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How To Encourage Better Sleep

Create Sleep Associations in the Bedroom Only spend time in the bedroom for sex and sleep. If we bring our work or worries into the bedroom, it can make it difficult for us to switch off and get into the right mindset to relax and drift off to sleep. It can also cause us to awake in the night.

Exercise Do an audit of your bedroom. Remove any cues that may signal an activity other than sleep, so as not to distract or disturb you e.g. electronic devices and clocks.

Create a 4-step Bedtime Routine Something that helps increase sleep association is a series of rituals that are repeated in the same way, before bedtime. This tells the brain it’s time to get ready for bed. For me, this is having a bath, listening to a guided meditation or relaxing music, spraying an essential oil mist on my pillow and putting on an eye mask.

Exercise Get experimental & find 4 rituals that work for you at bedtime to calm you down.

Groundhog night The mind loves habits as running on auto-pilot conserves energy. Our body clock also likes familiarity, working best when we go to bed and rise at the same time, each day. Slightly easier to achieve in LockDown when we have less busy schedules and commutes. Try to stick to this even at the weekend.

Increase Your Sleep Drive So, you’re probably thinking the more I sleep, the better I’ll feel. The optimum amount of sleep for the average person is 7- 8 hours. So, sleeping longer than this can make us feel more tired. The key to good sleep is having a high sleep drive – that means we are gagging to hit the sheets and fall asleep quickly within 15-30 minutes. To increase our sleep drive, we need to reduce the amount of sleep we usually get to around 5-6 hours. This includes avoiding daytime naps. Sleep experts tell us it’s all about quality, not quantity.

Exercise For a fortnight, try going to bed later and set your alarm to wake up earlier. This can be challenging, to begin with, there are CBT programmes available such as Kathryn Pinkham’s at The Insomnia Clinic or through the NHS.

Get some rest in, every day Rest is different from sleep. Rest is important because it calms down our nervous system. Not allowing ourselves regular small breaks makes our mind overheat in the same way a computer might and means we feel wired when we go to bed. If we want it to unwind and stay that way through the night, then we have to allow ourselves time to switch off during the day. This doesn’t mean napping but instead taking a gentle walk, listening to a guided meditation, tuning into our breath, reading, or another flow state activity (demands our full focus).

Exercise One simple and effective method to wind down is to repeatedly tense and relax your muscles, shortly before going to bed. This is a common technique used in Sophrology. Start with your feet - tense all the muscles in one foot for a few seconds, and then release. Repeat this tensing, holding and relaxing for the rest of the body, right up to your shoulders. The whole exercise should last for about 15 minutes and should leave you feeling a lot more relaxed, and ready to sleep.

Alternatively, listen to a Body Scan – Jo Kaye, our Mindfulness Advisor does a lovely one on her website that lasts 20 minutes.

Reduce light in the bedroom If sleeping isn't an issue for you, then how about waking up? Research into daylight reveals that it can be used to help us wake up more effectively. In 2002 scientists identified a group of receptor cells in the eye that regulate the production of a hormone called melatonin. This hormone determines how sleepy or awake a person feels. At night, the body's supply of melatonin will increase, causing us to feel sleepy. At daybreak, even with the eyelids closed, the receptor cells are triggered by the increasing light to signal the brain, and in particular, the pineal gland, to reduce the amount of melatonin in the body. This allows us to feel more alert and awake. By mimicking the qualities of natural light that trigger the receptor cells, scientists can use 'blue' lamps to fool the body into thinking it's naturally awake. These blue lights can help early risers to feel more awake. But for anyone struggling to sleep during daylight hours, dark heavy curtains or a good eye mask can help. Avoid brushing your teeth in bright light or taking a shower at bedtime, as this can suppress melatonin and cause us to have a ‘second wind’.

Try To Stop Snoring It's estimated that 15 million Britons snore. Snoring can be linked to serious health conditions and as it can affect the sleep of more than just the sufferer, it can harm relationships. But what causes snoring? During sleep, the muscles controlling our airways can relax, causing the air passage to narrow. As a result, when we breathe, the soft tissues in the mouth, nose and throat vibrate, which we then hear as snoring. Help is at hand though, with several over the counter remedies available. Moistening strips can be employed that are designed to reduce the vibration of these soft tissues. Alternatively, mouth guards can prevent the tongue from falling to the back of the mouth. However, such remedies are not guaranteed, and if your sleeping and snoring are more serious, do consult your GP.

Don't Mess With Your Sleep Cycle A good night's rest is usually an indicator that the body has undergone four specific stages of sleep, which together, form one sleep cycle. At stage one, a person will feel drowsy. Stage two is where someone drops off to sleep. The third stage constitutes deep, slow-wave sleep. The final fourth stage is REM sleep, signified by Rapid Eye Movement, an indication that we are dreaming. Sleeping soundly requires that we go through four to six cycles in one night, and anything less will be detrimental to our performance when awake. The best way to ensure you have the right mixture of sleep stages is to avoid caffeine and alcohol before sleeping, as they can distort the natural sleep pattern, and ensure that you sleep for between seven and nine hours every night.

Introduce Daily Movement and Exercise Did you know that exercise can help you sleep sounder and longer and feel more awake during the day? But the key is found in the type of exercise you choose and the time you participate in it during the day.

Exercising vigorously right before bed or within about three hours of your bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep. This surprises many people; it's often thought that a good workout before bed helps you feel more tired. Vigorous exercise right before bed stimulates your heart, brain and muscles - the opposite of what you want at bedtime. It also raises your body temperature right before bed and cortisol, our stress hormone which is not what we perimenopausal need!

The exception is breathwork movement such as somatic/non-linear movement, tai chi, yin yan or restorative yoga. Check out online classes: Yoga with Petra Coveney or somatic movement with Gabriella Espinosa @ Women’s Body Wisdom

Morning exercise can relieve stress and improve mood. These effects can indirectly improve sleep. To get a more direct sleep-promoting benefit from morning exercise, however, you can couple it with exposure to outdoor light. Being exposed to natural light in the morning, whether you're exercising or not, can improve your sleep at night by reinforcing your body's sleep-wake cycle.

When it comes to having a direct effect on getting a good night's sleep, it's a vigorous exercise in the late afternoon or early evening that appears most beneficial. That's because it raises your body temperature above normal a few hours before bed, allowing it to start falling just as you're getting ready for bed. This decrease in body temperature appears to be a trigger that helps ease you into sleep.

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