I have always been a light sleeper and have always had trouble getting a good night’s sleep. I find that when I am particularly stressed my brain tends to churn at night making me feel even more tense and uneasy. Over the years I have assembled quite the arsenal of natural tricks that help me battle against sleeplessness and today I am going to share them with you!
Make a list
One of the main reasons I can’t sleep is that I can’t stop thinking. Running through my to-do list, my upcoming deadlines, the bills I still have to pay, my dinner plans for next week and pretty much every random thought you can think of will keep me awake. When I have those rivers of thoughts I like to reach for the notebook I keep in my bedside table and write them all down. There is something about getting them out of my head and on to paper that tells my brain it’s OK to let the thoughts go. It’s especially nice because I no longer have to worry about forgetting anything.
Use a noise machine
As I mentioned above, I am a light sleeper. The simplest sound will wake me up with a racing heart and make it difficult for me to fall back to sleep. I have used a fan for as long as I can remember to help drown out any noise. In conjunction with using a fan I like to use a noise machine to listen to the soothing sounds of the ocean or the calming sound of a heavy rainfall. I also have an app on my phone that will play Tibetan music, thunderstorms, white noise, brown noise, crickets, wind, etc. I like to have an arsenal of “noise” on hand, especially when I travel.
Drink herbal tea
Herbal teas like chamomile, mint, rose, lavender, lemon balm, and valerian all have natural calming properties. Sipping on a hot cup of herbal tea as part of a bedtime ritual can help you feel relaxed and ready for sleep. Just make sure to skip any additives like sugar or honey which will negate the effects of the herbs.
Our bodies are incredibly sensitive to light. Did you know that before industrialization and the use of artificial light women used to ovulate and menstruate with the moon? Did you know that a light shone on the bottom of a sleeping persons foot will wake them up? Did you know that the production of melatonin (that magical sleep hormone) can be shut off by artificial light, meaning that if you are staring at a screen (your phone, ipad, a TV) late at night your brain will stop making melatonin because it thinks it’s daytime? That means it will be much harder to fall asleep. It is best to discontinue screen time at least an hour before you want to go to sleep.
Listen to a guided meditation
On nights where I find myself particularly tense (which is often) I like to listen to long guided meditations. Not only do they help me relax but they give me a soothing voice to listen to and keep me from focusing on all those thoughts that are keeping me awake. Nine times out of ten I am asleep before the end. YouTube has a great selection of guided meditations for stress reduction, chakra alignment or specifically for sleep.
More and more studies are coming out shown the healing properties of using essential oils for health and wellness. When we smell the olfactory system in our brain is activated and the results can be quite soothing. Lavender is my essential oil of choice when I need to de-stress, if I’m having anxiety or I can’t sleep. My husband and I each keep a bottle of lavender spritz on our bedside tables to spray our sheets, pillows, blankets and bodies with. If I’m feeling particularly stressed I will dab some lavender essential oil on the bottoms of my feet or rub a lavender balm across my forehead. I swear, it works like a charm!
Invest in blackout curtains
Our neighbors have two flood lights in their backyard and both are on sensors. The lights will trigger when they let their dogs out, come home late or if the wind is blowing the trees too much. Oh, did I mention that these lights are right outside our bedroom? Every time the lights turn on our room gets flooded with light. OK, I’m exaggerating, but they do illuminate our room (even with curtains) and as a light sleeper they will wake me up. My solution was to invest in some blackout curtains. Problem solved.
Lower the thermostat
Sleeping in a cool room is much more comfortable than sleeping in a hot room. I can always add more blankets if I’m cold, but if I’m sweating chances are I will be miserable all night. Aside from lowering the thermostat it’s a good idea to keep a fan in your bedroom to help circulate the stale air and keep the temperature consistent.
Do you ever notice how reading makes you tired? The rhythmic movement of our eyes when we read can be very soothing. Reading in bed is a great way to relax your body, focus your mind and lower your stress levels. I like to read fiction that has a nice, light story line. Bedtime is not the time to read anything political, controversial, overly suspenseful or anything that will get your blood pumping…that defeats the purpose.
Buck popular sleeping habits
My husband and I have very “unconventional” sleeping habits. We each have our own bed (two extra –long twins on a king sized frame) and our own blankets. I’m 5’4 and my husband is 6’2. Suffice it to say every time he moved in his sleep I felt it and because I’m a light sleeper he would sometimes keep me up all night. After spending thousands of dollars on trying to find the right mattress for the both of us we decided we would just prefer our own bed! I’ve never slept better! Also, don’t be afraid to leave the room. For some reason we have this stigma about sleeping separately as a couple. Just because I want to go spend the night in the guest room every once in a while to guarantee a night free of disturbances does not mean our relationship is unhealthy, it just means I don’t want to be disturbed. It’s kin to having the whole house to yourself; it’s freeing. Sometimes you need that.
Experts have said if you are still awake after 20 minutes it is best to just get up. By lying there you are actually stressing yourself out. Stress will raise your blood pressure, increase your heart rate and release adrenaline…all things that will continue to keep you awake. The nest time you find yourself hopelessly awake get up and walk around, go sit in a dark room or better yet, take a hot bath. After about 30 minutes go back to bed and try again.
Make your bed a haven
I like to sleep on a firm mattress but I love having soft, cozy blankets to wrap myself in. Make your bed a place you can’t wait to be. Investing in a variety of sheets, blankets, pillows and mattress pads are well worth it. For the winter I like to use a heated mattress pad, jersey cotton sheets, a down blanket and a quilt but in the summer I like to sleep on Egyptian cotton sheets with a breathable down comforter. Matching your bedding to the season can work wonders on your ability to sleep comfortably. Don’t forget to have a variety of pillows! If you haven’t caught on by now, variety is key.
We all have bouts of sleeplessness, myself included. But sleeplessness is not to be confused with insomnia. Insomnia is a serious medical condition that is quite unhealthy for you. If you find yourself awake and unable to sleep for days on end it is best to see a medical professional. However, if you find you are stressed about an upcoming project, an endless to-do list or a snoring bed mate you are probably just dealing with sleeplessness. It is best to initiate a bedtime routine to follow each and every night because consistency is key when you are trying to establish healthy sleeping habits. But, if you are like me and work odd hours, sometimes long into the night, it can be difficult, if near impossible, to stick to a sleep schedule. For those nights I need a little extra help falling asleep I start trying the strategies on my list one at a time until I drift off to the land of nod. Sleep well!