How to sleep better naturally

Oh sleep! it is a gentle thing,
Beloved from pole to pole!

The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner (Part V.) by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Pain, medication and anxiety are just three things that can keep you awake when you have a chronic illness, and lack of sleep just adds to your misery during the day. I’ve been struggling with my own sleep issues recently and have put many of the tips included in this post in to practice.

1. Sleep environment

I am a light sleeper in the early morning, and although I have a black out blind, the light sneaks round the edges of it, waking me up at 5am at this time of year. I found an old thick curtain at the bottom of a wardrobe, put it up, and was thrilled when I slept straight through to my alarm clock.

A bit of research shows that light is a powerful signal to your brain that it is time to get up, so by making your bedroom as dark as possible, with black-out blinds and thick curtains that don’t let in light at all you can improve your chances of staying asleep.

Experts also suggest that the room should be cool, at around 60 – 70 F or 15 – 20 C.

2. Stick to the same wake up time, if possible

If you can, go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. This helps to set your internal body clock into a sustainable pattern of sleeping and waking. Do this even though if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, as your sleep drive will catch up and consolidate your sleep the following night.If you have trouble sleeping at night it is best not to nap during the day as this dilutes your sleep drive and alerting mechanisms.

3. Watch what you eat and drink after 6pm

Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine are all stimulants that will keep you awake, so avoid them after 6pm.Eating late in the evening will keep you awake as well, but so will being hungry so eat your main meal early and have a snack before bed. Protein or carbohydrate based snacks are the best according to the internet. This is particularly important with some chronic illnesses as you need to make sure that you don’t end up needing the toilet (in the case of Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis) during the night.

4. Exercise early in the evening

Exercise isn’t just good for you, it can help you to get to sleep and sleep deeply. However, if you do exercise, make sure you finish at least 3 hours before bedtime as exercise releases cortisol which helps activate the ‘alerting’ mechanism in the brain.

5. Make a list or notes before you go to bed

Your conscious and sub-conscious minds can swirl around causing anxiety that makes it difficult to fall asleep. You can help overcome this by writing down anything important that you need to do or remember the next day and getting it our of your system.

6. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine

Have a bath, read a book or listen to the radio – make sure you do something relaxing during the transition period between wakefulness and sleep.

7. Learn meditation, relaxation or visualisation techniques

All three techniques can help you to relax, let go of anxiety and reduce stress so they can be useful tools that for getting to sleep naturally.

8. Use natural sleep enhancing products

Bags of dried lavender or  dried hops are traditional sleep inducing products to place under your pillow to help you sleep.

9. Use light to wake you up

You can use light to your advantage in the morning, by throwing your curtains open and letting the light flood in to help to wake you up. During the day, try to get a light break if you feel sleepy, to help keep your body in it’s proper sleep / wakefulness cycle.

10. Take time to establish a good bedtime routine

It will take time for you to your routine established, so don’t give up on the tips and techniques described in this post – they won’t work overnight.

How often do you have sleep problems? Do you know what causes them? What techniques do you use to help you sleep?

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