Thomas Dekker the actor once said, “Sleep is the golden chain that binds health and our bodies together.”
Sleep hygiene can be called one of the essential pillars to our health. As we are all unique it cannot be assumed that everyone needs a certain amount of sleep hours per night, but it can be said that when you wake up, the mind and body should feel refreshed and energized ready to face the day. There is nothing worse than putting your head on the pillow and then circular thoughts start. Your mind runs actively over the days business, difficulties, challenges, outstanding problems, worries to do’s and so on stopping you from nodding off into a peaceful slumber and good nights rest.
Perhaps you are the type of person who hits the pillow and falls asleep immediately, but then several hours later you wake and then your can’t get back to sleep due to the thoughts that have crept in and taken over your mind. Irrelevant of what you try, nothing seems to work – reading, getting up for 10 minutes, watching some television, counting sheep, or other creative ideas to trick your brain into stopping and allowing peaceful, deep sleep to resume.
Preparation for sleep is as important as preparing for a meeting, warming up before running a half marathon or making a shopping list before going to the supermarket. Some of the key points about sleep hygiene to ensure that good nights rest:
1. Getting to bed at the right time, preparing for sleep, before actually going to bed, and ensuring the bedroom is conducive to good sleep. Ayuvedic medicine, the traditional Indian herbal medicine and way of life describes us by different doshas – Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Each of these doshas has a specific time when it is working. Ever heard of the expression “I just got my second wind?” This is because Pitta time starts at 10pm and goes through to 2am, and again from 10am to 2pm. Fiery Pitta is active at these times, and at night is busy processing and assimilating dinner. Therefore getting into bed before 10.30pm is important, to avoid that second wind kicking in.
2. When preparing for bed – think about slowing and relaxing your mind, through restful activities, such as reading, meditation, listening to soft music or having a warm bath with essential oils. Avoid things like computers, mobile phones and television at this time as they are backlit by LED light and the emission of this blue-light wavelength has a negative effect on melatonin levels, an essential hormone that makes you drowsy and kicks in your sleep cycle.
3. Try some kind of relaxing herbal tea before bed, such as Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Melissa, and Lime Flower, or a mix of these and other herbs which are readily available from various tea companies.
4. Plan two hours as a minimum after eating before going to bed, to enable your body to digest what you have eaten. Thus, allowing the body to focus on rest and renewal during sleep.
5. Make sure the bedroom is as dark as possible, quiet and free from electronic devices especially those mentioned earlier. Melatonin is released naturally at the onset of darkness, preparing your body for rest, and is continuously released throughout the night as part of your natural circadian rhythm. However, melatonin can be partially curbed by exposure to light. Suppression of melatonin has the opposite effects, increasing alertness, and possibly altering REM sleep patterns when you finally drift off.
6. Exercise – try to complete your exercise regime at least two hours before going to bed, unless a gentle form of exercise such as yoga, strolling outside in the fresh air, gentle stretching or meditation. Exercise increases oxygen in the blood, thus stimulating the brain by triggering a number of neurotransmitters including adrenalin, serotonin and dopamine, which as we know is overall positive for brain and body health. However, just before bed vigorous exercise will activate a more Pitta-like state leading to an overly active brain which then affects how quickly you fall asleep as well as the quality of sleep.
7. Over-sleeping is just as detrimental as too little sleep to waking feeling refreshed. Often this is because you are rising in Kapha time when activity levels are either slowly increasing or slowly winding down, the latter resulting in feeling groggy and dull rather than alert and active. You would do better to rise early, before 7am to benefit from rising in Vata time. Overall, going to bed in Kapha time by 10pm, and waking in Vata time by 7am.
Tips for a Peaceful Night’s Sleep:
- Put dried lavender under your pillow, or rub lavender oil into your feet before bed.
- Use an aromatiser in the bedroom with essential oils that aid relaxation and sleep – Valerian, Rose, Lavender, Ylang-Ylang, Majoram, Chamomile and Clary Sage for an hour before going to bed.
- Make a sleep pillow with a mix of relaxing herbs (as above) sewn into a pillow.