Insomnia is one of the curses of modern society. Just about everyone experiences times of lying awake for hours and being unable to go to sleep – this may be before an important exam or interview or even due to drinking too many cups of coffee. However, when sleeplessness happens more often, and becomes a routine, it can cause all kinds of problems. Perhaps you have difficulty in dropping off to sleep in the first place because your mind is racing, or you may wake in the early hours and find it impossible to get back to sleep. The irony is that the more you try, the more anxious you become and the less likely you are to succeed. I have been battling with sleeplessness for some time and so I have been looking for the best ways to fall asleep faster.
Why is sleep so important?
Good quality sleep is essential to a healthy life – it allows the body to process daily events. It helps it to repair, heal and rejuvenate. Sleep is an essential part of the natural cycle of life and without enough of it, we cannot function properly. A lack of sleep disrupts everything from our immune system to our metabolism. It not only contributes to medical problems but also makes us less flexible, impairs our decision-making, depresses us and prevents effective communicate. We become less able to solve problems and find it harder to adapt to life changes.
How much sleep do you need?
The general recommendation is to get between seven to nine hours of sleep a night, but many people function on either side of the ‘normal’ range. There is no magical formula when it comes to how much sleep you need. Some famous figures in history are well known for needing very little sleep and still being able to function at a high level. Margaret Thatcher and Thomas Edison both managed to get by on four hours a night. However, if you routinely get less than six hours of sleep a night, there is a good chance you are not getting enough.
Facing the problem
When you are suffering from sleeplessness, it is time to take notice. There are many reasons why you could be having a problem – perhaps your bed is uncomfortable, your bedroom cluttered or your pillow too soft. Maybe you need to exercise more. Your unhealthy diet could be forcing your body to use up energy for digestion. You may be so overworked and stressed that you are unable to unwind when it’s time to sleep. There are many types of sleeping pills available and some of these are very helpful. However, they are really only effective on a short-term basis. Natural self-help techniques are much better for you in the long run. I have been trying out the following ones and have found some more helpful than others:
- Clear your mind.
I decided to try writing a “to do” list for the next day. I thought this might help to introduce some order into the choatic thoughts racing through my brain at night. I had read many times that ‘spontaneous’ writing was very therapeutic so I also spent some time writing about my emotions and reactions to events of the day. Another activity one can do before going to bed is coloring. Many of us have fond memories about coloring when we were kids and it has now become perfectly acceptable for adults as people rediscover how relaxing it can be. Coloring books are best selling items and so it is easy to get hold of one. Here is one featuring stress relieving patterns and intricate doodles
- Avoid caffeine.
I stopped drinking any drinks containing caffeine in the late afternoon and evening. I replaced them with herbal tea, trying various ones but finding chamomile tea to be the most pleasant and calming. The Republic Of Tea Chamomile Lemon Herbal Tea is a good one as it also contains valerian root, known to help with insomnia and lemon balm to induce drowsiness.
- Invest in a relaxing sound track.
When you are trying to fall asleep, you can become fixated on irritating noises like a frog croaking or a tap dripping. If you go to iTunes, you can find plenty of free soundtracks to download – rain, birdsong or waves crashing can all help to drown out those irritating noises and help you to sleep.
- Eliminate discomfort in your sleep space.
If there is anything about your bedroom that disturbs you instead of comforting you – change it. Move your bed into a different position, remove your computer or TV and declutter your room if necessary. Sometimes all you need to do is to buy a new pillow. A Shredded Memory Foam Pillow with Bamboo Cover is one that is specifically designed to help relieve insomnia.
5. Learn some simple breathing techniques
If you have ever been deprived of breath for some time, you realize how desperate you become. The way we breathe is crucial to everything we do, including how well we sleep. Learning some breathing techniques is a simple way to help you to relax.
a) Completing the circuit:
– Sit in a relaxed but upright position.
– Close off one nostril with your thumb and place the index finger of the same hand in the space between the eyebrows.
– Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply through the open nostril.
– Repeat for six breaths.
– Use the middle finger to close off the other nostril, simultaneously releasing your thumb from the closed one.
– Keeping the index finger between the eyebrows, inhale and exhale slowly and gently for six breaths.
(I found this exercise in the book Insomnia – Take control of your health naturally by Ann Redfearn).
b) Abdominal or chest breathing: Ann Redfearn also advocates learning abdominal breathing. She reminds us that the most natural way of breathing is seen in a baby – its stomach rises and falls with each breath. At times when we are anxious, our breathing becomes shallower and is focused more in the upper chest and throat. Less than half our lung capacity is being used. Less oxygen is entering the bloodstream. Chest breathing is not conducive to sleep. If we drop awareness down to our abdomen and allow the stomach to rise and fall as we breathe in, the body becomes more relaxed and the mind follows. It may feel strange at first but with practice, abdominal breathing will soon become easy.
c) ‘4-7-8’ breathing method: Pioneered by the US sleep expert Dr Andrew Weil, this method has been widely shared on the internet. Weil advises sitting with your back straight and placing the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keeping it there throughout the exercise:
– 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.
He says this exercise is like a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.
I did not find the list-making that helpful because it seemed to stimulate my mind even more rather than relax it. The free writing, however, was as therapeutic as suggested. All of these methods did provide some measure of relief. I am still working on the breathing exercises and I think they take a bit of practice. The breathing exercise I found surprisingly relaxing was Completing the Circuit. I would love to hear your tips and suggestions about the best natural ways you have discovered to help you get a good night’s sleep.