Sleep – it’s a talking point right? In my work I see a lot of people who have trouble sleeping. They don’t come to see me because they can’t sleep; sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality seems to be a side effect caused by other issues. A fellow Psychologies Ambassador posted a question on the Life Leap Club group recently about sleep and it prompted me to write about a recent project of mine.
Earlier this year I set up “Meditation and Sleep Therapy Workshops” on an evening at my Wellbeing Centre in North Yorkshire. I hold regular Meditation evening sessions and decided to open extra classes to anyone who has trouble sleeping.
The classes are popular and I have received emails from attendees expressing how much it has helped them. One lady explained how after the class she “slept right through” which I find, so many of us struggle with.
Before I set up the classes I pooled all my knowledge from teaching anatomy, physiology, Aromatherapy, Meditation and Mindfulness. I began a self-care and sleep diary because I wanted to be the experiment. I have a history of anxiety, depression, insomnia, broken nights with a new born baby, just being a general worry wort and these posed sleep problems over the years for me.
I decided to share my work and findings so it may be of help to others. Here goes.
Melatonin is a hormone made in the Pineal gland which helps control your sleep and wake cycles. It regulates our circadian rhythm and small amounts of it are found in foods. If you want to maximise Melatonin naturally try eating bananas, Morello cherries, oats, rice, ginger, tomatoes, red wine (yay!) sweetcorn and radishes.
Foods that contain tryptophan which help regulate sleep are milk, soy, nuts, seafood, turkey, chicken, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, whole grains, rice and eggs. Supplements which are advised to help with getting a good night's sleep are Vit B6, Zinc, Magnesium and folic acid.
Now here is where it gets interesting, activities that decrease or halt melatonin production were the things that affected me and my clients. So, late nights, alcohol after 9pm, caffeine after 2pm, blood sugar imbalances, stress, age, hormone levels, electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones/tablets and bright lights in middle of night can all affect our melatonin production.
The light from a mobile phone or tablet will slow down or halt your melatonin production as it sends signals to the brain that it is daylight. Try it - switch your phones and tablets off around 9pm, instant availability and constantly checking our phones can contribute to anxiety and amplify the thinking process so we never switch off. Even sleeping with a phone or tablet on silent in your bedroom omits electromagnetic waves around your room. Try removing all technology from the bedroom and see what happens to your sleep.
I see a lot of clients with anxiety and this seems to have an impact on their sleep. Anxiety is the way the body deals with stress. Anxiety is the red flag to tell us that something isn’t right with something in our lives. It can manifest to a point where you live in a high level brain wave state and this affects the ability to switch off and relax.
The Amygdala in our brain senses fear whether it is imagined or real and drip feeds the body Adrenalin and Cortisol into the nervous system which can cause anxiety. A few ways to tranquilise the nervous system could be:
4-4-6 breathing. Breathing in for up to 4 seconds, holding the breath for up to 4 seconds and then breathing out for up to 6 seconds. This is best done for 2 minutes minimum. Bach Flower Rescue Remedy drops or spray. Some aromatherapy oils have a sedating effect on the body. I use Neal’s Yard Remedies sleep therapy products. They do a pillow mist, a night time blended oil, body products and a roller ball. Aromatherapy oils that have a sedating effect are; Lavender, Vetiver, Roman Chamomile, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Sandalwood and Marjoram. Inhaling the oils draws the molecules into your amygdala (the emotional warehouse of the body) and calms the mind and nervous system.
I have been practising Meditation for over 18 years and hold regular classes. Meditation is a chance to unwind. Becoming aware of your surroundings acknowledges the moment and makes you appreciate what you have or perhaps didn’t notice before. Meditation brings about a shift in consciousness which slows down the thinking process. Our attention is taken up by awareness so less thinking fills the mind.
Technology stimulates the thinking process so I try and switch my phone off from 8-9pm at night. By choosing to have your attention on the body brings the totality of the present moment. This can be done by progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) see the link to my meditations below). Your sense of self can transcend your history and your conditioning. You realise there is space in between thought and you discover a deeper dimension of yourself. Meditation is about observing rather than blocking or rejecting thoughts.
Back to my sleep diary and classes, I noticed that if I did or changed the following, my drifting off to sleep and staying asleep improved. The classes are always well received and we enjoy ending on a meditation.
Bathing in Epsom salts (magnesium uptake is good for sleep), switching to decaf drinks from 2pm, made sure I took my supplements, increasing my water intake, enjoying a Yogi Valerian tea around 9pm, turning technology off at 9pm, stopping drinking alcohol after 9pm, adapted a devil may care attitude about things I couldn’t change or do anything about until after a good night’s sleep, meditating for 10 minutes during the day to recharge, being thankful for a comfy bed and a roof over our heads, keeping the temp of the room around 16 degrees, getting plenty of exercise in the day, using my Neal’s Yard aromatherapy night time products. When you look at the list it is more about stopping doing certain things after a certain time.
You can go online and find some great free meditations and I have a recorded meditations for sleep that are clipped to the top of both my facebook pages. Please feel free to use them.
So what have I discovered on this sleep experiment journey? There are more people out there than we think in the wee small hours, the classes are working because passing this information on has helped people get off to sleep and wake less in the night, my own sleep has improved, on the days when I tinkered with my routine I didn’t sleep as well but it’s all about being kind to you and I'm big on compassion for myself. I will look forward to any feedback! Night night.