Our holistic hero reveals how to banish insomnia and drift off to dreamland with ease
Insomnia sucks the joy from life. I should know – I’ve suffered from it for 21 years. I have tried everything – even a stint on sleeping pills (which left me groggy during the day and wide awake at night). Yet recently, I’ve started to get some decent slumber and it’s nothing to do with lavender bath oil or chamomile tea (lovely as they are). We’re all different, but let me share the strategies which have made a real difference to me in the hopes they could help. Firstly, find out the root cause of your sleeplessness. In my case, my stress hormone levels were so high that my body never felt safe enough to sink into the parasympathetic state of rest and repair. My functional medicine doctor prescribed deep abdominal breathing, a serious regular meditation habit (twice a day; not just the odd session here and there) and calming visualisations.
Secondly, check your circadian rhythm is on track. Our sleep patterns are ruled by an inner biological clock which is calibrated to light. As the sun sets, our brain triggers the release of melatonin, signalling it’s time to prepare for rest. Unfortunately, artificial light (and particularly that from the blue light of phones and laptops) confuses our bodies so we just don’t have enough melatonin stored up to make us sleepy. I’ve found coming off all devices a couple of hours before bedtime really helps (I was always a bit cavalier about it before). Yet, apparently even a little light can cause problems and, while candlelight is lovely, it’s not always practical. I’m thinking of investing in a pair of anti-blue light glasses to pop on for a few hours each evening. Black-out curtains banish the glow from outside street lamps and, if I’m away from home, I wear an eye mask. Using bright light in the morning can also help to reset that biological clock. So I have a 20-minute blast of bright light from my Lumie bedside light when I wake up (with the added bonus that it helps to combat seasonal affective disorder).
I’m cautious about my diet too, steering clear of heavy, high-carb meals and not eating too late (it’s also not advisable to exercise too late in the evening). I’ve found that even a glass of wine can sabotage my slumber, and I don’t drink any caffeine (including green tea) after midday.
The final trick in my sleep-easy protocol is a weighted blanket. It works by deep pressure stimulation (DPS) giving an even pressure on the body – think of it as swaddling for grown-ups. DPS has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and to encourage the production of serotonin and oxytocin, hormones that make us feel happy and secure. It brings back memories from childhood of being tucked firmly in with sheets, blankets and a quilt. If you aren’t keen on shelling out for a weighted blanket, maybe try the old-fashioned bed-making techniques (of tucking blankets and sheets in tightly) and see if it works for you. Wishing you good night’s and sweet dreams.
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