A good night’s sleep can improve your stamina, immunity and mental wellbeing. Here’s how to get the shut-eye you need.
- Clear your mind
Late-night ruminating and fretting over the events of the day or anticipating problems for tomorrow can cause stress hormones to escalate, resulting in insomnia. And, as any over-thinker will know, anxiety gets worse at night – subtle daytime worries are suddenly magnified when you turn out the lights. Studies show that focused journaling – that is, writing down a short list of your fears and worries in the early evening – actually helps people to sleep better.
- Take a lavender bath
According to a study by researchers at Wesleyan University, people who inhaled lavender essential oil during the half hour before they went to bed reported an increase in the amount of time they spent in the most restorative stages of sleep; they also said they felt more rested the next day. Run a warm – not hot – bath and add 10-12 drops of the oil, then have a lovely long soak.
- Beware your workout
Exercise can help you sleep better, provided it’s the right intensity and at the right time. If you push yourself too hard, your body secretes excess cortisol which can affect your ability to sleep. Also, some people find that exercise in the evening makes them too alert. Ideally, head outside first thing for a walk or bike ride, because exposure to natural light in the morning reinforces a normal sleep-wake cycle.
- Unplug everything
Our bodies require darkness to produce the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. At least 30 minutes before attempting to sleep, dim all the lights, and remove any electronic equipment that emits blue light – TV, computer, laptop, mobile phone, digital clock – from the bedroom, making it as dark as possible. If necessary, invest in blackout curtains. While you’re at it, remove clutter, like suitcases, files or a basket of laundry. Aim to create a calm ‘sleep sanctuary’ atmosphere.
- Wind down
Avoid activities that rev up your mind before bed, and instead establish a leisurely evening routine. Start by allocating 15 minutes to washing your face, cleaning your teeth and changing into nightwear. Then slip into bed and spend a further 15 minutes doing something that settles and soothes you, such as reading poetry or listening to calming music. For the final 15 minutes, switch off the bedside lamp and practise progressive relaxation, working your way around your body and clenching and then relaxing each muscle group.
- Follow the Pied Piper
In the original version of the old children’s tale, the Pied Piper of Hamelin was part musician and part herbal apothecary, who used valerian root to subdue the children he lured away. Valerian is a safe and effective herbal remedy for anyone who has trouble falling or staying asleep. Research published in the European Journal of Medical Research shows that valerian is equally effective as its chemical derivative, Valium – but without the side effects and next-day sluggish feeling.