Sleep: Create a sleep routine
Top tricks that work for me
Aside from the plainly obvious tips, such as not drinking coffee just before bed, here is what I have found effective to send me off to the land of nod:
Set a bed time (and a waking time)
In a regression to my childhood days I now have a set 'bedtime'. Between 9pm and 10pm I pootle off up the stairs and take myself to bed. There is a set policy of lights out at 10. I'm telling you, it is laugh a minute in our household. I set my alarm for the same time every morning (5:30 am) and my body is used to its new sleep pattern. Like a baby, I respond exceptionally well to structure and routine.
In addition, my phone is turned to aeroplane mode at 9 pm each night to allow me to wind down, not get over stimulated by Instagram and be away from blue light. This is the first step towards a ban on all electronic devices in the bedroom.
How much sleep is enough sleep? It's a tricky question and after plenty of research it appears to me that the answer is 'it depends'. Frustrating, right. The best summary I have come across on sleep, how much we need, why it is important and strategies to fix it is episode 80 of the Zestology podcast with 'the sleep doctor', Dr Michael Breus. Our bodies work in 90 minute cycles for sleep. Therefore it is best to work backwards in 90 minute intervals from the time you need to wake up and set you bedtime appropriately. For example, I wake up at 5:30am, so working backwards (4:00 am, 2:30 am, 1:00 am, 11:30 pm, 10:00 pm) going to bed at 10:00pm gives me 4 complete 90 minute sleep cycles.
I have had to be strict with myself on my sleep routine, and it doesn't always work out. But getting set sleep each night has made a world of difference to my levels of energy and my general health.
Magnesium spray and tablets
Magnesium relaxes the muscles and body, which can aid sleep. It is also an essential mineral for fertility and good hormone function, and one in which plenty of people are deficient – so a double bonus. It is possible to take magnesium orally or to absorb it through the skin. I spray magnesium oil on my skin every night before going to sleep. The spray makes my skin oily (oooh, sensual...) and can sometimes give me a cool tingling sensation, where I shut my eyes and imagine I'm being tickled by a snowman.
The mindfulness app Headspace has a programme designed to aid sleep. This includes on-the-go single session to listen to when you are struggling to nod off, as well as a 30 session programme to be used to during the day which aims to set you in the right frame of mind for sleep generally. I have found both to be incredibly helpful and on many occasions I have dropped off to the on-the-go audio, which focuses on progressively relaxing and mentally switching off different limbs and areas of the body.
I don’t care that I sound like a hippy when I say that breathing can be a powerful relaxer. It’s true. A fantastic breathing technique that I learnt in my hot yoga class never fails to send me to sleep. I call it the ‘Better Out Than In’ technique (NOT it’s official name) in which you count the breath and ensure that the exhale is twice as long as the inhale. It really is that simple. The counting helps to turn down the dial on a racing mind and the longer exhale than inhale is said to stimulate the vagus nerve (running from the neck down through the diaphragm) to send a signal to your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system and turn down your sympathetic nervous system. I cannot do this for more than 5 minutes before I’m snoring like a badger. Other breathing techniques for calm and relaxation can be found on this helpful leaflet, where my ‘Better Out Than In’ is known more eloquently as the 7-11 approach.