We all instinctively know what it feels like after a good or bad night’s sleep, yet we don’t always pay much attention to how or why, or take conscious steps to improve the quality of it. The benefits of good sleep go way beyond just affecting our mood the next day, during deep sleep our body is in a restorative and healing state, think of it like housekeeping for our body and minds. We spend a lot of our waking hours in the sympathetic nervous system state and only during deep rest or sleep do we move into parasympathetic state. This is where the body needs to be to restore, repair and heal any damage from physical and emotional stressors, or environmental toxin build up. The better our quality of sleep the more the body can get to work to restore any damage from the day before. This is why after a good night sleep we feel more energetic, we can exercise better, eat better, our concentration improves, emotional state is more balanced, productivity increases and our immune systems function better – to name just a few!
Now more than ever we need to do whatever we can to ensure we optmise our quality of sleep. This looks different for everyone, we’re used to hearing than we need 8 hours average sleep, but that’s not true, some people thrive on 5 hours while others need 9, it’s the quality of sleep that’s more important. Here are 5 ways you can improve the quality of your sleep…
1. Regular sleep / wake pattern
You know how things are easier and just happen automatically when you’re into a good routine, like breakfast at 8am, well sleep is no different. If you started eating breakfast at 8am one day, 11am the next, 6am the next, I’m sure your system would be confused. Your body and mind like routine and its no different when it comes to sleep. So establishing a regular bedtime is very important, once you get into this routine your subconscious mind will know that it’s time to fall asleep at say 10pm and will start preparing your body to do so.
2. No electronics 1-2 hours before bed
This is important from 2 perspectives. Firstly, watching TV or scrolling social media just before bed means that your body and mind are in an alert, awake state. It’s extremely difficult to go directly from this state to a sleep state, especially if you’ve just watched a horror movie! The body needs time to adjust and start to wind down the nervous system before it can sleep. So deactivating your mind by switching off TV or other devices 1 or 2 hours before bed and replacing it with relaxing activities will prepare your body and mind for sleep. Secondly, exposure to blue light at night tricks the brain into thinking it’s still day time and reduces the hormones which help you to relax and sleep, another reason to turn off those devices well before bedtime. An eye mask is sometimes a good option to block out any light from other sources
3. Natural sleep enhancing supplements
There are many great ways nature can support us to have a better night sleep. And whilst I’ll not go into this in detail here, I will touch on a couple which I personally swear by. Magnesium is proven to enhance relaxation and sleep quality, and something which I’ve used for many years. There are also many plant based essential oils which have excellent relaxation and sedative properties such as lavender and chamomile, a cup of chamomile tea before bed is also one of my staples. The ingredients used in our bath salt blends are all selected for their relaxation and sleep enhancing properties, and an Epsom salt bath with a few drops of the right essential oils is a guaranteed route to a better night sleep. There’s a ton of research out there on this subject if you want to go deeper into it.
4. Relaxation activity
Replacing the electronic devices with a relaxation activity is a must for a better quality of sleep. By doing this type of activity you’re putting our mind and body into the best possible state for a good night sleep, and you’re also becoming more conscious of what you ‘feed’ your mind before sleep. Have you ever noticed after watching an horror movie or negative news story just before bed and you find yourself waking during the night thinking of it or dreaming about it, that’s because even though you’re no longer doing the activity your mind is repeating it and your body doesn’t know the difference. So replacing these with more relaxing activities such as a warm bath, a good book or relaxing music. Something I like to practice is a nightly gratitude journal, where I reflect back on the day and write down the things I appreciate from the day, and then set a good intention for how I want to feel when I wake up in the morning. This clears the mind of any negatively stored up from the day and allows my mind to focus on good feeling thoughts as I sleep.
5. Sleep mediation or music
And finally, as you drift off to sleep if your mind is still overactive then a sleep meditation or relaxing sleep music can be the final step in the sleep routine. Some like piano music, others like the sound of the waves, and playing this usually send us off into a deep restorative sleep pretty quickly. If you wake during the night and aren’t able to get straight back to sleep, before you let your thoughts become active and turn to tomorrows to do list try putting the music back on and keep your body in the relaxation state you’ve worked so well to get into.
Of course you don’t need to change everything over night, the most successful changes come from making small micro changes over time. So the best thing to do is to start with one of these, tweak it so it works for you and continue to practice it until it becomes a habit, or even better a ritual – difference between a habit and a ritual… a ritual is something you look forward to, you create space for it in your life and it enhances your life in some way.
So which one of these 5 will become your new ritual?