"Sleep is the golden chain that ties health and our bodies together”
- Thomas Dekker
Improve Sleep and Stress Less
One of the best things you can regularly do to stress less is to get a good night’s sleep.
Think in general about how much harder work and your life can feel after a night or two of little or bad sleep. It feels harder to focus, and little problems seem insurmountable. You feel more stressed throughout the day and, it only gets worse if you end up sleeping badly for several days in a row.
Sleep is a powerful stress reducer.
Continued sleep deprivation can have profound consequences on your physical health. It can increase your cortisol levels and, blood pressure - decrease your glucose tolerance, and place you into fight-or-flight mode, all of which are linked to increased health risks like diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes.
Healthy adults on average need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
Sleep is a necessary part for a long and healthy life - and it is important to invest in ensuring you get quality sleep. Quality sleep can make us feel calmer, mentally focused, and emotionally strong during the day. There are many things you can do to improve and optimize your natural 24-hour sleep/wake cycle.
What is a sleep ritual?
A sleep ritual is a set of behaviours and a planned period of time before bed where you purposely relax and gear down.
To help you get optimal sleep you can start by establishing a sleep ritual to wind down and activate the parasympathetic nervous system which restores the body to a calm and composed state.
You can’t control exactly how well or how long you sleep, but a sleep ritual helps make good sleep more likely.
Tips to develop and implement your own sleep ritual
Decide on bedtime in advance and create a transition period of 30 – 60 minutes ahead of where you start to get your brain and body to start relaxing.
Keep a regular schedule, try to go to bed and wake up at the same times. With a regular schedule, your body will know when to release calming hormones before bed and stimulating ones to wake up.
Limit your caffeine to the morning with no caffeinated drinks after 2 p.m.
Caffeine is a stimulant that stays in your body for 8–10 hours after consuming. An afternoon coffee could still leave you tossing and turning at 10 p.m. Wake up and drink more coffee and, the cycle starts again.
Remember that caffeine sources also include black and green tea, energy drinks, sodas etc.
Try: chamomile tea, valerian or *rooibos tea as a relaxing alternative.
*If you have not heard of Rooibos tea, it is a tea grown in South Africa and is also know as 'redbush' tea. Growing up in South Africa it has always been one of my favourite teas. It contains magnesium and calcium, both minerals can help play a role in a good night's sleep.
Enjoy an Epsom salts bath before bed
Epsom salts contain magnesium, which calms the body and promotes sleep. This also helps overall recovery and will ease aches and pains.
You can also try Lavender – known to calm, soothe and relieve stress.
Write it down
One of my best tricks is to write out a ‘to-do’ list for the next day. This is everything that you are trying to remember (meetings, last-minute thoughts, shopping lists, plans, calls to make etc.) once you have done a ‘brain dump’ you can relax knowing that it is all on paper and you can let it go.
Keep the list next to your bed for any last-minute notes.
Mindful Movement & Breath
Time spent on mindful movement and meditation can also help you prepare your mind and body for restful sleep. Focusing your attention on your breath and body, releasing tension that has built up during the day.
Breathing techniques and progressive relaxation before bedtime are especially helpful.
Diaphragmatic breathing (belly breathing or abdominal breathing) has several benefits that affect your entire body and is foundational to wellbeing.
When you breathe the way you were designed to, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.
Chest and mouth breathing can put us in a constant fight or flight mode which plays havoc with our overall health.
Breathing, the way we were designed to, with our diaphragm is your best defence against daily stress.
Easy diaphragmatic breathing cues:
Close your mouth and rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
Breathe slowly, gently and deeply into your lungs, filling them from the bottom to the top.
Slowly exhale through the nose.
Turn off all electronic screens (TV, computer, etc.) at least 30 minutes before bed
Although this was a challenge for me initially, I have now adapted to doing this and, I can feel the difference. I now use the time to catch up on a bit of reading while drinking a cup of chamomile or rooibos tea – it gets you out of your mind and into a story.
If you do use a device during this time, consider blue-light blocking lenses (or using “night mode” on your devices) to limit blue light exposure.
*Exposure to all colours of light helps control your natural sleep and wake cycle, or circadian rhythm. Blue light however interferes with your body’s ability to prepare for sleep as it blocks melatonin the hormone that makes you sleepy.
Turn off, your phone or put it in a drawer so that you are not distracted by incoming messages etc.
Keep your bedroom at a comfortable temperature (15-20 °C) appears to work best at night, dim the lights and aim for a stress and clutter-free environment.
Invest in your sleep as you would make any other investment.
Pick one or two strategies, observe, investigate, and experiment to find what best works for you.
Initially do not worry about the outcome, focus on building the small practices of a basic sleep ritual and good sleep environment consistently.
When you are well-rested, you are a better problem solver and are better able to cope with daily stress.
“People just don’t realize how important sleep is, and what the health consequences are of not getting a good night’s sleep on a regular basis… Sleep is just as important for overall health as diet and exercise.” –Carl Hunt, MD, director of the National Centre on Sleep Disorders Research at the NIH
Creating and using a sleep ritual is one of the practices I address in the Sleep and Recovery pillars of my Transformation Coaching Programme.
Getting quality sleep is a foundation skill.
Being regularly deficient in quality sleep will make consistency in any nutrition practice significantly more challenging.
For many of my clients’ stress is overwhelming at times, so building baseline skills in tolerating stress more effectively are essential.
As quantity and quality of sleep are mostly out of your control, the sleep and recovery practices of my programme focus on building the skills that are within your control and practices that will focus on regulating the response to external stressors.
Sleep and Recovery Practices: Tolerate stress
Practices focus on the skills to regulate your response to external stressors.
Sleep and Recovery Practices: Get quality sleep
Practices underneath this skill focus on the more external regulation factors of getting consistent quality sleep: for example - systems, scheduling, and structure.
Sleep is just as important as nutrition and exercise when it comes to improving your health, performance, and body composition and maintaining good sleep should remain a priority throughout your life.
If you would like to discuss how we can work together please do get in touch with me here.
And if you would like to apply for personal coaching go here.
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Harvard Health: “Blue Light Has a Dark Side.”