I recently blogged about why so many of us do not practice the most fundamental aspects of self care Many of the most basic aspects of self care such as exercise, nutrition, hydration and positive relationships, can all be neglected at the best of times but whenever we are under pressure, we tend to neglect them the most.
Certainly, all of these aspects of self care are impactful on our overall mental and physical health but, in my opinion, sleep is the foundational stone to all of my other acts of self care.
If I have a great nights sleep, I am likely to practice healthy eating, moving, breathing and even thinking more positively, however, deny me just one night of sleep and the whole of the following day is negatively affected. I do not have the energy nor motivation to exercise, to make healthy food choices or even sustain my relationships. For me, sleep is the most fundamental act of self care and yet it is one that most of us neglect dreadfully.
In fact, most of us give sleep very little attention until we start having an issue with it, which of course all of us will during our life and is most commonly due to stress and / or illness. For most of us, once that period in our life has passed, we will return to a normal sleeping routine. However for some, sleeplessness can become chronic insomnia and is something you should certainly speak to your GP about if you have had more than 3 periods of sleeplessness a week for more than a month.
In 2019, I read a book about sleep which changed my life called "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker. For the first time in my life, I realised I had more control over a good or bad nights sleep than I had ever believed and I became dedicated to making improvements to my sleep ever since. As I have discussed before, I treat many things in my life as an experiment so will share with you my top 5 tips for improving your sleep which you can start right away. Treat them as an experiment too and choose the ones that work for you!
1. Keep it Regular!
Every sleep expert I have ever listened to all say the same thing about this. We need to go to bed and wake up at the same time! Our body has an internal clock known as our circadian rhythm which has no idea if it is a weekend or a bank holiday. When we have a regular sleep pattern the body gets used to that pattern of behaviour and will enable us to prepare for sleep.
2. Keep it Dark!
Traditionally, our ancestors slept with the sun. When it begins to get dark, our brain produces more of a neurochemical called melatonin which is needed to build up in our system in order for us to begin to feel sleepy. So avoid bright lights, get some black out blinds and even sleep with an eye mask!
3. Keep it Calm!
In order for us to have restful sleep, our brain needs to believe that we are safe. It is therefore important that we avoid anything which causes us stress especially in that last hour before sleep. When we are stressed, we produce cortisol which is a stress hormone. Cortisol makes us alert, focussed and vigilant - really useful if we are in a threatening situation. The last thing we want to happen if we are in a threatening situation is to begin to feel sleepy, so when we produce cortisol we also stop producing sleep hormones.
This is all well and good if we really are in danger, but if we are scrolling social media which makes us anxious, watching the late night news which makes us scared or mentally preparing for an imaginary argument we may or may not have with someone which makes us angry; all of this will cause us to produce cortisol and therefore prevent the brain from feeling safe enough to sleep.
So avoid anything that stressed you at this time, get off your phone, turn off worrying TV programmes and do something calming like reading or meditating. Learning to relax in your final hour before sleep will help create restorative restful sleep.
4. Keep it Peaceful!
On the back of keeping things calm, our environment also has a big impact on our capacity to go into deep sleep so consider your bedroom. Is it a peaceful environment? Do you have stressful things in there? Could you make it feel safer and calmer?
5. Keep it a Priority!
One of the biggest reasons many of us fail to have a good sleep pattern is that we just do not prioritise our sleep enough. We see it as inconvenient or wasted time. This is simply not true, as Matthew Walker says, there is no part of our physical or mental wellbeing which is not significantly improved by us getting enough sleep and no part which is not significantly impaired by us not getting enough sleep.
Start to see your sleep routine as an essential part of your wellbeing. One thing which really helped me do this was recognising that "My tomorrow starts tonight" in that if I have a great sleep tonight, tomorrow will be a better day. If not, I am setting myself up to fail.
If you would like to learn more about Self Care acts you can purchase Lianne's book Radical Self Care. If you would like to speak to us about Sleep or Self Care and the help we offer on it, you can contact us here.