Get to sleep fast and stay fast asleep with expert advice from the best in the business
There’s nothing like a good night’s sleep to leave you feeling calm, energised and ready to face the world. But for many of us, it’s not always as easy as climbing into bed and turning the lights out. Stress, diet, artificial light and noise pollution are just some of the factors that can stand between you and a blissful slumber. The average person needs between seven to nine hours of good-quality sleep a night. “A night or two of poor sleep won’t harm you,” says neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist Dr Lynda Shaw, “but long-term sleep deprivation will lower your quality of life and put you at risk of serious medical conditions, as well as making you feel moody, impairing your concentration and problem-solving skills and increasing your risk of depression.” We’ve rounded up the best tips for getting to the land of nod.
Setting an alarm to wake up at the same time every day, even at weekends, could improve your sleep. “If you get up at similar times every day, your body responds with the regular release of melatonin before you get into bed, which aids restful sleep,” says sleep expert Dr Sophie Bostock. “Haphazard sleep-wake patterns, and weekend lie-ins confuse the body clock and delay the production of melatonin, leading to lighter sleep.”
A warm bedroom might seem cosy, but sleep behaviour and environment expert James Wilson (thesleepgeek.co.uk) says, “In order to initiate sleep, our bodies experience a drop in core temperature, meaning that a cooler bedroom environment is essential to aid the sleep process.” He recommends keeping your bedroom between 16-18 degrees to help you drop off and stay comfortable whilst asleep.
According to Jo Foster, founder of Kiss the Moon (kissthemoon.com), our hands are a maze of reflexology pressure points which means that by adopting a simple routine, you can help relieve tension from every part of your body. “Massage also eases away tiredness and aches and pains,” adds Jo, “helps the circulation and assists our lymph system in removing toxins that have built up through the day.” Try it for yourself – the end of our fingers represent our head zone in reflexology. Apply pressure in small, slow circular motions to each fingertip in turn to help release tension you are holding from the neck upwards and calm down your mind.
According to high-tech mattress maker Simba’s sleep psychologist Hope Bastine (simbasleep.com), every room in our home has a specific purpose. “As we walk into it we begin associating specific activities with the space,” says Hope, “so it’s important to create an environment that promotes the desired activity – in this case sleep and rest.” Research has found reds and yellows increased anxiety compared to blues and greens. In general, softer, muted colours like greys, pinks and purples are neutral and promote tranquility.
It’s no good being tucked up in bed by 9pm if you’re wide awake. “You won’t be able to sleep if you haven’t built up enough sleep pressure,” says Sophie. “If you don’t feel tired, do something relaxing until your eyelids feel heavy, and only then get into bed. If you’re feeling fatigued, a short 20-minute nap after lunch can be a useful boost to mood and energy levels, but be wary of long naps late in the day which can reset sleep pressure and interfere with night-time sleep.”
Founder of Breathpod, Stuart Sandeman (breathpod.me) recommends a tranquilising breath technique to help get you back to sleep with ease. “Inhale through the nose for a count of four, hold your breath for a count of six, exhale through pursed lips for a count of eight and then repeat for four rounds,” suggests Stuart. “The idea is to maximise the rest and digest (para-sympathetic response), slow the mind and the system. “In this state we feel relaxed and calm and you can get back to sleep with ease.
Aromatherapy can be used to prepare the mind for sleep, according to Clare Cooper, founder of Made By Coopers. “Try lavender, chamomile or frankincense in your night time routine,” suggests Clare. “These oils help to slow down your nervous system, decrease blood pressure, reduce anxiety and help you fall into a deep sleep.”
Life today is fast-paced. We are always on the go, which interrupts our body’s ability to function as it should. “If we are constantly moving onto the next thing, our cortisol levels are continually high and we feel wired all the time,” says Dr Lucy Tinning, Clinical Psychologist. “Cortisol should decrease in the evening, giving our melatonin a chance to increase and for us to feel ready for sleep. If we are consistently wired, it’s unlikely we will experience a rise in melatonin and get a quality night’s sleep.”
Try practising Sophrology (a type of dynamic meditation) before bed. The practise has been used by the Swiss for decades to prepare the body and mind for a restful sleep, as well as to keep stress levels to a minimum throughout the day. “It works well because it engages both the mind and body,” says Dominique Antiglio, Sophrologist at BeSophro clinics and author of The Life-Changing Power of Sophorology (be-sophro.com). It is so effective that it is even used in the country’s sleep retreats and clinics to help patients suffering from sleep disorders.
1. Focus on your body sensations and feel the movement of the breath. Are there any sensations of tightness in your body, worry in your mind or agitation as a whole?
2. Inhale, clenching all the muscles in your body as you hold your breath, then do a long exhale to release all those tensions. Repeat five times and then pause, inviting your body into a relaxing body scan.
3. Then concentrate on a positive, safe or relaxing image of your choice to prime your mind and body to feel comfortable and safe – key factors in helping you to fall asleep naturally. Repeat as many times as you need until your mind and body are so calm that you naturally fall asleep.
This pose stretches the shoulders and chest while opening the hips and lower body.
How to: Spread your knees wide but keep your big toes touching. Sit your hips back onto your heels and crawl your palms forward until your forehead rests on your mat. Start to connect to your breathing by noticing the length of your inhale and exhale. Use your inhale to crawl the palms an inch farther and use your exhale to sink the hips even deeper toward the heels.
This transitional pose opens the spine, shoulders and.
How to: Come down to all fours on your hands and feet – this is the table-top position. Stack your shoulders above your wrists, and hips above your knees. Keep your gaze down and slightly forward so the spine and back of the neck remain long. On an inhale, roll your shoulders down your back and press your chest forward. On an exhale, tuck your chin toward your chest and lift the back of your heart high. Continue alternating between these movements for one minute, elongating your inhale and exhale to create more space in the spine.
This gentle inversion elongates the spine and helps realign the vertebrae.
How to: From table-top position, tuck your toes and lift your hips up and back to come into an inverted V shape. Spread your fingertips wide, with your middle fingers pointing forward. Keep your feet hip-width apart or wider and find a gentle bend in the knees. On your inhale, lift your hips and lengthen your spine. On your exhale, bring your heels close to the mat.
This pose decompresses and realigns the spine while opening the chest.
How to: Lie on your back and inhale as you pull your right knee into your chest. Your left leg will stay long with toes flexed up toward the sky. As you exhale, shift your right leg across the body so the knee gently drops toward the left side of your body. Extend your palms in opposite directions while keeping your shoulder blades firmly pressed into the mat. After a few breaths, switch sides.
Legs-up-the Wall Pose
This pose increases circulation by facilitating lactic acid drainage in the lower body.
How to: Bring your hips against the wall or your headboard in bed. Walk your feet up the wall and bring the sit bones an inch closer to the wall until your body is in an L shape with your feet extended toward the sky, taking slow, deep breaths for one minute.
This final pose facilitates deep relaxation, preparing your body for sleep.
How to: Allow the entire back of your body to rest heavy on the mat beneath you. Place your palms face up toward the sky and widen your feet to hip-width distance. Your toes will naturally drop out to the side. You can practise this pose in bed, so you can stay in savasana until you are ready to sleep.
Routine extracted from Melatonin: The Natural Supplement for Better Sleep, by Locke Hughes (£14.99, Sterling).
In need of some more sleep tips? Click here to discover brilliant ones from Calming Blankets – you’ll be dreaming in no time…
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