As seasonal celebrations beckon with sugared treats and late-night cork-popping, I want to bring up a topic that seems to be top of mind for so many people: sleep. Or should I say: lack thereof. Everyone seems to be talking about the importance of sleep for both mental and physical health, and examining whether or not they are getting the rest and consistent ZZZs that allow the body to recover and the mind to reset.
Sleep hygiene is a serious hot button topic , and fitness trackers from Fitbit and Apple watches to Whoop and Oura rings are analyzing (criticizing?) the quality of our time in bed. All the hype prompted me to set a goal for myself in early 2021 to improve my sleep – a dubious task, perhaps, with Covid amping up the toss-and-turn tendencies. (Then again, if you can’t go anywhere, you might as well just go to sleep!) A restless ruminator by nature, I was a bit of an insomniac even as a child, laying awake at night, fixating on sombre topics and plagued by the thrum of my heartbeat in my ears, convinced it was a heavy-footed stranger rummaging in our basement. Now, having turned the “menopage,” falling asleep and staying asleep have become more challenging, and I know I’m not alone in questioning the variables that might slow the brain train to slow down so the Sandman gets on board and stays until morning.
Trial and error (guided by my Whoop strap) have yielded great results! I’m sharing my ideas and habits to encourage you to find what works for you because if you’re one of the many who struggle, you’ll need to dedicate some effort to improving the situation. Start by practicing good sleep hygiene: no electronics, scrolling or work for at least an hour before lights out, and give yourself ample opportunity to ramp down from the daily bombardment of information and blue light. Dropping the temperature at night and ensuring that you’ve got a dark, quiet room will also help. (I invested in black-out blinds and turn the temp down to 20C/68F.)
What you eat and drink will affect your sleep; caffeine and alcohol are well-known sleep saboteurs. You might think a cup of coffee after dinner has no impact but if you track the data, you may find you’re mistaken. (I avoid green/black tea and chocolate after 1 PM.) While alcohol seems to help you fall asleep, I’ve witnessed firsthand the havoc it wreaks on my resting heart rate, respiratory rate, heart rate variability and REM, not to mention the increase in hot flashes that wet and wake me. Magnesium supplements may aid in muscle recovery and relaxation, and some folks swear by melatonin. (Note that some studies advise only short-term use of the latter, so check dosage and timing as you don’t need much and it should be taken well before you hit the hay.)
There are also any number of gadgets and apps that provide ambient sounds and meditations to guide you to Dreamland. Yoga Nidra sequences abound and the conscious breathing encouraged in yoga and mindfulness practices will help you to relax and drift off. As on your mat, so on the bed: the key here is practice and consistency. Try to get to bed and wake up at approximately the same time daily and sleep is elusive, try not to get frustrated – even if that means reading or journaling until you get drowsy. Accept that being at peace in the quiet and comfort of your bed is fine, and try not to add angst to your mental meandering.
Are you tired yet? Have you considered chamomile tea, a bath, journaling or some gentle stretching and Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall) to ease the up-tightness of the hips. Try belly breaths with looooong exhalations and, if you’re lucky, some sweet cuddling with your partner and/or pet. The rewards of consistent, sweet slumbers will be revealed in clearer thoughts, a revitalized body and buoyant spirits. Investigate, experiment and implement, then let me know how it goes…
I am not a disciplined person. Now, some people who know me to be a regular gym-goer and early-to-bed’er may call bullsh*t, but it is absolutely the truth. I’ve never been the type of person who walks a straight line between Point A and Point