The quantity and quality of our sleep affects our overall sense of wellbeing, our relationships with family and friends and our performance at school or at work. With adequate sleep we memorise better, we repair and heal faster, our energy is restored and our daytime mental capacity increases.
Why can’t I fall asleep?
Some common cause of sleeplessnes include:
- Poor sleeping habits
- Parenting young children (ahem, see image above)
- Caring for the elderly
- Shift work
- Acute or chronic pain
- Hormonal changes and imbalances
- Stress or anxiety, including depression
- Medications and stimulants such as foods and drinks containing caffeine
- Cigarettes and alcohol
Hints and tips for a good night’s sleep
- Exercising for just 30 minutes a day has been shown to increase relaxation and improve our ability to sleep.
- A full stomach is counterproductive to sleeping well. Eat a light dinner combining complex carbohydrates, calcium-rich foods and a little protein to ensure supply of the amino acid tryptophan. This is used by the brain to manufacture the sleep-inducing neurotransmitters melatonin and serotonin. The classic bedtime drink of warm milk and honey provides all these elements.
- A diet providing plenty of calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, B-group vitamins, biotin, folic acid (folate) and zinc is ideal. Excessive amounts of vitamin A in your diet, or lead or copper in your environment, are hazardous to both sleep and good health.
- Waking, sleeping and eating at consistent times helps to regulate our circadian rhythm or body clock. This is the system responsible for regulating our sleep/wake cycles and it thrives on routine.
- Clear your mind of the ‘must do’ lists well before heading to bed.
- A quiet, well-ventilated bedroom with the temperature maintained at around 20˚C is ideal. Sleep experts also advise keeping our bedrooms for sleep and sex alone.
- A warm bath or shower before bed can help induce sleep. This is because body temperature plays an important role in our ability to fall asleep and in waking.
- Sleep in total darkness. Exposure to any light stops the production of sleep-inducing hormones. Try a sleep mask if you can’t block all light out of your room.
Slow breathing technique
Anxiety is the enemy of a good night’s rest and can make going back to sleep impossible. The breath is a simple and effective tool for calming my mind and body. If you practise a slow breathing routine, you may find it very useful for returning to sleep and reducing anxiety. Breathing costs us nothing, it’s always available, and it’s invisible – these are all good reasons to learn to use our breath to affect positive change in our physical and mental health.
Low, slow and soft breathing routine
1. Sit so your spine is comfortably straight and your feet are flat on the floor about hip-width apart. Close your eyes and rest your hands in your lap.
2. Begin by just following your breath and observing your breath the way you watched the clouds in the sky or the waves rolling into the beach when you were a child.
3. Now focus your attention on your belly. Relax your shoulders and begin to slow your breathing down until you are breathing at your slowest comfortable rate.
4. Maintain attention on your belly and continue to slow your breath until you are breathing at around five to six breaths per minute.