Recently I have been having a tough time getting a good night’s kip. From lying awake ’til way past the witching hour, praying for sleep to take hold of me, to waking up frequently throughout the night and struggling to get back to sleep. Cue tired, grouchy, mess come morning. The situation became out of hand, to the point where I wasn’t able to concentrate during the day and found myself trying to squeeze a nap in wherever possible, and where that wasn’t possible I gave myself a caffeine fix drinking up to 6 cups of the strong stuff a day just to get by.
I decided to see a sleep specialist, who would help give my ‘sleep hygiene’ a complete overhaul. Initially I was prescribed a 4 day course of sleeping tablets. Only a short course of these is recommended as many people can become dependent on them, even though they are only meant as a kick-starter to ‘re-boot’ the sleep cycle.
Long-term, the three key factors in getting a restful night’s sleep are exercise, diet, and routine. With the days becoming shorter and darker in the winter months it can be easy to slip into a negative routine of getting home after work, ordering in a take-away or microwaving a quick and easy ready meal before sinking into the sofa and watching TV (The Fall, incessantly, in my case). If I ever wanted my energy and vitality back, I seriously had to change these behavioural patterns.
Fitting in exercise when all you want it to crawl into bed can seem daunting and near impossible, but start with baby-steps! A brisk walk in the fresh air can blow away the cobwebs and get the nervous system going. I started walking for twenty minutes each day at lunch time, which instantly lifted my mood and oddly gave me an energy boost. I also was advised to take up yoga, and now do an hours practice each evening to wind down at home using online tutorials. This really stretches the body and just feels so so indulgent, and much more invigorating and relaxing than a Come dine with me re-run ever could. This small amount of exercise added to my routine each day, found me feeling a ‘good’ tired come the evening, like a tired that my body deserved a long and deep rest to recover. It also quietened the endless chatter in my mind that so often kept me awake.
Now for the diet, which meant cutting down on caffeine, sugars and processed foods. I replaced my morning and afternoon coffee with a mug of warm Almond milk or herbal teas. Once the initial withdrawal headaches subsided, I couldn’t believe how much better I felt. I had more energy, and wasn’t relying on a drug induced high to get myself awake.
Slow release foods such as wholegrain rice, pasta with plenty of protein and vegetables aid to keep blood sugar levels steady and offer a slow release of energy throughout the day, without the highs and lows caused by sugar which can be so draining.
Finally, and I think incredibly importantly, is routine. To go to bed every night at around the same time, and no matter if you sleep or not, getting up at the same time each morning is paramount in re-setting your sleep cycle.
After sticking to the simple yet fundamental rules to create a better sleep hygiene, I find myself more relaxed and awaking naturally at around the same time each day. I also added my own extra rule, which is ‘pamper yourself’. Light a candle, slip into some cashmere bedsocks after a luxurious bubblebath – anything to help create the right atmosphere for a restful slumber. See you in the land of nod.