We all have days where it feels impossible to get going. Every task seems extra hard, we’re clumsy and moving at a much slower pace…
A large cause of low energy levels is not only down to how many hours of sleep you get, but also the quality of sleep you get during that time.
We know that getting between 6-9 hours sleep is the recommended limit, with 8 hours being preferable. However, it’s a waste if the things we do during the day are contributing to a restless night. We’ll wake up with a shock at the blasting noise of the alarm, feeling like we’ve been hit by something heavy, and the sluggishness can stay with us throughout the day.
If your sleep quality is poor, the way your brain performs during the day will be too. To make sure your mind and body are performing to their optimum levels, have a look at this ultimate guide to sleeping properly and find out the do’s and do not’s of getting a great nights sleep.
What might be stopping you from sleeping properly?
The intricate process of the sleep-wake system is controlled by the body’s circadian rhythm. This is the physical, mental and behavioural changes that follow 24-hour cycles. It is found in most living things including plants, animals and fungi.
When we have been awake for a long period of time, sleep/wake homeostasis tells us that the need for sleep is growing and we feel a growing need to go to sleep.
The circadian rhythm, or our internal body clock as it is also called, regulates the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day. This rhythm rises and dips at different points in the day.
There are many things that can upset the circadian rhythm and throw the body clock off in the process. These include jet lag, shift work, hormonal imbalances, medication and changes in routine. All of the issues in this list can contribute to throwing your Circadian rhythm off balance, thus reducing the quality of sleep that is possible for you to get. Make sure that there is nothing contributing to an off balance rhythm.
Does it take you a very long time to get your mind to settle and drift off to sleep? All of the days worry, anger and stress can follow us right into bed. If you find it hard to control your worries and anxieties, it will be useful to learn about getting your mind under control by utilising mindfulness techniques.
Some techniques for eliminating stress before bed include:
- Deep Breathing – Notice yourself breathing in and out and focus on that for a moment. Inhale and pause for a second before slowly exhaling all air from your lungs. Repeat this for at
least one minute; inhale, pause, exhale slowly. Imagine you are drawing in positive energy, the pause is allowing you to store this energy in your body and the long exhale is expelling all negative energy from your body.
- Muscle Relaxation – Tense your toes as tightly as possible, hold for a moment and then completely relax. Moving up through your body, repeat this process in all of your muscle groups. Finally tense you’re entire body, hold, let go and feel your body completely relax.
- Visualisation – Visualise a safe place, somewhere you feel safe and relaxed. You can combine this with the breathing exercise. Keep this image in mind focussing on your sanctuary and the feeling of peace. Feel the tension lift from your body as you drift into a calm state ready for a night of deep sleep.
Did you know Caffeine could be keeping you awake up to 12 hours after your last cup? If you are going through a bout of Sleep disturbance it is recommended that you do not consume any caffeine after lunchtime.
Remember, caffeine is a stimulant. People use it to get going in the morning and stay alert during the day as it blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain. With the correct sleep you’ll be able to limit the amount of caffeine you need to get an energy boost. You’ll be able to maintain a natural and consistent high level of energy.
You’ve had a long stressful day, full of setbacks and nuisances. You can’t wait to get home, kick off your shoes and sit back with a relaxing drink. But is it? Many of us choose to unwind with the aid of alcohol, but studies have shown that even a couple of drinks can your ability to sleep properly.
When you drink right before bedtime, you miss out on the usual first stage of sleep, otherwise known as REM (Rapid eye movement). As the alcohol leaves your body, you come out of the deep sleep and enter into a state that is much easier to wake from. This is why many of us will get up much earlier, or experience a night of tossing and turning as our body wakes and we try to force it back to sleep again.
A study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has shown an association between what we eat and how we sleep. Researchers identified different links between sleep time and the types of nutrients that the participants ate. On completion of this study, researchers notices that very short and long sleepers consumed a less varied diet that ‘normal sleepers’.
It is essential that we watch what we eat. Provide your body with the correct balance of vitamins and nutrients, to ensure you are performing at your best. Analyse your diet, are you getting the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables? Are there any areas there could be a deficiency?
Don’t eat any heavy snacks or meals in the hours before you are to sleep. Try to keep at least three hours where you haven’t consumed anything that your body will have to work hard to digest. If it does have to work hard, then your body will not be at the relaxed state it needs to be, to fall asleep effortlessly and sleep properly.
It is also essential to keep your body well hydrated during the day. It is recommended that you drink a minimum of 3 litre’s of water, not soda. More will be required on hotter days, or days you may be more physically active.
Did you know that exposure to natural, or outdoor light, is critical to maintaining your natural sleep/wake cycle?
Researcher Dan Pardi, who works in the Behavioural Sciences Department in Stanford University and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, says:
“We’re not getting enough bright light exposure during the day, and then in the evening, we’re getting too much artificial light exposure. Both of those have the consequence of causing our rhythms to get out of sync.”
Most people spend a large part of the day indoors, which essentially puts you in a state of ‘light deficiency’. They then go home in the evenings where they sit in front of computers, TVs or mobile devices, which inhibits the secretion of melatonin.
Melatonin acts as a signal to your circadian rhythm, to tell your body what time of the day it is. When light reaches a certain low point melatonin is secreted. However, by continuing in activities with a high output of light, melatonin production is suppressed and the body’s readiness to sleep is affected.
Try to limit the light you are exposed to 30 minutes before bed. Using low light sources, such as candles, is a great way to do this.
Not Taking Time to Relax
This combines several elements of what we have looked at above. We cannot possibly expect our body’s to snap into sleep mode, if we have been subjecting it to high stimulating activity. Or by restricting the hormones we need to tell us that it’s time to go to bed.
Developing a nightly routine is a great way for us to further signal that it is time to go to sleep. Start 30 minutes before you wish to fall asleep. Stay away from strenuous tasks; we want to be as relaxed as possible. Make sure you stay away from bright lights to ensure your body is receiving a healthy supply of melatonin.
Some people find that listening to relaxing music or reading (by candlelight) non-intensive material, can be highly beneficial in their nighttime routines. These types of tasks are relaxing to mind and body, and get you ready to fall to sleep. Particularly if your body is associating these tasks with the last things you will do in your conscious state. You will be ready to drift off quickly afterwards and get a great nights sleep.
Research has shown that it is much easier to fall asleep & sleep properly in a cool environment, rather than a hot one. This is why, for those that aren’t used to it, the summer months can lead to an excess of sleepless nights as you try to get comfortable in the higher temperatures.
When we fall asleep our core body temperature drops. This is because our brains need to achieve this exact temperature to go into sleep mode. It is much easier to reach this point in a room that is already cool. However, sleeping in a room that is too cold can also be prohibitive to falling asleep easily, so it is important to get the balance right. This is said to be between 65 – 72 degrees Fahrenheit (18 -22 degrees Celsius) but it’s important to find what feels comfortable to you.
It’s not only falling asleep that is an issue. The temperature of the room we sleep in also contributes to the length and quality of the time we spend amongst our different sleep phases. i.e. REM & Non-REM sleep.
Scientists at Northwestern University say millions of adults, could likely improve the quality of their sleep with regular aerobic exercise.
Researchers studied 23 sedentary adults who complained of having a hard time falling asleep. This also led to impaired daytime functioning. These participants were split into 2 groups.
The first group exercised for two 20-minute sessions, four times a week, while the second group undertook a 30-40 minute, also for four times a week. The study lasted for 16 weeks with exercised ranging from riding a bike, walking and running on a treadmill. A third control group did not exercise physically but rather mentally by taking part in educational and recreational activities.
Participants in both exercise groups reported a sharp increase in their sleep quality, changing their status from poor to good sleepers. They also expressed fewer depressive symptoms and much less sleepiness during the daytime.
The environment in which we sleep also plays a big factor in how we sleep. People who practice Feng Shui swear by positioning rules that allow energy, or chi, to gently circle the room when someone is sleeping. Feng Shui is a complex art, but there are some simple rules when it comes to an objects position in the bedroom. For example, you should have your bed facing the doorway but not perfectly in line with the door. Try to keep your bed at a diagonal position to the doorway.
Also, make sure your bed is against a wall and never against a window. The window is an escape route for the energy within a room and you do not want to be sleeping directly in front of it. Do not sleep under beams, as they have the effect of cutting energy from above. If you have any other doors in your room, bathroom closet etc. Ensure these doors are closed at all times.
Try This Method to Fall Asleep in 60 Seconds
Harvard trained medical doctor with a focus on holistic health, Dr. Andrew Weil, has developed the “The 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise,” also called “The Relaxing Breath,” to not only help patients fall asleep, but get the best nights sleep ever!
“Breathing strongly influences physiology and thought processes, including moods. By simply focusing your attention on your breathing and without doing anything to change it, you can move in the direction of relaxation.” he writes on his website.
This exercise is based on pranayama, an ancient Indian practice meaning “regulation of breath” and an integral part of Yoga. Weil goes on to describe the 4-7-8 exercise is described as:
“A natural tranquilizer for the nervous system” that eases the body into a state of calmness and relaxation.
Weil’s technique is very simple to put into practice and takes hardly any time. While practicing, its recommended you sit upright. Weil explains how it’s done:
“Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.”
This is then followed by these five steps:
- 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.
- This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
The most important part of the process is holding your breath for eight seconds, explains Weil. This is because holding the breath allows oxygen to circulate throughout the body. It is this that produces a relaxing effect in the body, allowing it to enter the necessary state to fall asleep, and sleep well!
Breathing techniques are often recommended to help people de-stress, relax and fall asleep so it’s not a bad idea to give this a try if you find it difficult to drift off to the ‘land of nod.’
People That Should Be Sleeping on Their Left Side
Most of us have our preferred sleeping positions; on our back, on our sides, stomachs, leg hanging out…. but did you know the position you choose to sleep in, actually affects your health? Recent studies have shown that sleeping on your left hand side, can actually alleviate many common issues relating to sleep.
Check if you suffer from any of the following and if you do, it may be time to consider sleeping on your left side!
You’re a Snorer
Sleeping on your right hand side and back can make snoring a lot worse, and it’s recommended to sleep on your left to keep the snoring to a minimum. It actively helps people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea.
You Have Varicose Veins
Sleeping on your left side relieves the pressure of your bodies largest vein, the Vena Cava, which resides in the right side of your body. People that suffer with Varicose veins are recommended to sleep on their left to decrease them.
You Suffer From Circulation Problems
See above. When the Vena Cava is put under pressure, it actually causes problems for your entire circulation. If you suffer from this anyway, you definitely don’t want to make this worse.
You Suffer From Heartburn
Recent Studies have shown that sleeping on your right side can actually make heartburn much worse. If you suffer from this, make sure to sleep on your left side as when we sleep on our right, acid slips into the oesophagus, which is a main cause of agita and insomnia.
Yep, sleeping on the left is tremendously beneficial for women who are pregnant. It increases the blood flow and nutrients to the baby, reduces the amount of pressure on your uterus, and leads to an all round better breathing experience, throughout the night.
Who SHOULDN’T Sleep On Their Left Side
If you have had heart problems then your doctor may recommend sleeping on your right side, as it may lower your heart rate and your blood pressure.
If you’re still not sleeping properly…
If you have tried all the above and are still experiencing problems in sleeping properly, then it may be an indication that you suffer with a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders cause more than just tiredness. They also have a negative impact on your energy, emotional balance and health. If you are experiencing these symptoms, despite attempting the tips above, then it may be time to schedule an appointment with a sleep doctor.
The most common types of sleep disorders include:
- Insomnia – The inability to get the amount of sleep that is required for you to wake feeling refreshes and ready to take on whatever the day throws at you. This is the most common sleep complaint and can often be an indication of other problems such as stress, anxiety, depression or another underlying health condition.
Symptoms include: difficulty falling asleep, waking up frequently, low energy levels during the day.
- Sleep Apnea – A common sleep disorder in which your breathing temporarily stops during sleep leading to a blockage of the upper airways. These pauses interrupt your sleep and cause you to wake up many times an hour. While you won’t remember these awakenings, you will feel exhausted in the morning and feel more irritable than usual.
Symptoms include: Loud snoring, frequent pauses during sleep, gasping, snorting, choking during sleep, waking with shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, nasal congestion or a sore throat.
- Restless Legs Syndrome – This is a disorder that causes an almost overwhelming urge to move your legs or arms at night. This takes place when you’re resting or lying down and is usually due to tingly, achy and uncomfortable creeping sensations. It feels impossible to get a proper nights rest and sleep properly.
Symptoms include: uncomfortable sensations deep in legs or arms, these sensations are worst at night, sensations get temporarily better when you move, stretch or massage the affected limbs, repetitive cramping or jerking of limbs when asleep.
- Narcolepsy – Is a syndrome that causes excessive and uncontrollable daytime sleepiness. This is caused by a dysfunction of the brain mechanism that controls sleeping and waking. If you have this disorder, you may experience ‘sleep attacks’ in the middle of important tasks such as driving or working.
Symptoms include: seeing or hearing things when drowsy, starting to dream before falling asleep, suddenly feeling weak or losing control of muscles when experiencing strong emotions, dreaming right away or having intense dreams, feeling paralysed and unable to move when falling asleep or waking up.
- WebMD – Exercise helps you sleep
- Chris Kresser – Why People are Sleep Deprived
- Sleep Foundation – What to do When You Can’t Sleep – Insomnia
- Dr. Weil – The Art and Science of Breathing
- WebMD – Sleep Position and Quality