The opening and the ending are always the most important parts of any story. The Dusk ‘til Dawn blog series is centred around the idea that the way we start and end our days set the tone for how we feel.
Lying in the dark, counting down the hours you have left until you need to start a new day? We’ve all been there. In fact, The Sleep Council claims that almost a third of us find it difficult to sleep most nights, with almost half claiming worry was the main reason. For the last blog in our Dusk ‘til Dawn series, we wanted to offer some really simple tips and trick you can try to help you nod off.
1. Breathe and Refocus
Leave your stress in the past and concentrate on the present by focusing your breathing. Lie on your back in bed, or on the floor with a pillow under you head. Put your hand on your belly or your chest and take a few deep breaths.
You could also try the 4-7-8 breathing technique, which apparently acts as a kind of natural tranquilizer for the nervous system:
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold for 7.
- Then push all the air out lungs, through your mouth for 8 seconds.
Repeat this cycle for 3 or 4 times in the beginning (it can make you a bit lightheaded when you haven’t practised it!) and build up to more. If you struggle to keep count in your head, there’s a free app called Oak that follows this principle.
2. Brain Dump
If your mind is swimming with worries, to-dos or creative ideas, writing them all down in a notebook or on a scrap bit of paper will help your brain to let go of the things you are fixating on, at least until the morning. Try to add a couple of possible solutions or first steps next to each item. This stops you running over the issues again and again in your head.
3. Go to your Happy Place
Whether it’s a golden stretch of beach, an empty forest, or your grandma’s living room, research conducted by Oxford Uni found that insomniacs that visualised a happy place or calming scene drifted off sooner than those were told to think of nothing or count sheep. This is a because, unlike the tediousness of counting, it’s just exciting enough to distract your brain without making you too stimulated.
4. Get Herbal
Chamomile tea. Valerian root essential oil. Lavender room spray. People can be a bit dubious of herbal remedies, but this stuff can really help set the tone for sleepy time. One of only things that has ever helped my over-excited, basically-nocturnal boyfriend to wind down is this body lotion from Lush, which combines oatmeal, lavender and sweet tonka.
5. Temperature Control
Our body temperature plays a key role in helping us drift off to sleep. For instance, The National Sleep Foundation suggests that warming up your feet can speed up falling asleep:
“Heating cold feet causes vasodilation—dilation of the blood vessels—which may tell the brain that it is bedtime. After the blood vessels open in the hands and feet, heat is redistributed throughout the body to prepare for sleep.”
Another temperature trick is, next time you are struggling to get comfy, take off all your covers and just let your body cool down for a minute or so. And then, when you are feeling a little chilly, pull that cosy duvet back over yourself and snuggle down! I am sure there’s some science behind this, and I am not sure where I have picked this up from, but it works for me!
6. Get out of Bed
If you’re feeling restless, don’t just lie there and suffer. Get up and go for a little walk around the house or the bedroom. Maybe read, do some gentle stretching or tidy up a little area. Just something light and quiet you can do to work through the agitation, until you feel tired. Keep the lights on low and try to only speak to someone if you need to.
7. Soundtrack to Sleeplessness
There’s playlists and CDs with all sorts of calming sounds available, such as white noise, thunderstorms, ocean waves, even audiobooks read by people with calming voices can work (it took me months to get to the end of David Attenborough’s autobiography!)
8. Find Familiarity
In an interview with ES Magazine, actor Margot Robbie revealed that she reads the Harry Potter books on loop before bed to help her relax. She explained: “If I read something new before I go to bed, my brain goes 1,000 miles an hour. Reading Harry Potter makes me happy and calms me. I read for about an hour to two hours every night.”
Doing something familiar that you can just go through the motions with can help to lull your mind into a restful state, ready for the sandman!
9. Trick your Brain
Try some reverse psychology by trying thinking about staying awake! Sounds counterintuitive but it lessens the sleep performance anxiety, making it easier to relax and eventually fall asleep.
10. Just Accept It
Sometimes, you just have to make peace with the fact you’re going to have a shitty night’s sleep. And that’s okay! It happens to everyone at some point and getting worked up and being hard on yourself is only going to rile you up further.
Don’t watch the clock, it’ll only make you more anxious. Don’t fear not sleeping- your body is hard-wired to sleep at some point, it’ll happen. And the fact you’re resting, even if you aren’t asleep, will do your mind and body some good.
Try not to worry too much about the next day either, you can, and will, cope feeling a little bit more tired than usual. Cancel everything that isn’t necessary and make some time to chill and do something restorative, such as yoga, reading, or watching a film. Avoid hitting the coffee pot or sugary foods too hard and try not to nap too much either. These things will only make it hard to fall asleep the next night.
Taking the pressure off yourself and moving away from the negative emotions about not sleeping will also switch off your stress response, helping you to relax and hopefully drop off to a peaceful sleep.
P.S. If you are persistently struggling to sleep and it is severely affecting your daily life, consider talking to your GP for some guidance.