A seasoned insomniac
I had difficulty getting to sleep and once asleep I would wake three to four times during the night. This affected my physical and emotional health playing havoc with my immune system, causing headaches and constant fatigue. My body survived on the adrenaline, fuelled by copious amounts of coffee and sugar to keep me propped up during the day.
After years of struggling with insomnia I went back to the basics and started to reignite the rituals that my mother taught me. These are my top five tips for a restful and uneventful slumber.
My mother told me to thank my feet and hands for all the hard work they have done during the day. This didn’t make much sense to me as a child, but I now see the benefits of practising daily gratitude. I still thank my hands and feet but include my face and scalp by massaging them gently and with care and attention.
Not only does this have an instantly calming effect on the central nervous system, but it works wonders for the skin. My ritual is to start with my face moving onto the scalp, hands then lastly the feet. Do this every single night.
You can spend as little as 60 seconds on each part but when you do this really have the intention to nurture your skin and mind. Set a timer on a clock (not your phone). It’ll take you no more than a few minutes.
I keep notebooks everywhere. I’ve written my thoughts down, literally emptied them out on reams of paper since the age of 13. It is an immensely cathartic exercise. Don’t think or worry about grammar – it’s not a test and no one else is going to read it. You start by asking a question or thinking about something that’s been on your mind. Start writing let your hand move and relinquish control. Your controlling mind will want to stop and ruminate over this and if this happens gently, acknowledge the thoughts but continue with the exercise. Approach this with no direction or end in sight and allow the process to unfold naturally, to declutter it in readiness for sleep and restoration. This type of writing can be done anytime during the day and it is particularly effective before sleep.
Gratitude and kindness
My gratitude practice starts on waking and continues through the day. I end my day with three good things that I am thankful for and I write them down in a notepad. It is interesting how the shift takes place over a period of days when it becomes easier to find things to be grateful for.
Also, when you cultivate gratitude throughout the day, the chances are that you are likely to have positive thoughts as you’re drifting off to sleep. Kristen Neff offers a range of different exercises to build your self-compassion.
Practise deep breathing
This is something that I do throughout the day – not just before bedtime. When you first try to look at your breath, the experience may feel unusual. As your ‘normal’ breathing pattern is habitual.
If you practise deep breathing throughout the day it will support you during times of pressure thus reducing chances of alleviating tension before bedtime. Another tip is to try focusing on the ‘exhale’ for a little longer. Start with three rounds of ‘inhale and exhale’ before you go to bed.
Practising deep breathing throughout the day promotes wellbeing, relaxation and calms the nervous system, which in turn promotes and supports good sleep. Please remember not to force your breath to do anything it doesn’t want to do. Headspace offers useful formal breathing practices you via an app.
Comfort is the key
Good sleep hygiene starts from the moment you come home. This could be having a digital detox and switching off from all technology to restore your mind. Eating food that nourishes your mind and your body. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system so try a relaxing and calming drink such as Golden milk. Comfort also means getting the right ‘physical’ sleep environment that is for you. Factors that promote good sleep hygiene and that can be adjusted in your physical space are:
- Light – if the light bothers you invest in an eye mask.
- Temperature – is your room too hot or cold?
- Bed comfort – how is your bed? Mattress?
- Ambience – is your room calming? Do you have clutter in and around your sleep space?
AUTHOR: ATI BALDING
Ati Balding is a counsellor and wellbeing therapist. She specialises in women’s health, including post hysterectomy care and gynaecological conditions. Ati runs The Sensory Journey which involves meditation, mindfulness practise and the Emotional Freedom Technique.