4 Simple Steps To Better Sleep

Do you have trouble sleeping? Maybe you wake up a lot during the night or have to get up to do something and then find you can't get back to sleep. Perhaps your thoughts are very active at night and it's hard to settle your mind. 

If this is you, you're not alone.

Most of us lead busy lives. So much of what we do is based on speed and being connected online 24/7. We get to the end of our day and even though we're exhausted, sleep seems so elusive. It's no wonder really. The fact is, it's really hard to settle our racing minds and relax at the end of a busy day. 

Sleeping in street

According to a study conducted in the UK, sleep disorders and sleep problems are more common than we think. Canada may be the third most sleep-deprived country in the world, with nearly a third of Canadians feeling like they don't sleep enough. It's really not surprising to discover, according to Statistics Canada, that people who have a higher salary, longer commute & longer work day, experience more work stress and have trouble sleeping.

Unless you're Donald Trump, who seems to be part of the "sleepless-elite" one percent of the population who need very little sleep to get by (4-5 hours), sleep is hugely important. If someone were to ask you how many hours of sleep you need to feel rested, you'd probably say at least 7 hours, and science would probably support that. 

I'm sure many of you have seen Arianna Huffington's TED Talk: How To succeed? Get More Sleep, or perhaps you've read her book Thrive. She's at the forefront of the sleep revolution, educating us on why sleep matters and re-defining what it means to be successful. She links our lack of sleep to the notion that it's somehow become a 'badge of honour' to tell people 'how little sleep we get' because we are 'so busy'. She shares some of the consequences of living in an "always-on" culture, such as stress, mental health challenges, anxiety and depression. 

It's also worth checking out Carl Honoré's book and TED talk: In Praise of Slowness. He nails it when he says: "the world seems stuck in fast forward mode, and we marinate in the culture of speed so much, we don't realize the toll it takes on every aspect of our lives."  

I confess, I relate hugely to both talks and how I used to live my life, before my wake up call. Especially when it comes to how much we 'hurry through our lives', just trying to get to the end of each work day, instead of actually living our lives. 

I'd take it a step further and say, our striving minds often want us to stay busy, because 'staying busy' sometimes seems like an easier option to slowing down and facing reality. It doesn't help that much of society and many organizations place such a high value on being busy & working long hours, which may give the impression of 'productivity' but does not necessarily lead to it.  

It's worth considering that busyness and keeping busy, may be a way to procrastinate and keep ourselves distracted from the stuff we don't want to think about or do. And of course being constantly busy, getting too few hours sleep, isn't good for our health. I learned the hard way, that we can't run around like the Energizer bunny operating at an insane pace indefinitely. 

I'm not suggesting that busyness shouldn't have a place in our day, the reality is, for many of us, being busy is preferable to doing nothing and being alone with our self. And sometimes, keeping busy may be the best option for us.

sleep tips

The challenge is we need the right tools to support us when we're in 'busy mode'. Building a more resilient mind and body, and training in mindfulness meditation can be a valuable support in our haste & busyness. It can help us sleep better, improve our physical & emotional health, bounce back quicker from the challenges in our day and increase our sense of happiness and fulfilment.   

Here are my top four recommendations for better sleep;

#1 Create the right environment. 

Exercise is helpful for better sleep, but try to do it earlier in the day. Set a fixed time when you shut down devices in the evening. Eating a lighter meal for dinner ideally before 7pm, helps with better digestion through the night. Schedule going to bed 30 minutes earlier than you normally would. Try shutting down the TV by 9pm. Set your alarm to notify you when it's time to go to bed. Try not to drink coffee or alcohol at night (or at least a few hours before you go to bed). Try wearing orange glasses to block blue light and increase production of the sleep-regulating hormone, melatonin. Wear a sleep mask in bed and/or try ear plugs.  

#2 Embrace curiosity.

Observe your patterns and tendencies to stay up past the time you want to be in bed. Try bringing some awareness to your thoughts, feelings and body sensations. Notice any resistance to going to bed and get curious. Reflect on how good it feels in your mind and body, when you're well rested. Ask yourself what's more important; the last 30 minutes of your TV show, or an extra 30 minutes of sleep? Finally, when you are in bed, you could try bringing some curiosity to the process of falling asleep, (or not falling asleep). We're not trying to fix anything, we're just bringing a gentle inquiry.

#3 Try some meditation.

These are two excellent practices to help with sleep. 

  • Take 5 conscious breaths: as soon as you lie down, notice the physical sensation of each in breath and out breath, notice your chest expanding & contracting, if you get distracted, that's good! As soon as you realize you're not attending to your breath, gently come back to your breath.  
  • Do a body scan practice: when you are lying down, bring your attention to your whole body, get a sense of gravity, feeling the pressure of your head on the pillow, your arms by your side, your back and legs pressing into the bed. If you can, notice any tensions in your body, soften and relax (behind your eye balls, cheeks, shoulders). Then gently direct your attention to just noticing sensations in your body, perhaps starting with your head, then moving to your face, neck, & shoulders, your chest, belly, thighs, knees, lower legs, feet, soles of your feet and toes. As with the breathing practice, when you notice your attention has wandered, gently bring it back to wherever you are in your body scan.  

#4 Accept and let it be.

It can be helpful to acknowledge and accept that sleep may not come at times, and this is OK. Our body and mind still benefit from resting. Try noticing any recurring thoughts that may arise when you go to bed. Or notice the impermanence of your thoughts, the fact that they may come and go. When we notice our busy minds, we can say to ourselves, it's ok, whatever it is, is ok, let me see this clearly as a story in my mind.  The more we get out of our own way, and are OK with how things are, the more our body and mind may settle and relax and after that, may come sleep.

We learn from each other. I just shared 4 tips about better sleep with you, tell me the one that stood out to you most and why, in the comments below.

Keep smiling, Kate