Getting Restful Sleep Naturally

It's better together.Rumble strips jolted me back from drowsy driving on my afternoon commute.  The sun and hum of the road had lulled me into a trance after I sat down for the first time all day. The bridge rail came way too close for comfort. Guess I need to get better sleep at night.

 

A study recently released by the National Sleep Foundation cites 27% of adults are sleep deprived. Another of their studies cites 1/3 of American adults are losing sleep over the economy. Most of us struggle occasionally, so I’ve personally tested steps to make falling asleep easier. Here’s what worked for me:

1. TV and internet before trying to sleep

Our eyes, ears and brains are very active while we’re focused on electronic screens—translating pixels and sound bytes into thoughts, pictures, emotions and words.

Some even fall asleep with the TV on. That light blocks the brain from relaxing into the deep sleep that restores the body and brain.

Many people choose the printed page or e-reader instead. The words stay put, and our imagination supplies the pictures. Cool-down time for eyes and brains helps us relax and drift off to dreamland. You’re on your own if you choose suspenseful novels.

2. Consider Circadian Rhythms

During seasonal changes—especially this year– many folks struggle with fatigue. Our body’s circadian rhythms—or body clocks–take some time to reset when we switch to Daylight Savings Time. Traveling through time zones and getting up with children also compromise consistent zzzz’s. The body’s systems work better when they know what to expect.

3. Pump it up early

Walking, Pilates and Yoga keep my Fibromyalgia under control most days. When I miss stretching, my body protests. On days when I don’t get enough exercise, particularly outdoors, I have trouble falling asleep. During and following activity, the heart pumps oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells, which then seem happier—provided I don’t overdo it. If I exercise too close to bedtime, I have trouble wind down. Returning to a resting heart rate takes time after a workout, so I pump it up earlier in the day.

4. Be gentle

Raiding the fridge before bed? Choose carefully if you’d like to sleep well. Sending more than 400 calories to your digestive system before going to bed is asking for heartburn and wakefulness—for many of us. That pizza or big bowl of ice cream doesn’t work for most folks. Something light with carbs might help set it free to rest.

5. Easy Does it.

During sleep, the brain sorts and files all the experiences and information we’ve packed in during the day, saving the important stuff and discarding the rest. If we go to sleep still chewing on regrets or worries, that filing job doesn’t stand a chance.

Just when a good night’s sleep seems urgent for a clear head the next day, I can count on waking up in the middle of the night. The insistent message gets stuck in my head: Get back to sleep!  You don’t have much time…sleep fast!  Shift the focus… I’m glad that I’m at least I’m getting some rest. Thinking positive and listing blessings instead of sheep might work. After 20 minutes of struggling to fall asleep, try getting up and doing something else for a little while. A magazine or journal might help clear the chatter and clear the way for some real rest.

6. One muscle at a time

Progressive relaxation usually helps too. Lying flat in bed it’s easy to scrunch up one set of muscles—say the head and face—hold it with the breath, then completely relax on the exhale. Every muscle in the body communicates with the brain. Moving through the body with this process sends a clear signal to the brain to let go of the day’s stress.

These tips could also rescue our mental health and relationships. We become impatient with ourselves and cranky with everyone else when our brains don’t get enough deep sleep. Processing all the day’s information and emotions is the brain’s main job while we turn the thinking off.  It’s busy choosing what to keep and file into long-term memory, and what to toss. Without enough sleep to clean up the “filing cabinet”, my brain feels as cluttered as the top of my desk looks.

Waking up naturally refreshed is priceless. The new day has so much to offer when we can be fully present and tune in to all the details. Creating a sleep routine that works best for you can be challenging, but your body and brain will thank you.  Who knows, family, colleagues and friends might wonder what you’ve been up to. How does an oatmeal raisin cookie and small glass of milk sound to you?

Check out these websites for more specific information to be your own best sleep detective:

www.sleepfoundation.org National sleep foundation offers tips to help establish a sleep routine.

www.webmd.com Web MD provides links to other websites for additional tips and sleep aids.

© Sandra Sunquist Stanton MS, NCC, LPC, Connections of the Heart LLC
 For additional articles and information, visit www.ourbrainbuddies.com or send an email sandi@ourbrainbuddies.com