Over the past few months, I’ve had one almost seemingly endless battle. The fight for sleep. As you all know, when you don’t sleep you don’t recover. It can lead us feeling not just tired but sore, irritable and moody. Lack of sleep can alter our digestion, lead us craving more sugar and as a result, an increase in visceral or belly fat. On the brain side of things lack of sleep has been shown to be one of the biggest risk factors behind poor thinking. It can lead to cognitive impairment and damage in the form of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In 2013 the World Health Organisation even deemed lack of sleep associated with shift work a “probable carcinogen.” If that isn’t enough, sleep researcher and Neuroscientist, Matt Walker said in his 2019 TED talk, “The decimation of sleep throughout industrialised nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our wellness, even the safety and education of our children. It’s a silent sleep loss epidemic. It’s fast becoming one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century.”
So instead of just sitting back and winging about the sleep I wasn’t getting, I confronted the demon, stood up to the bully and below listed some of the weaponry I took to the fight. The first 6 things I found very useful in my sleep arsenal, the last 3 honestly felt like extra baggage. So, have you or are you struggling with sleep? Check out what we’ve found to help win the fight against this nocturnal nemesis.
6 Things I Found Useful
Chiropractic and Massage
No big surprises here but having a body that’s more relaxed equals a mind that is more relaxed. I believe that having a comfortable body leads to a comfortable mind and vice versa. If our body is tense, then often so will our mind. If our mind is tense then reflexively, we physically tighten too. It is nigh on impossible to go to sleep if you are either a) physically too sore, or b) mentally on overdrive. Having a well adjusted body often helps to bring the mind and body connection back into rhythm and this is one of the biggest reasons I’ve been getting adjusted weekly over the past little while. Additionally, a well adjusted body is one where the sympathetics or stress hormones aren’t firing as much. These stress hormones are great for that fight/flight response yet that’s not what we need when we want to rest and digest. Try Chiropractic or Massage to help you relax into a good nights sleep.
Journalling and Reflections
Putting pen to paper at the end of the day through the deliberate process of reflections allows my mind a dedicated time to play out what I’ve gone through that day. As a species we ruminate. We have these amazing frontal lobes of our brains for a reason. At the incredible pace many of us live our lives, we need downtime to process and understand what we’ve done. If the only time your brain slows down to play the highlight reel of that day’s activity is when your head hits the pillow, it’s very hard to switch off. Ever tried working late into the night or finished up a zoom call or meeting much later than expected? Chances are then you too would know how hard it can be to switch off. We don’t just need to sleep, we need time to prepare for sleep. Reflections sets up my evening routine by confirming my day is done, it’s time to chill out, unwind and soon it’s time for some precious zzz’s. I learnt this concept through Marcus Aurelius as one of his Stoic Practices. If you’d like to see more check out the daily stoic journal.
Sleeping is much easier if the room is cold. However, right now in the middle of winter, at night I love having the window open. This can make the room and the bed feel way too chilly. If the air temperature is too cold, or if I just simply perceive it to be too cold I won’t sleep. Personally, I find it nigh on impossible to switch off if I am shivering under the sheets. There’s one thing that starts with S that I like doing under the sheets, shivering isn’t it…..
Rolling and Stretching
In point #1 we touched on just how well Chiropractic and Massage can help to relax you and your body in preparation for a good night’s sleep. Using a foam roller, having a nice, light stretch or yin yoga session can be the perfect unwind for a stiff and achy body particularly at the end of the day. Think of the chronic positions you were bound up in all day, behind the desk or wheel of the car. Before you lock yourself back up in a sleeping position for 6-8 hours, stretch. Get long and unlock the tension within you first. Outside of unlocking the physical tension of the body I believe stretching has a mental benefit too. It can fit in as a perfect pre sleep ritual, helping you mentally prepare for sleep and it helps to quieten the mind too. Focusing on something as simple as stretching plugs you back into the parasympathetic rest and digest stage, taking you away from the over active, constant stimulation of TV and social media. Disconnecting is a great way to connect back to sleep. So, where can you purchase a foam roller? Click here.
Magnesium and Cacao
So, I have a sweet tooth. In fact sometimes I use exercise as an antidote to my love of food and I do enjoy a little night time dessert. My “hot chocolate” is a heaped teaspoon of raw cacao and a bit of cinnamon mixed with hot water. It’s not exactly a wicked indulgence however, it is really tasty. The raw cacao is by itself a big dose of magnesium and the ancient Myans considered cacao a “tribal superfood.” Right now I am also taking a magnesium supplement. Magnesium is a known muscle relaxant and if you’ve ever suffered from cramping, restless legs or twitching during the night it could be worth a try. For me, a nightly cacao and magnesium again has become part of my pre sleep ritual- mentally and physically this helps me to relax. The more relaxed I am, the better I sleep and more importantly stay asleep, so I’ll happily keep cacao in the cabinet.
Talk to a Psychologist
This point, is a very late edition in the writing of this blog. I’m not sure if it is because I didn’t want to admit it or because I didn’t see the relevance. However, after a good chat with my psychologist I have great sleep. There’s no clinical hypnotism involved or anything like that. However, after a good talk the mind and nervous system feel calmer. Similar to virtually all of the 5 points above- if my body and mind are more relaxed, then I am primed for a good nights rest. When sleep turns into an issue it is easy to fret and worry. As a health professional I know just how damaging lack of sleep can be and sleep, along with family time, are two things I protect with greatest intent. So by not sleeping I then worry about not sleeping which is probably what led me to try the “shots in the dark” listed below.
Many of these 6 sleep tips are things that are part of a very normal or every day routine for me. I believe this is the key point. There are things that happen during the day and night that are way beyond conscious control. Try to leave the stress of the day out of the bedroom, try to unwind and relax pre bed as much as possible and then enjoy your time between the sheets.
3 Big Shots In The Dark
Ok I admit, I was struggling for a few weeks. I was worried that this bump in the normal rhythm could become a new habit. I thought what else could I try? We jumped in and bought 3 things to help with sleep.
Mushroom elixers have been the rage in good health supposedly acting as an enhancement to normal body states and neurological activity within the body. Specifically, the ones I tried were to promote certain states of energy and relaxation. After 3 weeks- I can’t say that taking Reshi mushroom powder has done anything notably different. However, this may very well work for you. I was particularly wired so asking a supplement to help me sleep was like asking a personal trainer to get me fit in 1 visit. It’s not designed as a knock out drug, but as an enhancer of a relaxed state.
These first came on the scene and were supposedly very effective for many people with autism, ADHD and anxiety. I recently had a friend who has had a lot of success with his young son wearing a weighted jumpsuit to bed. For Merissa and I we had no problem with the weight and quite enjoyed the heaviness. However, after 3-4 weeks there was no noticeable difference and from a comfort perspective we actually shifted to our previous blanket, doona situation.
A Sleep Tracker
I just happened to be in the market for a new sport watch. The guys from polar put together an awesome piece of gear. However, one of the big things that sold me was the sleep tracking which didn’t just record sleep but also autonomic nervous system recovery. Here’s the problem- for it to work I had to wear the watch to bed every night. As someone who hasn’t worn a watch outside of sport for 14 years this in itself was different. Then on top of that I had a mini computer constantly analysing my every move. So, as soon as I woke up I’d look at the watch to see how I slept. I stopped listening to my body, started relying on data from the watch and as such fretted more about my heart rate variability, average breaths or resting heart rate and forgot about how I felt. Sleep is more than a score on a watch. You have to mentally feel relaxed and for me, this won’t come from data.
The End Result?
Chances are, what I was looking for in a good night sleep, I already had. It wasn’t a new watch, blanket or herbs that was going to make the worlds biggest difference. The difference had to come from me.
Was I sleeping in the perfect position? Were the kids getting me (let’s be honest- Merissa) up at all hours of the night? It’s par for the course of parenthood and having a significant other. I can’t ignore or mute the kids. Nor do I want to sleep in a separate bed from Merissa. Instead I could take her flailing leg or arm, or the wide awake midnight monsters we call Cain & Peyton and use them as an opportunity for a cuddle and a chance to switch their’s and my mind back towards rest.
I needed to shift my own thoughts, opinions, beliefs and attitudes about sleep. Until I changed this I couldn’t change my actions and until I changed my actions I couldn’t change the outcome. For so many things, the changes came from top down. Me being content and happy with the sleep I was getting was a great 1st step. To worry a little less and not stare at a watch telling me how I am sleeping was a legit 2nd step.
Thank you again for being awesome, for being you. You are just as amazing as you need to be right here, right now! Live well, sleep amazing and be awesome!!!!