Over the last couple of days, we have covered two foundational topics for your wellbeing, that is eating nourishing food and moving your body. Today we are talking about the third very important factor which completes the trio: getting enough rest and good quality sleep.
We all know that a good nights’ sleep can do wonders for our energy and mood. During sleep, both your body and mind undergo a full recharge and reset for the day ahead. Unfortunately, most of us have experienced the horror show that is trying to get through the day on very little sleep. Lack of sleep can affect your energy levels, mood, concentration and cognitive abilities. You can have the best diet and workout regime in the world but if you aren’t getting enough sleep you will likely feel terrible!
How much sleep do I need?
We often hear the magic number of 8 hours per night, but is this correct? In truth, the amount of sleep you need depends on your age as when as your individual make up. Babies and young children need the most sleep, sometimes up to 18 hours per day! Adults over the age of 65 need much less sleep and may get by on 5-6 hours per night.
For the majority of you reading this post, you probably fall within the 18-64 years age category which means you need between 7 and 10 hours per night. However, that’s quite a big range and only you know the amount of sleep that is right for you. If you go to bed at a reasonable hour, wake up feeling refreshed and have energy throughout the day, you are probably getting enough sleep!
What if I’m not getting enough sleep?
Sadly, many people are not able to get the amount or quality of sleep that they need to support their physical and mental wellbeing. If you are one of these people, there are several reasons why you might not be getting enough sleep:
- You sleep late and have to get up early for work or other activities
- Your sleep is disturbed by external factors (including kids or pets)
- Internal factors prevent you from falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
If you fall into the first category, I highly recommend that you try to rearrange your life to make space for more sleep. This is particularly important if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of lack of sleep. But even if you feel fine now, consistently missing out on sleep can increase your risk of health issues down the line. If you really want to take your health, wellbeing and energy levels to the next level, I strongly advise you to gradually shift your bedtime earlier by 15 minutes a week until you have time for a minimum of 7 hours sleep per night.
For those of you in the second category and your sleep is disturbed by having young children or a job that requires you to be awake during the night, there is probably not much you can do at this moment in time. In this case, I recommend getting enough good quality rest (more on that later) as well as taking naps wherever possible throughout the day. Adding extra stress and worry about your lack of sleep will only make things worse. Instead, focus on nourishing your self and supporting your energy levels in other ways and trust that your body will catch up on sleep when the opportunity is available.
Finally, for all of the insomniacs out there, I recommend getting really honest with yourself about what is affecting your sleep. Perhaps it is something as simple as not having a comfortable sleeping environment. In that case, ensuring you follow the sleep hygiene checklist below might be enough to have you sleeping like a rock again. If it is something in particular that is stressing you, whether that is work, family or other personal issues, I highly recommend getting in touch with a professional therapist who can help you to work through your struggles. Sometimes getting things off your chest and having a safe space to discuss your worries is enough to calm down your nervous system and allow you to drift off into a peaceful sleep.
Tips for getting a good nights’ sleep
The following sleep hygiene checklist are the tips I recommend for everyone who want to improve the quality of their sleep. Are there any simple changes you could make to get a better nights sleep?
- Ensure your bedroom is quiet, cool and calming
- Only use your bed/bedroom for sleep and sex
- Avoid caffeine (tea, coffee, dark chocolate) 8-10 hours before bed
- Avoid drinking alcohol 4-6 hours before bed
- Switch off all electronics 1 hour before bed and put your phone on flight mode
- Implement a relaxing and calming evening routine
- Create a consistent sleep routine (max 1 hour difference in sleep/wake times)
- Avoid heavy meals 3-4 hours before bed (consider a bed time snack if needed)
- Keep naps to 1 hour minimum and not after 3pm
- Don’t lie in bed awake if you can’t sleep, after 20 minutes get up and leave the room until you feel sleepy enough
- Make sure you get enough natural light during the day, especially in the morning hours
- Use an eye mask and/or ear plugs if your sleeping environment is bright or noisy
I know for myself that if I eat a big meal too late at night, drink coffee in the afternoon or I have too much screen time in the evening then my sleep will suffer. I also shamelessly take my eye mask and ear plugs wherever I go! As someone who experienced he effects of poor sleep for many years, it’s a subject close to my heart and sleep is a top priority for my wellbeing. I have written several other posts on the topic of improving your sleep for those of you who need more support:
Whether sleep is a major issue for you or you just want to get better quality of sleep to feel even better, the tips in this post will be supportive for you!
If you can’t sleep then at least REST
Rest is also an important factor to improve your wellbeing. If you can’t sleep, then at least focus on getting enough rest. By rest I mean time where you allow your body and mind to relax and unwind. We live in a society full of stimulation and tasks. We “relax” by watching intense TV shows, reading educational books or scrolling through social media. These things might feel like relaxation but we are still being stimulated by artificial light and strong emotions.
It is important to take time to rest during the day to allow your body and your mind to let go of stress and tension that builds up. I recommend at least a 30 minute period of rest each day, either in one block or as separate smaller blocks. During this time you can lie down, focus on your breathing, listen to relaxing music or the sounds around you.. anything that focuses your attention on the present moment. Worrying about the future or ruminating on the past can create mental stress and tension which if not addressed can affect your sleep at night.
Taking the time to check in, notice what is present and let it go throughout the day can help to prevent stresses building up to the point that they over flow. I love guided relaxation tapes and Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) practices for the ultimate experience of rest. All you need is a comfortable place to lie down, a set of head phones to listen to the recording and maybe an eye mask to completely block out the outside world. For a quick relaxation practice, I love this guided meditation:
Or one of my favourites when I have a bit more time is this one:
If you try them out, let me know what you think in the comments below! I can’t be more grateful to The Mindful Movement for all of the supportive guided meditations they create.
Today’s challenge: Create a calming evening routine
Your challenge for today is to create your own simple evening routine that you can do every night before you sleep to help you to wind down and relax. It takes some discipline to create space for relaxation when there are so many other things you should or could be doing. But once you experience the benefits of a better mood and energy the next morning, it will be a habit you want to create!
Steps for creating an evening routine:
- Based on your wake up time and the amount of sleep you need, count backwards to find the latest bedtime for you to get enough sleep
- Decide on how long you have available for your evening routine (I recommend at least 30 minutes)
- Set an alarm for 15 minutes before and use this time to brush your teeth and get into your pyjamas so that you don’t have to do these after your routine
- Pick 1-3 relaxing activities that you enjoy doing to wind down
- Reading a good book
- Gentle stretching or yoga
- Meditation or breathwork
- Playing relaxing music
- Lighting a candle
- Having a cup of herbal tea
Commit to your evening routine every day for a week and reflect on any differences in how you feel in your body, mind and spirit.
Over to you…
- Comment: Do you think you could benefit from some extra sleep? Which of the tips did you find most useful?
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