When we look up at the world, it’s not difficult to see how and why sleep wellness is reputed to be at its lowest point in terms of human priorities in all of modern history. We tend to try and find so many solutions to our physical, emotional, social, spiritual and psychological ailments during our waking day, when actually, the best solutions and remedies to these ailments occur naturally at night, when we sleep.
We need to wake up to the following facts:
- Tiredness and fatigue are the primary cause of one in five (21%) GP consultations in the UK.
- The NHS in England is spending almost £50 million each year to ensure the nation gets a good night’s sleep and insomnia is a significant problem which now affects more than one in three adults.
- Sleep deprivation in the UK workforce costed the economy £40.2 billion in loss of productivity in 2016 and it is estimated this will steadily rise to £47 billion by 2030.
- Workers who sleep less than six hours per day report on average about a 2.4 percentage point higher productivity loss due to absenteeism or presenteeism than workers sleeping between seven to nine hours per day.
With all the things we would like to fit into our day, a really good starting point ought to be our sleep – since the quantity and the quality of it greatly influences our daily activity, energy levels and productivity, which in turn affects our daily achievements.
There is a multitude of techniques, methods, hints and tips on sleep wellness online. But here are my top tips for sleep wellness (learned from experience!).
Your Bed: Your mattress, your pillow, your bedding, it has to be right for you! It is really important to invest a good amount of your attention and time to getting the right bed and sleeping environment for yourself. Yes, it’s easier to buy beds and mattresses online, but how do you know it’s the right firmness for you and that you will be comfortable recuperating in it every day for the next 8-12 years? During this Covid-19 period, where we are seeing many shops closing down, one of the types of shops that I’m really praying doesn’t close down are bed stores – for the simple reason, that is very difficult for people to buy the right mattress and bed for them unless they’ve tried it out.
Bedding: We can be more flexible with bedding, but I’d say the main thing to consider the material that you choose. Cotton is a natural fabric. It is breathable, wicks moisture and stays comfortably cool against skin. Polyester, on the other hand, is a synthetic fabric and does not absorb water the way cotton does. It will trap moisture and heat in hot environments, which can make for sweaty and uncomfortable nights.
Room temperature: Another critical element to a good night’s sleep. In the summer we all know how difficult it can be to sleep well. If you don’t have an air conditioner in your bedroom, then we can learn about room-cooling techniques from the Mediterraneans. Provided you do not use the bedroom for any kind of daytime work, close the curtains and blinds during the day, as well as all the windows and any doors. In the evening, as it starts to get cooler, open curtains/blinds and windows wide to let air in to cool the room.
Light & Sound: Invest in real sturdy black-out curtains. If you’re choosing windows, opt for windows that not just look great, but block sound efficiently. Sometimes blocking out light and sound needs to become a priority, and extra measures need to be taken. My next door neighbour has the most enormous dog with arguably the most enormous bark, and if there’s a fox that sets him off at 02:30 in the morning, it instantly wakes me up. And I don’t mean snoozy kinda woken up. I mean really awake. So I know that if the dog hasn’t been taken to Richmond Park for a good workout that day, I know I have to stick earplugs in the ears. So… aids such as earplugs and blackout night masks can be most helpful sometimes. Note: Make it non-negotiable to pack these two things in your travel kit!!
It took me a month to find the perfect bed, mattress and pillow for me. That’s partly down to the fact that shops such as Dreams and Bensons for Beds exist! Thank you Dreams! And the other part is the fact that I did not want to regret my decision of beds further down the line. #JustSaying
Cut down on caffeinated drinks (note: green tea has caffeine in it). If possible eliminate caffeine from your diet except for treat days and special occasions.
Don’t eat 2 hours before going to bed, with the optional exception of an organic camomile-only or organic ginseng infusion around 60 mins before bedtime. Another thing that can be considered in your diet is an organic magnolia bark supplement, which affects your HPA nervous system and has been known to regulate cortisol spikes during sleep – please do not take supplements without speaking to your GP, Nutritionist or Eastern Medicine Specialist first, especially if you are on existing medication.
Don’t look at a screen of any kind (including tv) at least 30 mins before bed to reduce visual stimuli. A Lumie clock is great for gradual de-stimulation of your optic nerves through the technique of light reduction. Another light-reducing technique is to focus on the flame of a single candle 5 minutes before you sleep without any other lights on, inhaling and exhaling in deeply and slowly. These techniques will help you fall asleep easier.
Build into your routine (aim for fall-asleep time to be between 21:30-22:30) a relaxation ritual. Something like a self-massage (on feet, hands, neck, shoulders, arms & legs) or a 30 min hot bath will do wonders. You could soak unscented bath salts in some of the suggested essential oils in point 6 to increase the relaxing effects of bathing, preparing you for a good night’s sleep.
To be frank, all the above and below suggestions can be built into a consistent routine. But there is one routine that requires extra special attention: that of your wake up time. Try to wake up every morning at the same time. I know the thought of weekend lie-ins seems absolutely glorious, but the effect of a lie-in on your circadian rhythm can be brutal as you head into the weekdays. Take a nap during the day if you need to try to make up for some sleep deficit, but try to stick to the same wake up time. Irregularity in this will affect your hormone balance, which in turn effects your immunity and your metabolism. Homeostasis is greatly disturbed when sleep regularity is disturbed, which is why quality of sleep is as important as quantity of sleep.
Aim to ‘spend’ built-up energy caused by stress on a physically demanding activity at some point during the day. Human stress response is most naturally impacted by the secretion of cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine (although other hormones also impact stress responses) into the blood stream – and these can be regulated by exercise. Even something as simple as a 10 min hard plié workout (and example of a load-bearing, strengthening exercise) or a HIIT workout (which promotes supramaximal expenditure of energy /or anaerobic exercise) will help you re-balance, and work toward physiological homeostasis.
Natural Therapies & Remedies
Aromatherapy solutions work wonders! I recommend an ultrasonic diffuser or nebuliser to release the oil fragrances for up to 4 hours into your sleep without burning the properties out. If you don’t use equipment, you could blend with carrier oils and massage the mixed oil onto your skin (use only therapeutic grade essential oils for this), or dab the oils onto a tissue that you have close to your nose when you are sleeping.
Calmative Oils (C): Calms and sedates the nervous system, mind, and reduces anxiety
Soporific Oils (S): Induces sleep
Hormonal balancing Oils (H): Motivates the endocrine system or balances hormone levels.
OILS: Valerian (S/C), Lavender (all), Sweet Orange (C), Petitgrain (C), Mandarin (C), Sandalwood (C), Clary Sage (C/H), Chamomile Roman (C/H), Neroli (C), Sweet Marjoram (So), Maracuja (C – not an essential oil, but a great sedating carrier oil for massage).
Important: Please seek professional advice from an aromatherapist if you are on medication, are pregnant, have sun sensitivity or have serious underlying issues as the effects of essential oils have an impact on the effectiveness of medication and pregnancy.
Pre-Sleep Release Techniques
Activities that help you to recollect yourself, your feelings and your mind may help you let go of the weight/burdens of that day. Meditation / Prayer, reading and spiritual moments or activities will help you to achieve this. The practice of examination of conscience helps me to find peace, and to also learn to accept my humanity in all its wonders and imperfections.
Brain dumping for the day – get all the last vestiges of the day’s worries, struggles and pains onto paper, and then throw the paper away, symbolising that you’ve let go of the day’s burdens and anxieties, and allow yourself to be at peace with who you are that very moment you fall asleep. Alternatively, journaling allows you to store those thoughts and feelings somewhere other than your head!
Understand your Sleep Wellness
Monitor your sleep activity every night using a Sleep app. I’ve been using the Sleep as Android sleep cycle app for at least 7-8 years now, and it gives me a lot of helpful information that helps me to monitor my sleep wellness.
Particularly if you’re close to burnout, please, just STOP! Book yourself into a hotel and make a sleep retreat for yourself. Approximately every 2 years, I book myself into a sea-view hotel room for 7 days with the intention of recuperating physically and mentally, in order that I don’t burnout! About 50% of the focus of these 7 days is my sleep. If you have an interest in the programme I set for myself, please do get in touch with me and I would be delighted to share that with you. It would make this post too bulky to include it here, and there is a lot of wellbeing practice in it that needs thorough explanation. Note: I make other retreats that focus on other dimensions like my spiritual and emotional wellbeing. My point being that I don’t try to cram too much or set too many goals into one retreat.
So I have given you some techniques, methods and concepts that work for me. I’m of course also open to any thoughts you might have on this subject too! Feel free to leave comments below. I’m always learning new things, and love to learn about sleep. But I leave you with these words from The Sleep Council & The Sleep Charity:
“While diet and exercise have their parts to play in a healthier Britain, SLEEP is the catalyst that makes diet and exercise more effective – whilst also delivering significant additional health benefits. Clinicians are already ‘prescribing’ exercise, it is now time to ‘prescribe sleep’ to the nation.
A good night’s rest is essential to a healthy lifestyle – protecting you physically and mentally as well as boosting your quality of living.” ~ The Sleep Council & The Sleep Charity
 National Hydration Council. GPs reveal UK ‘tired all the time’. https:/www.naturalhydrationcouncil.org.uk/press/gps-reveal-uk-tired-all- the-time/#footnotes1 (accessed December 2019)
 Daily Telegraph (2012). https:/www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/ news/9257191/Sleeping-pill-cost-to-NHS-almost-50m.html (accessed December 2019)
 Hafner M, Stepanek M, Taylor J, Troxel WM, Van Stolk C. (2016) Why sleep matters — the economic costs of insufficient sleep: A cross- country comparative.
 The Sleep Council & The Sleep Charity, 2020 Sleep Manifesto. Sleepcouncil.org.uk