Getting a good night’s sleep is essential to health and optimal brain functioning, but a staggering 30% of the population suffers from insomnia, and over 10 million Americans use prescription drugs to help them sleep.
So why is it so hard for us to hit the hay, sleep well and wake up feeling refreshed? There’s no doubt that stress plays an important role in sleeping difficulties, but I also believe that our modern way of life has caused us to develop some bad habits that can make getting a good night’s sleep seem like a distant dream.
We could all do with changing our bedtime habits and giving ourselves the restful sleep our bodies and minds crave! Here are a few tips to do just that:
1. Get enough.
While you may think you function ok with just five or six hours sleep, the truth is, it's not enough. Sleep cycles occur in four-hour patterns; brain waves gradually slow to a deep, restful state around the two-hour mark, then slowly speed up again to a lighter dream-filled sleep at four hours before repeating the whole cycle again.
When we wake up after six hours, we're actually forcing our brain out of a deep sleep state rapidly and shortening that rejuvenating deeper phase essential for repairing our bodies and minds. If we get eight hours, we wake up at the end of two complete cycles and our brains are already naturally at the faster phase between sleeping and waking, enabling us to start the day feeling refreshed and energized.
2. Plan one hour of down time.
Instead of watching TV right before bed, take some time to consciously relax and settle down. Get into bed an hour before your bed-time and use the time to read an inspiring book, meditate, write in a journal or make love. Make sure to set boundaries on electronic distractions, such as no TV, texting, phone calls or social media after 9 p.m., and try not to have these devices in the bedroom at all.
3. Make your bedroom a sanctuary.
To enhance a restful night’s sleep, you need to create an atmosphere in your bedroom that's warm, comforting and inviting. Paint the walls a calming color and invest in a good-quality mattress and pillows. Keep a plant in the room to keep the air oxygenated and try to keep things uncluttered and tidy. You may want to burn essential oils like lavender or vetiver and play some relaxing music.
4. Turn lights and electronic devices off.
Our brains need total darkness in order for the pineal gland to secrete melatonin, an important hormone that has been shown to reduce the incidence of certain cancers and slow down the effects of aging. Lights from alarm clocks and cell phones, especially blue lights, can interfere with this process as well as emit EMFs (electromagnetic fields) that are damaging to health. If you must have these devices in the bedroom, make sure to keep them at least 4 feet away from your bed, rather than by your head on the bed stand.
5. Try natural sedatives.
Lastly, if insomnia and nervous tension are a real issue for you and you struggle with falling or staying asleep, try some natural sedatives before using pharmaceutical drugs that can have side effects and cause addiction. Magnesium deficiency is a common cause of tension and difficulty falling asleep. Herbal teas such as chamomile and passionflower are good for mild sleep problems. For more severe issues, you could try (with the help of your naturopath or herbalist), stronger tinctures or tablets of valerian, Californian poppy, hops, Jamaican dogwood or ziziphus.