My highly sensitive friends know the frustration of lying awake in bed with a busy mind or achy body. A twinge of worry or an unrelenting thought can keep us awake for hours. We're familiar with the nagging noise in the other room, or the footsteps on the floor above that keep us from drifting off no matter how tired we feel. We know the draw of caffeine and sugary foods when we finally pull ourselves out of bed. And there's often the "don’t cross me" feeling that might emanate from us as we walk into the world after a crappy night's sleep.
Undoubtedly, all of us will experience bouts of insomnia at some point in our lives. The stresses of life and work deadlines will leave anyone tossing and turning. However, for the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), approximately 20% of the population according to researcher Elaine Aron, a good night's sleep can be more of an enigma than a simple part of everyday life. Having a more sensitive nervous system lends itself to a predisposition toward insomnia. Sleep requires us to be in a deep state of relaxation, which is not easily attainable or familiar to an HSP.
While us sensitive folks may not have the ability to doze off at the drop of a hat, we can certainly get the shut eye we need by creating an environment that's conducive to deep relaxation.
Try one of these tips tonight for sweet dreams and a peaceful slumber.
1. Emphasize relaxation 1-2 hours before bedtime.
In the evening hours, decrease stimulation as much as possible. Dim the lights and slow things down. Do something you find relaxing, such as reading, practicing gentle yoga, taking a bath or talking about your day with your partner. As much as possible, make relaxation the theme of the evening. If certain tasks are unavoidable, then practice doing them in a relaxed manner.
2. Quit caffeine by noon.
Caffeine can stay in your body 8-14 hours after consuming it. Caffeine’s effects vary from person to person, but in general, if you are having trouble sleeping, try completely eliminating it for a month and see if that improves your sleep. Also consider sneaky sources of caffeine such as chocolate and tea. Switch to water, herbal tea, and herbal coffee substitutes.
3. Have a sleepy meal at dinnertime.
Eat foods containing nutrients that promote sleep, including tryptophan, melatonin and magnesium. At dinner, eat a combination of high-quality proteins and complex carbohydrates. Try a dish of quinoa mixed with sautéed greens and sliced chicken breast sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seeds. For dessert, try a bowl of fresh cherries or a frozen yogurt made with frozen cherries and coconut milk.
4. Lights out at 10:30 p.m.
Aim to go to bed around the same time every night. Our bodies are built for a 10 p.m. — 6 a.m. sleep pattern. The most regenerative form of sleep occurs between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.
5. Practice left-nostril breathing.
Block off your right nostril with your right thumb and take long slow deep breaths through your left nostril only. Left-nostril breathing has a soothing and relaxing effect on the body mind. In Kundalini Yoga, it’s suggested that you take 26 long, slow deep breaths in this manner to produce a relaxing effect on the mind and body.
6. Shift your perspective.
What do you believe about sleep? Fearful thoughts create tension in the body and a body that is tense will not be able to fall into a deep sleep. The fear of not being able to fall asleep can easily keep one from falling asleep. My struggle with insomnia finally lifted when I believed that perhaps I could fall asleep without a sleeping pill. I often use the affirmation, "I choose to relax and let go now."
7. Play with lighting and sound.
Aligning our internal rhythms with those of nature sets us up for more restful sleep. Make a point to get exposure to sunlight during the day and in the evening, dim the lights a few hours before bed. Sleep in a pitch-black room or wear an eye mask. If you find that you are more relaxed with some background noise, use a fan or noise machine while sleeping. Earplugs are also a great option if you are sensitive to noise.
8. Take a relaxation bath.
Combine ½ cup Epsom salts with a few drops of an essential oil, like lavender, in hot water. Soak for 20 minutes. The magnesium contained in Epsom salt is absorbed through the skin and promotes feelings of relaxation. Water and salt cleanses energy from the day.
9. Try acupressure or another relaxation technique.
Lie on an acupressure mat in bed before dozing off. You can also try a progressive muscle or yoga nidra video in which you relax each part of your body using your mind. Another option is giving an alternative therapy like acupuncture a try.
10. Take relaxation breaks during the day.
Try taking at least one 15-minute relaxation break during the day to keep your body in balance so that you’re not in a state of overwhelm by the end of the day.
I’d love to hear from you. What have you found helps you get a peaceful night's sleep?