Calming Your Mind and Body for Sleep
This is a guest blog post from Good Night's Rest...
You would think that something so essential to health would be as easy to do as breathing—but sleep can be complicated. These days, it always feels like there isn’t enough time to do everything we need to do. Even when you get a free moment, it’s likely spent overthinking. Maybe you're worried about rent this month or anxious about a work presentation tomorrow. If you’re stressed out all the time, it’s probably making you more scatterbrained and ineffective. That’s when the complications start.
The effects of a cluttered mind cut into the time you should be spending in dreamland. You’ll also often find that it will be hard for you to fall asleep in the first place. Less sleep means less rest and restoration, and that means less alertness and focus when you’re awake. This is a cycle of cause and effect that can quickly turn into a downward spiral if you’re not careful. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try calming your body and mind. Preparing yourself properly is the key to one of the most important bodily functions of all.
Relaxing the Body
Sleeping is an endeavor that requires the cooperation of your entire body, so put your feet up and let yourself unwind. The end goal is to completely relax and loosen up all of your body’s five senses. Some of the suggestions below may feel excessive or overly indulgent; others may strike you as counterintuitive and may be met with skepticism. Think of it this way: We eat to survive, but most of us also enjoy eating. This is how we should approach sleep, too. You should look forward to your bedtime, and the hours leading up to it, as well.
Tune out and Turn Everything Off
You know what we’re going to say: Turn off your smartphones, tablets, anything else with a digital screen, and other artificial light sources. This is usually the piece of advice that isn’t followed to the letter, and it’s easy to figure out why. Some of us grew up falling asleep with the TV on, or made a habit out of late night social media upkeep. Smartphones also serve multiple functions—alarm clock, music player, sleep tracker, smart home system controller, etc.—that can make them non-negotiable bedtime companions. That’s fine—just keep gadget use down and always use it in night mode with minimum brightness. As for bedroom fixtures like lamps and overheads, try to use red spectrum or incandescent light bulbs; preferably with a dimmer switch, if you insist on keeping them on up until you lie down.
De-Stress with Scents and Sip on Decaf
Pamper yourself! Aromatherapy is a great option, but it’s most popular method of delivery—by burning candles—is not so compatible with falling asleep. Instead, use diffusers or pillow sprays. Popular sleep-promoting and stress-relieving scents include bergamot, chamomile, and lavender; but any scent that you love will likely help you relax. This extends to teas and infusions—you’ll notice that chamomile and lavender are popular ingredients in non-caffeinated sleep teas. A drink is better than eating right before you sleep, and it’s easier to curb that late night snacking habit if you have something more flavorful than water on hand. This is why stocking up on decaf beverage options is a good idea. Resist the temptation to drink something high on caffeine, sugar or both—or worse, something alcoholic—as these will disrupt your sleep.
Cool Your Head and Warm Your Feet
There may be a scientific basis for preferring the cool side of the pillow, after all! Researchers believe that keeping your head at a lower temperature can help slow the metabolism and quiet down the accompanying high levels of brain activity that comes with a racing mind that can’t sleep. Conversely, warming cold feet and hands can help your whole body feel at ease. It causes vasodilation, which helps distribute heat properly throughout the body; which, in turn, triggers sleep. A great way to treat yourself to some me time, while also promoting good sleep hygiene, is to take a luxurious hot bath. Light those candles and bring out those bath bombs! Your muscles will relax, your blood pressure will go down, your body’s core temperature will raise—allowing it to fall more quickly when you finally step out—and that pillow will feel even cooler when you lie down to sleep.
Soothing the Mind
Your body is relaxed, but what about your mind? There are many ways to calm and clear your thoughts, but three general approaches that we’ve found effective are to maintain a good sleeping environment, to create a bedtime routine, and to set aside time to wind down before sleep. Combining these three ideas with specific techniques will improve your sleep health by leaps and bounds.
Keep Your Sleeping Space Sacred
Here’s something any sleep expert or specialist will tell you: Your bed should only be for sleep or sex. Some may rephrase this and say “only for rest or romance”—but you get the point. Keep your personal area, especially your bed, clutter-free and comfortable. Keep it cozy enough for cuddles, but not so cozy that you’ll want to be a couch potato. Do not set up a work area or an entertainment system in the bedroom. Anything that can distract you from sleep that isn’t your significant other, you should keep outside. Instead, invest in a good mattress and other things that can help your body relax, as we’ve already covered earlier: aromatherapy diffusers, heavy drapes, good light fixtures, the works. Why is romantic activity not considered a distraction? For one thing, having someone you love with you not only relaxes you and takes your mind off what stresses you out, but it’s also something to keep you grounded and stable. And should you get physically intimate, it may help alleviate muscle tension.
Make Rest and Restoration a Ritual
Humans are by nature creatures of habit, but we’re also very different from each other. What works for you may not work for someone else, and that’s okay. Creating a bedtime routine that you enjoy and benefit from is important. Put together a series of steps to follow in the hours leading up to your bedtime. The idea is that a ritual will help us associate certain habits with sleep onset, so it can be practically anything. Of course, relaxing actions like some of our previous suggestions—dimming lights, sipping a cup of tea, taking a hot bath—can do double duty, and are preferable. Another popular ritual is writing. If you keep a journal, you probably already have this as a nighttime habit; if not, try writing down what’s on your mind—from hopes and fears, worries big and small, to even a simple to-do list. This will help clear your mind.
Take the Time to Slip into Sleep
Bedtime is not when you fall asleep, or even when you close your eyes, but when you lie down with the intent to sleep. Cut yourself some slack and don’t think of bedtime as a deadline. If you’re concerned that you may not sleep enough hours if you don’t sleep by a certain hour, adjust your schedule slightly and give yourself enough time to wind down properly. Keep the hour before your bedtime distraction-free as much as possible; and when your head finally hits your pillow and you’re under the covers, guide yourself to sleep by the form of mental relaxation that suits you. Some find comfort in prayer or spiritual reflection; but if you’re not the religious kind, you can just do 10 or more minutes of deep breathing. There are people who can simply focus on their breathing, or choose to meditate; if you’re not one of them, you can try visualization exercises—like picturing a certain object or imagining an ideal landscape. You can also listen to guided meditation, guided relaxation, or guided visualization tracks; as well as nature sounds.
Thanks to Good Night's Rest for contributing this blog post!
May we all sleep well tonight and every night...