My parents would happily say that as a baby, I was a very good sleeper. However, in the past couple of years, I found that falling asleep could be a problem and this would particularly be worse in periods of heightened anxiety. Lack of sleep would then make me less resilient to stress and thus more anxious leading to the perfect recipe for a tiredness-anxiety vicious circle.
Lawrence kept repeating to me that I needed a bedtime routine. Problem is that I already had one! Scroll on my phone for hours until I fall asleep…sounds familiar ?
Last September, during my psychiatry block, I did a presentation on the importance of sleep as part of the treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). I never imagined that lack of sleep could impact recovery so much. Insomnia can impact various mental health conditions, not just PTSD and I therefore decided to make sleep my number 1 priority.
Where to start when you want to make sleep a priority?
Any lifestyle changes can be difficult, even something like deciding to sleep more. In my opinion, the key is to acknowledge that you want to make it a priority and to take baby steps. Saying “from now on, I will go to bed at 10pm daily” while you usually go to bed at 1am, it is not going to work. Instead, start by agreeing to go to bed early 1-2 a week, say Monday and Thursday. On these evenings, simply timetable it and refuse to go out and have a late night. Progressively, introduce your early nights to the rest of the week.
Create a sleep routine
Well my husband is right, the key is to establish a sleep routine. His one consists of having cookies with a glass of milk, brushing his teeth and reading. Sadly, I do not have his fast metabolism so having cookies every evening is out of the question for me. Here is what I do instead. Some of it is probably ridiculous, I am not suggesting you to do the exact same thing.
- Dim the bedroom lights
- Catch up on social media. Very sad, I know, but true. I am addicted to my phone. I acknowledge this and instead catch up on social media at my desk with a cup of herbal tea. It is game over if I take my phone to my bed. I also send my last good night texts and then leave my phone to charge near my desk.
- A cup of herbal tea. I absolutely love herbal teas. One of my bridesmaid organised that our wedding guests would write on herbals tea bags so each time we would have a cup of tea we would read sweet notes. At the moment, I am drinking Heath & Heather’s relaxing night time tea with a bit of honey.
- Night skincare routine. I particularly love using oil to remove my makeup as the massage is very relaxing.
- Read a few pages. I am currently reading The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time* by Arianna Huffington…and I still have not finished it as my routine sends me off to sleep quite rapidly!
- In case I feel particularly stressed, I listen to the sleep meditation exercise from the Headspace app.
More tips for good sleep
Here are some other tips that I have gathered from my research about sleep and that I feel have made a positive impact to my sleep.
- Keep your bed for sleep and sex only, nothing else. I never study/eat in my bed for instance.
- Have a specific sleeping outfit (or sleep naked, just associate this outfit + being in bed with sleep).
- Go to bed and wake up at regular times, even at the weekends.
- Avoid naps. Now this is controversial. Some evidence show that naps can be good for you. From a medical point of view, a patient with insomnia could be treated with sleep deprivation (no naps) to ensure that when they went to bed, they felt tired (I am taking a very big shortcut here, this is just one step). Last year, I would take so many naps to compensate for my insomnia but then I was not feeling tired at night. Now, if I sleep poorly, I treat it like jet lag and force myself to stay awake and then go to bed early.
- Use the F.lux app to limit blue light on your computer and phone.
- Don’t assume that your partner will mind you meditating. I am alone during the week so it’s easier to manage. However last Saturday I had a burst of anxiety thinking about coming back to Uni and I felt the need to use the headspace app. Lawrence actually did not mind. I asked him again the following morning if it had been a problem and he said “nope, I fell straight asleep so it did its job”
- Know your triggers. Anxiety is mine. Lack of sleep induces my anxiety. Why that spell last Saturday? Late night Thursday while on holiday, travel late back to London on Friday, part-time job on Saturday…and voilà. Once you know your triggers, then you can address them 🙂
Does it work?
As I mentioned previously, I think that it is important to find a routine that works for you. This certainly works for me. I stuck to this routine to the letter when I was on night shifts to the extent of having my Night time relaxing tea…in the morning.
Think about it as your potty training for sleep. I bet that even if you do not really need the toilet you manage to go once you are on it? Well we are trying to wire your brain to associate your bed with sleep in the same way here.
Before my project on sleep last term, I did not take it that seriously. There is actually a LOT of reasons why you might not be able to sleep properly. Take a step back and have an honest look at your sleep hygiene. The Mind Association has created a checklist (p21). It is worth having a look to see if you are doing the simple things. If insomnia is affecting you, do not hesitate to speak about it to your GP and perhaps bring that list with you.
Do you have a sleep routine?
My current supply of night time tea has kindly been supplied by the brand but it is available from Holland and Barrett. Thank you Heath & Heather for helping me sleep. Instagram: Heathandheathertea Twitter: @HeathHeatherTea Facebook: @heathandheather
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