It’s amazing that one of the most natural and frequent activities that we engage in, can sometimes be the most difficult. We go to sleep every single day and it’s imperative for our survival; yet many of us find it difficult to simply switch off and go to sleep. Why should this be? That’s the million dollar question. The reasons are myriad, complex and interconnected. Ranging from stress, to nutrition and exercise to poor sleep hygiene. The good news however is that you can make a massive difference to the quality of your sleep without resorting to medication or extreme measures. All you have to do is work with the natural rhythms and tendencies of the body and mind.
Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary
The best piece of advice I ever received was to keep the bedroom solely for sleep (and sex). Our brain has the tendency to create habits based on the activities we perform regularly. If we use our bedroom frequently for entertainment or work, then it will expect to be awake when we are in that room. If we keep the bedroom solely for rest however, it will naturally tend towards a restful state when we enter the room. We can further enhance this tendency in the way that we furnish and use our bedroom. This is your sanctuary, so be creative about what you want, but here are my thoughts.
- Leave the television and devices out of the bedroom
- Decorate in restful colours and patterns
- Use soft, tactile materials to soothe your body – I love my flannel sheets and cashmere bed blanket
- Use a ‘signature’ bedroom scent – this will come to serve as a cue for sleep – perhaps a candle or pillow spray using natural, relaxing scents
- Use pot plants to clean and detoxify the air
Create a bedtime self-care routine
A familiar bedtime routine is just game-changing!
- Habit and routine prime the brain for sleep
- Making time for self-care nourishes the soul and reduces stress
- Time spent away from screens and focused on relaxation allows our body and mind to unwind
I’ll admit that I haven’t always been good at this, but I definitely notice the difference when I’m following a regular bedtime routine and when I’m not. The amount of time you spend on it is up to you. The key is consistency and placing mindful attention on your activity. If you’re doing some stretches, really feel into the body and observe what those stretches are doing. If you’re applying lotion to your body, notice the texture of the lotion, the smell, the feel of it on your body and so on. If the mind wanders to thoughts, don’t criticise yourself or become frustrated, just gently return your focus to the activity in mind. This begins the process of letting go of thoughts and allowing the mind to enter a more restful state. My self-care routine is pretty simple. Some gentle yoga stretches before heading upstairs to wash and change. Then I apply some oil to massage my feet and read a few pages of a book before it’s lights out and time to breathe.
Use the breath to help you drift off into sleep
Once you’re in bed, lie on your back with one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. Feel your body supported by the bed and cocooned by the bedding around you. Place your attention on the breath and just notice the natural rhythm of the breath for a moment. Breathing in, pausing, breathing out, pausing. Observing how the breath feels in your body beneath your hands. If this feels comfortable, you can stay like that, or you can start to establish a rhythm where the exhale is longer than the inhale. This longer exhale activates the body’s natural calming mechanism known as the parasympathetic nervous system and makes it easier to drift off to sleep. The well-known version of this technique is known as the 4-7-8 breath, because you breathe in for 4, pause for 7 and exhale for 8. I find it quite a struggle to maintain this sequence however, so feel free to adapt it to suit you. I prefer 4-2-6 for instance, but it doesn’t really matter, as long as the exhale is longer than the inhale.
If you still find your mind is filled with thoughts and you keep going over and over them, you may want to try a mindfulness of thoughts meditation to help quieten your mind. You can download my meditation ‘letting go of thoughts for sleep’ here.
So there you have it. A better night’s sleep, the mindful, natural way. Sanctuary, routine, breath. Sweet dreams.
This post originally appeared as a guest post for Organdle.