sleep

A couple of friends recently told me they were having sleep problems – not so much getting off to sleep but staying asleep and basically having a night of restorative sleep. As a result they feel constantly tired during the day, don’t work to their full capacity and have got into a cycle of disturbed sleep.

So when I came across this article from an (old) Woman and Home magazine (I was clearing out my pre-2016 stockpile!), I thought I’d share it with you, as even I am prone to the odd period of sleeplessness, albeit not prolonged, so I’m aware how debilitating it can be.

The article picked the six best (supposedly!) methods to achieve restorative sleep, which were tested by a lifelong insomniac named Victoria Lambert. She tried the six methods in six days to see which would help her the most (Of course, it’s subjective, a different one may work for you).

Day one: Exercise

“Regular exercise, preferably early in the day, is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress hormone levels, enabling you to sleep more deeply”, says sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan. Victoria walked for three hours in the morning (that’s a long walk!) AND then went swimming (she says “a fast swim”) in the early evening. She also avoided all stimulants (e.g. coffee, chocolate) and felt properly physically tired by 9.30pm.

Verdict: She dropped off instantly (unusual) BUT woke up at 11pm,12am, 2.30am (for an hour) and then dozed fitfully. Why didn’t it work? Dr Ramlakhan suggested it was because when you exercise in the evening you need more wind-down time after, so restorative exercise like yoga postures to calm the nervous system would be better. For example, a legs-up-the-wall pose and a few minutes breathing deeply in each pose.

legs-up-the-wallDay Two: Can an app help?

I don’t have a smartphone so any talk of apps leaves me cold, but hey, if you’re a modern gal this may be for you! Apparently apps to help you unwind have become incredibly popular (let me know if you use any – with success – all you technophiles out there). Victoria chose one called Buddhify (buddhify.com), created by mindfulness expert Rohan Gunatillake who believes that in the future “we will benefit from a new wave of digital tools that not only reduce stress but lead to genuine insight, wisdom and compassion. And with not an incense stick in sight.”

buddhify

The app gives a choice of sleep meditations, from which Victoria chose “whole”, focusing on whole body breathing.

Verdict: She followed the words of the meditation and drifted into sleep, waking only once in the night. As a result she felt much better the next day. Worth trying then, especially if your problem is stress (the voice on the app helps take your mind off your busy day and focus on yourself)

Day Three: Digital Detox

TV, PC, phone, even clocks – anything with LED lights – banned from the bedroom (I’m already on top with this one, we have one LED alarm clock and that’s it. Feeling smug. And the kids have nothing). Why? Artificial light which strikes the retina from dusk to dawn can have physiological effects on our brain. LED light stimulates the neurons, according to a recent report, encouraging the body to stay alert rather than go to sleep.

tv

Verdict: Victoria fell asleep fast but woke up after an hour and slept fitfully until waking fully at 6am. She didn’t use much technology in the bedroom in the first place and perhaps one night wasn’t enough to notice an effect.

Personally I would go much further and have a digital detox day – I do this (Note: my kids are NOT happy doing it) every Sunday. No screens, basically – no TV, phones, iPads, whatever. Promotes interaction too, amidst the teenage whining!

Day Four: The eat-to-sleep day

Low levels of the hormone serotonin and magnesium can contribute to insomnia. So try a diet heavy in tryptophan, an amino acid found in fish, chicken and eggs, which the body converts to serotonin, which is in turn converted to melatonin, the sleep hormone. Tryptophan also needs insulin, produced when we eat carbs, to be absorbed, and vitamin B6 to enable the conversion process.

egg

Victoria’s menu:

Breakfast: two poached eggs and a baby avocado with spinach

Lunch: salmon with green salad and asparagus followed by an apple

Dinner: tuna with brown rice, leeks, broccoli, carrots and sweet potato, followed by a handful of cherries and one small glass of red wine – both natural sources of melatonin. Resist a second glass which can interfere with blood sugar overnight (drat!).

Last thing: a warm glass of milk, as the protein contains a peptide found to be naturally relaxing, followed by an Epsom salt bath to provide calming magnesium absorbed through the skin.

Verdict: At 10pm Victoria drifted off and woke only once during the night. She was sated by all the protein and credited the bath too – she  felt physically relaxed.

Day Five: the Float

rest

Floating in an enclosed saltwater tank – also called Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy (REST) – has been anecdotally linked to improved sleep and a recent Swedish trial supports this. Almost 700lb of Epsom Salts (again) are added to 170 gallons of water, heated to around 35°C, in which you float in the dark. Three one-hour treatments are recommended before you’ll experience maximum rest.

Verdict: That night Victoria didn’t fall asleep straight away but fidgeted and fretted for about 40 minutes BUT then slept deeply from 12am to 6am.

Day Six: 4-7-8 Breathing

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I’ve read about this easy breathing technique in various magazines recently. It is designed to help you relax in order to go to sleep OR to calm you down in a stressful situation.

For one breath: exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound. Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Verdict: Victoria promptly fell asleep and woke just once during the night, when she repeated the process. She has carried on with this breathing technique and is teaching it to her daughter to help her get calm before bed (doesn’t say how old her daughter is). Recommended. You might want to add a few drops of lavender essential oil near your pillow as it is an age-old remedy for inducing sleep.

tiredness

Source: Woman and Home magazine

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