Essential Advice on How to Sleep Better

Katherine Smith
Essential Advice on How to Sleep Better

I was never a heavy sleeper. As a kid, my imagination would always keep me awake with thoughts of ghostly visits and werewolves.

Lavender oil adorned my pillow, soft music played from my tapedeck, a nightlamp projected stars onto my bedroom ceiling, and glow worms cheeks radiated pink beneath the sheets.

I even made my dad stop the grandfather clock on the floor below, as its barely detectable ticking kept me from slumber. Still, I couldn’t sleep. I was an insomniac before I’d even began to deal with the stress brought on by adult life.

So, I grew up not sleeping a lot. In fact, I began to enjoy being awake deep into the night, reading and writing and indulging my imagination.

In my mid-twenties, however, I developed a totally different relationship to sleep. For full days and weeks, I just wanted to sleep and sleep. Instead of being another source of stress, it became my sanctuary.

The Value of Good Sleep

The truth is sleep is vital to our health and wellbeing, as essential to us as food and water. While we may pay attention to nutrition and physical activity, we maintain high expectations of sleep—without putting much thought, effort, or understanding into it.

Sleep is our time to unconsciously process all the impressions and experiences from our day, allowing us to deactivate and decompress.

A Different Approach to Shuteye

According to sleep and enery expert Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, what we do during the day contributes to our ability to get some shuteye, since it affects our chemical biology and adrenaline response.

Everything we do during the day contributes to what happens when we get into bed. All too often, we can’t sleep even if we’re tired, because we’re too overstimulated. We simply don’t reach the deeper levels of sleep that are most restorative.

Over time, says Dr. Nerina, this means we get stuck in ‘survival mode’ and our poor nervous system is in a constant state of fight or flight. This makes it impossible to access the limitless potential of extraordinary energy: that magic stuff that makes us feel really motivated about life.

Here are some tips from Dr. Nerina on how to sleep better.

1. Check your attitude toward sleep.

Do you dread getting in bed for fear that you’ll be staring at the ceiling or counting sheep? Let go of any expectations as you go to bed. Trust yourself to unwind and relax.

2. Stop relying exclusively on slumber to destress.

While sleep does make us feel energised, but there are many other things that impact our ability to recharge.

Moderate your stress/excitement throughout the day and take a step back from time to time: a walk in the park, a cup of tea, or 10 conscious breaths all provide brain breaks that will improve the quality of your sleep later on.

3. Harmonise your sleep cycle with nature.

When the sun begins to set and light levels drop, the body naturally begins to prepare for sleep, but all too often we override it and stay awake long into the night. The earlier we get to bed (ideally around 10 to 10:30 P.M.) the more nourishing sleep will be.

The 90 minutes before midnight is a particularly potent and healing processing time.

4. Clean up your energy from the day.

Invite calm into your life and allow for some space to come down from your day before bedtime. What you do with the 60 to 90 minutes before you hit the sheets has a huge impact on the quality of your sleep.

Ditch the distractions and addictions that lead to overstimulation. Explore what brings you contentment. Try journaling, meditating, restorative yoga and/or recalling things you are grateful for today.

5. Do all of these things...

a. Eat well.

Consider nutrition and aim to stabilise your blood sugar by eating within 30 minutes of waking.

b. Curb the caffeine.

The half life of caffeine is five hours. If you have a coffee mid-afternoon at 5 P.M., half of the total caffeine content will still be in your bloodstream by 10 P.M., which prevents you from going into deep sleep.

c. Hydrate.

Drinking plenty of water will support optimal functioning of the body and brain.

d. Ditch the devices.

Take technology breaks throughout the day, turn away from them 90 minutes before you sleep, and turn them off completely at bedtime. The more you bombard your brain with information, the more deep sleep is required to process all the information.

e. Get physical.

Get out of your head by coming into your body. Exercise regularly and bring your attention into grounding your feet from time to time. When you get into bed, place your palms on your belly or chest and focus on breathing awareness into the body.

f. Schedule sleep.

Three to four times a week, especially if you’re stressed or super busy, make sure you go to bed before midnight (ideally 10 P.M.) so you can use that precious time pre-midnight to process properly.

g. Write lists.

If your brain is constantly buzzing with all the things you need to do, write a list at the end of the day detailing what you need to do the following day. It will minimise too much overthinking when you switch the lights off.

h. Don’t monitor your sleep.

Some apps and devices monitor how much sleep you have, but 7 to 8 hours of unbroken sleep is unrealistic because the average person wakes up 10 to 15 times per night. When these figures show up on our sleep monitor, this might leave us feeling tired and frustrated.

i. Avoid clockwatching.

If you wake up in the middle of the night, resist checking the time and calculating how much sleep time you have left. It only activates the brain and induces stress.

A healthy relationship with sleep takes time and practice. Try these suggestions, and before you know it, you’ll be reaching with the weekend without crashing.