Tossing, turning and hopelessly counting sheep… insomnia is totally torturous and any form of sleep pressure is never any fun. Left unchecked, it can harm our health, mood, productivity and general quality of life!
Perhaps you travel a lot, work shift work, or have disordered sleep patterns. Maybe you’re a bit stressed and have trouble switching off at night. Whatever the case may be, up to 70 million Americans experience some form of sleep disorder, so chances are you might appreciate some extra zzz's!
With modern schedules fuller than ever, we know you can’t waste precious time tossing and turning before you hit the hay. So here are our top tips for switching to sleep mode faster than you can count to 50 sheep!
Bring On The Black
Darkness sends all sorts of signals to our brain that it’s time to wind down. On the flip side, bright lights keep our brain switched on in wake mode.
If you can’t make your room dark or regularly need to catch your shut-eye in different environments, consider buying a good quality eye mask. They are light, portable and will help you to melt into that soft, inky darkness where beautiful sleep is found!
Just as bright lights distract us from falling asleep, noise is another major stimulus that stops us from snoozing (and can be downright irritating when you’re tired!) Invest in some soft, ‘sleep’ headphones - these are padded, super comfortable and tend to do a better job of blocking out distracting sounds. Even better, play some soothing music, meditations or nature sounds to really zen it up.
Try The 4-7-8 Trick
Pioneered by Dr. Andrew Weil, 4-7-8 breathing is one of the simplest yet most effective tools you can use to access instant calm. Simply inhale through your nose for a count of 4, gently hold this breath for 7 counts and exhale slowly for another count of 8.
This type of yogic breathing stills the mind and stimulates the release of feel-good chemicals in your brain. Given that stress is a major cause of sleep disturbances, relaxation is absolutely essential to help your mind to wind down.
Keep An Essential Oil Kit
Aromatherapy has been used for centuries as a natural sleep remedy. Lavender, roman chamomile, neroli, orange and petitgrain essential oils are all potent sleep aids.
Why? Aromatherapy works on emotional, psychological and biochemical levels to induce calm. Essential oils act directly on the brain and the central nervous system to release natural chemicals and feel-good endorphins. Our sense of smell is very powerful and also builds an ‘association’ with sleepy calm if we use it consistently before nap time.
Helpful Herbs To Use On-The-Go
It’s pretty well known that a warm herbal brew of chamomile tea will help us get to sleep. However, making a cuppa in the midst of a restless night or when you’re away from home isn’t always feasible.
Thankfully, many sleep-inducing herbs are now available in supplemental tablet form. An herbal supplement containing chamomile, valerian, hops or passionflower will help most of us nod off to sleep in no time - just be mindful that some meds do interact with these herbs and valerian, hops and passionflower aren’t recommended for prolonged, regular use.
Hang Your Worries On A Worry Tree
Many experts recommend journalling out any anxious thoughts or a ‘To Do’ list before you go to bed. However, if you need sleep - fast - and are away from home, this may not be the solution for you.
Alternatively, visualize a beautiful, ancient tree with deep spreading roots and expansive foliage. Imagine yourself transferring your individual worries from your mind onto the strong, supporting branches of this tree. Know that this tree is guarding your problems and keeping you safe while you sleep.
Savour A Sleepy-Time Snack
There is some evidence to suggest that a light snack containing low glycemic index carbohydrate can help us get to sleep. The theory behind this is that such foods may help our brains to produce serotonin, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel happy and relaxed.
Therefore, you may like to try eating a small banana, handful of blueberries, healthy oatmeal biscuit or small slice of sourdough toast before heading to bed. The emphasis here is on having a light snack, though - eating too much will strain your digestive system and actually interfere with your quality of sleep.
Find Your Sleepy Acupressure Points
Acupressure has been used to remedy a wide range of health ailments. It’s safe, totally natural and offers some easy applications that can be used anytime, anywhere, to help you fall to sleep.
There are two major acupressure points that can be pressed to help you drift off. Firstly, find the small indent at the top of your nose and between your eyebrows. Apply light pressure with your fingers for a minute before sleep. You can also press the sole of your foot, approximately one third from the tips of your toes, for a similar effect.
Catch Yourself Catastrophizing
Before we go to sleep, we are typically alone with our thoughts. With the added stress of being overtired, it is easy for our mind to cascade into spirals of worry that keep us awake.
Most of the time, these worries are blown out of proportion. When we wake up or actually have to face our feared situation, 9 times out of 10 it’s not the big deal that we thought it was. Therefore, worrying late at night is mostly a massive waste of energy. But how to escape these seductive trains of thought and slip into the sleep zone?
Try to notice any ‘catastrophizing’ worry thoughts and say to yourself, ‘STOP. No, no, no. We’re not going to deal with this right now.’ When your brain starts another tangent, remind yourself gently but firmly that you are not in the right frame of mind to think about this clearly and will deal with these thoughts with a fresh mind in the morning. With regular reinforcement, your mind will start to listen!
Use All Your Senses
Visualization exercises are a powerful way to relax, yet how tricky can it be to make your mind stay present and focused while you do them?
Instead of simply ‘seeing’ a relaxing visualization in your mind’s eye, try to recruit all your senses to imagine a relaxing scene unfolding. What does this scene actually feel like? Smell like? Experts say that recruiting all senses will guide you deeper into visualizations.