly occurrence. Use this extra time in the morning to exercise (see below), go for a gentle walk and watch the sun rise, read your book or write in your journal for twenty minutes.
Once you’ve done that, you’re still ten minutes ahead of where you would have been if you’d set your alarm for your usual time, meaning you won’t be in such a rush. You can start your day calmly and positively.
Find out if you’re a morning or evening exerciser – and then do that.
Moving your body adequately each day not only helps to keep you physically healthy, it also aids with stress and anxiety relief, assists in creating a stable routine and gets your body feeling pleasantly tired, which all help enormously when it’s time to go to bed. I prefer to do more rigorous exercise in the morning (it helps to wake me up and keeps me feeling great throughout the day) and then do yoga in the evening (this helps me to mentally wind down, process challenging emotions and stretch out my body). Find what works for you and then build a routine from there.
Limit caffeine and sugar consumption – especially after 3 pm.
Adding too many stimulants to your body will only make sleeptime harder. Opt for chamomile or peppermint tea in the afternoon and evening instead of coffee. Avoid sugary snacks and desserts.
Say goodbye to work.
Once you’ve finished work, consciously say to yourself, “Thank you for this day and the lessons I have learnt. I have now finished work and I am leaving any stresses, deadlines and issues behind. I will now look after me. My home is a sacred space and I do not take work home with me.”
Eat a nourishing dinner – at least an hour before bedtime.
You’ll be amazed by how much your diet impacts bedtime when you start taking notice. Nourish your body with REAL food. Limit alcohol, caffeine and sugar, and try not to eat dinner too late. Going to bed on a full stomach can make you feel restless (it also tends to make me have strange dreams!). Going to bed hungry is no good either, as you’re likely to be distracted by a grumbling tummy, or feel ill or anxious.
Stop watching so much television.
It’s time to get creative! Try winding down with drawing, writing or craft. I use this time to write in my journal, read inspiring books, get my pencils out and see what makes its way onto the paper.
What about writing a few notes of gratitude to people in your life you’re thankful for? Maybe you could pen a letter to a family member or create a handmade card? This is a much more productive, relaxing and self-nourishing way to transition into “night mode” than watching violent TV dramas or scrolling through your social media feed (again). If you ARE going to have some screen time before bed, try to watch something uplifting or calming, like an inspiring Ted Talk. Using this time for journalling is also a valuable way to start working through some of the issues that may be at the root of your trouble sleeping.
Take a bath with salts and essential oils.
Pour about half a cup of Himalayan salt and/or epsom salt into warm bath water. Add a few drops of lavender oil (or another relaxing essential oil of your choice – try ylang ylang, chamomile, peppermint, rosemary or sandalwood. If you have a cold, eucalyptus oil can help to clear congestion).
A salt bath is not only physically soothing, it is also a great way to symbolically remove the day and cleanse yourself of any troubles or negativity you may be carrying – especially if you have delved into some sore spots with your journalling. Salt baths are also said to help pull toxins from your body, balance skin and accelerate healing. After your bath, have a small glass of water and then jump into bed. Put some diluted lavender oil on your pillow to take that deep sense of relaxation with you.
Listen to a guided meditation.
I do this almost every night – it has seriously changed my life. There are countless guided meditations out there aimed at helping you get to sleep, as well as meditations for relaxation, self-healing, chakra cleansing and encouraging positive thought patterns. This is a very personal thing, in the sense that you will need to find the meditations that work for you (check out YouTube or your local wellbeing store for CDs). Some voices, music and topics can have the opposite effect – a bit of trial and error is worth it! My current go-tos are Louise Hay’s Evening Meditation, Jason Stephenson’s Before Sleep Chakra Alignment, and Deepak Chopra’s Meditations for Transformation and Higher Consciousness. Smiling Mind and Headspace also offer handy apps for a range of meditations, including sleep-focused ones.
If you’re still awake, listen to sleep music or binaural beats.
If you are still awake after your guided meditation, try listening to some sleep music. Again, YouTube has an expanse of options to choose from. I like Sleep Music Delta Waves and Ultra Deep Relaxation binaural beats. If I’m still having trouble sleeping at this stage I choose a long track and let it run throughout the night.
Is there a noise or light that’s keeping you awake, such as snoring? Don’t be afraid of sleeping in another room or adjusting your position in the bed if there’s something distracting you from sleeping (there’s nothing selfish about wanting a good night’s sleep! We all need this in order to function properly).
STILL not asleep? Don’t stress.
Getting anxious about why you’re not asleep and the fact that you’ll be tired the next day won’t help you enter dreamland any faster. In fact, it can keep you awake for longer. If you’re still awake after all this, try writing in your journal. Is there something on your mind that you need to express? Complete a few pages of stream of consciousness writing. Write a list of things you want/need to do so you can stop thinking of them now and come back to them in the morning if you need. Keep a pen and paper near your bed. Once you’ve done this, try some light stretches and then get back under the sheets and continue with another guided meditation, followed by sleep music if you need it.
The important thing to remember is that sleep will become easier the more you practice the above sequence. Hang in there!
If you need further assistance, seek advice from your GP and/or holistic health professional.
Got a sleep tip? Share it in the comments below. We love hearing your ideas and getting feedback!