Written by our Sleep Consultant Giles!
Having started my Positive Sleep business five years ago, the first thing many people say to me when they find out what I do is “Have you any tips for me (or for a loved one or colleague).” And whilst different people may have different sleep needs or chronotypes - sometimes defined as "your body's natural disposition to be awake or asleep at certain times" - there are some tips that seem to help most people sleep better. So here are three to choose from.
#1 Finding a regular rhythm to your sleep, and then doing your very best to stick to it!
Of all the things you can do to improve your sleep, this is - for some - the easiest & - for others - the hardest to do. If you can find a regular bedtime slot (in my case 10-11pm) and sleep reasonably well, you will typically begin to wake up within a similar range every day (for me 5:30-6:30am). The going to sleep & wake up times vary by the individual, but the principle I describe remains the same.
Why does having a regular sleep time help? Well, one of the systems that controls when we sleep is known as our circadian rhythm or circadian clock. This is the clock that gets disrupted when we travel across time zones. However, when we are on our ‘home’ time zone - say Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or - as currently - British Summer Time (BST), the more we can settle into a regular going to bed and waking up time, the better. And for all those who get into a regular rhythm of ~7.5 hours’ sleep per night and start to understand their sleep pattern better, you will typically only need an alarm clock as a backup to stop you from oversleeping rather than as a necessity.
Try this for a few weeks - ideally at least four! You will be amazed at the results.
#2 Use (a) meditation, breathing or mindfulness technique(s) that work(s) for you to get (back) to sleep
Another key to getting off to sleep, sleeping well and waking up well rested is to ‘quieten the mind’. So often people tell me they simply cannot switch off before they go to sleep. And even more frequently people - including my younger self - complain of ‘maintenance insomnia’, sometimes called ‘the 3am syndrome’ when you wake up and simply cannot get back to sleep.
The French expression - that someone ‘has a little bicycle on their head’ (‘avoir un petit vélo dans la tête’ was coined to allude to the spokes that spin in the wheel of a bike. Someone who ‘has a little bicycle in their head’ has ideas spinning around in their head like the spokes on the wheel of a bike in motion. And hence cannot sleep!
My favourite practice in these circumstances is the mindfulness technique often known as ‘Body Scanning’. As I wrote in my book Positive Sleep "This involves moving your awareness into your body and noticing emotions, physical sensations or urges that exist there. You start with your toes and slowly scan up through your whole body until you reach the top of your head, stopping for 10-30 seconds on each area and bringing your awareness to it. Take this opportunity to really notice whatever you feel". Other techniques are available of course. However, this is the one that helped me the most.
#3 Taking additional Magnesium helps many people
A wonderful relaxant, there seems to be a medical consensus that the population in many countries is magnesium deficient. As this essential element is not produced within our own bodies, we effectively need to import it. Magnesium is most easily absorbed through the skin, and taking an Epsom salt bath or one with magnesium flakes soaking in is great to prepare for sleep.
If, like me, you rarely make time for a bath in the evening, then foods such as broccoli are magnesium rich. Additionally, magnesium powder or capsules (rather than tablets) provide an excellent source. Look for magnesium bisglycinate as this is typically fully reacted and hence easy to access.
In summary, it's always worth sticking with any behavioural change for at least 30 days to get a sense of how well this helping.