Above Artwork credit goes to Bruno Cavellec ... a rather wonderful and kind French Artist, Based on The Isle of Man. This lockdown is different. It’s dark, it’s cold and by the looks of it, it’s going to be long. Those who haven’t had anxiety before are now experiencing what us veterans have lived with for some time. The horror movie that is the news, torments us with the latest Covid updates, keeping our anxieties right where they want to be, at the forefront of our minds. I've visited this topic before, but I think it's worth re emphasising some important points, so let's dial down the media. You know, if there’s something you need to know then you’ll find the headline somewhere and the more you watch and listen, the more your unconscious will wild with those headlines chasing hard on their heels. If it's true what they say that for our bodies, "You are what you eat", then shouldn’t we also be looking at what we feed to our minds? Why can’t I sleep?
I lead with this thought because over the last few weeks I’ve had multiple people tell me that they aren’t sleeping properly. The most common complaint is ‘ I don’t know why I can’t sleep, perhaps I’m worried about Covid’. Have you ever thought that perhaps this might be because everywhere you look there's a reminder that we are living through certainly one of the biggest, most well documented and reported pandemics the world has ever seen? Perhaps it’s because nothing is 'normal' anymore. Perhaps it’s because you’re stuck at home and can only go out for a walk or to the supermarket? You think?
I know that I will always blog a positive spin, and it's possible for us to turn everything into an opportunity, but for right now let’s just acknowledge the fact that you’re likely to have difficulty in sleeping because right on your doorstep is a world that's in pain, in debt and in fear. So, the next time you question why you can’t nod off, just remember that it’s okay to blame Covid, but for now let’s investigate what we can do to get you back to la la land! Forty winks, the siesta, the nana nap... whatever you call it, who has the time anymore? Well, lockdown has certainly provided that very opportunity hasn't it?
Sleep Circles Are you sleeping too much? Are you not getting enough sleep? Are you sleeping and waking at strange times? Weird dreams? Yes me too! Interestingly and quite obviously (when you think about it), sleep has a profound effect on your physical and mental wellness. Many of us are on a merry go round of sleep aids and waking aids, so much so that we barely even think about what might be contributing to our sleeping patterns. What quality of sleep are you getting?
We spend a third of our life sleeping, and we should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. For those that sleep for 10 hours and over or 6 hours and under, you could be putting yourself at risk of metabolic syndrome. Let me elaborate; not catching enough z's can seriously mess with your weight and your general intake of food, leading you to form an unhealthy relationship with food through tiredness. So for instance, imagine this...you are feeling stressed, and so you've had a glass or two of wine. As alcohol is a sedative it has instantly taken the edge off the stress and you are able to relax for the evening and fall asleep easily. Perhaps you wake a few times in the night but hey, at least you got to sleep! When you wake up, you feel like you haven't slept well, you're definitely not enthusiastic about that long walk you had planned, and the fruit and granola that you had greedily anticipated last night is replaced by something a little more substantial. Then you find that you can't survive without a few cups of coffee to wake you up and help you get on with your day. By 11am, when you should be at your peak, you find yourself reaching for the caffeine again. By lunch time you're starving, and the salad you've taken to work just isn't going to hit to spot so you find that you need some extra sugar to power you through the afternoon, By 2pm you wish you could just close your eyes and you're at war with your eyelids just to keep them open. You're unproductive, tired and feeling a bit anxious. You ride that particular tired wave with another caffeine hit and somehow get through the rest of your day. On the drive home you can't wait to get in put your comfy clothes on and have an early night... but dinner is late and whilst you're waiting for it to cook you pour yourself another glass of wine, and so the cycle continues.
Naughty choices... Tiredness can cause poor choices, and affect your general productivity and function. If you are under sleeping, you're likely to be underperforming, and using energy enhancers to get through the day. For those who believe that their bodies can be pumped with caffeine and then sleep standing up, that maybe so, but you can guarantee that it's not quality REM zzz's you're catching, and so this will affect your performance at work, in the gym, your patience with yourself and with others. REM sleep is critical to boost your emotional intelligence, and for those who are contemplating their personal mental wellbeing, you seriously would be wise to get a handle on your caffeine intake.
The caffeine truth
In a regular serving of coffee (just one cup) the half life of that caffeine can last 6-7 hours, but more shockingly a quarter life of the caffeine will last for 12 hours. That's one solitary coffee... I'll leave that to percolate:)
How much sleep?
Current research points towards breaking down your total sleep into cycles of 90 mins, which would provide you with the correct amount of time for all of the phases of the sleep cycle. To work out the best time to go to bed, work backwards from your natural 'wake up' time in 90 minute segments. If, for example, you keep waking up at 2am in the morning, get up and go do something, don't fight it, and then get back to bed from 3.30- 6.30am if 6.30 is your waking time. The key is with any form of insomnia is to accept it, work with it and not resent it. The more you toss and turn the less likely you are to go back to sleep.
You see it's all about rhythm, and that's governed by nature, by light, by what you put into your body and even what you put into your brain. Consider what you are doing to ease down your day and step into relaxation. An evening walk or run? A warm shower? A 15 minute meditation before dinner? Some aromatic essential oils in the lounge? Have you capped your screen time? A bedtime alarm? Hopefully throughout the day you got enough light and as night falls the body will natural produce melatonin that will bring on your sleepy vibes. If you are turning to the bottle to de stress and help you sleep, this will be counter productive. Remember that you need quality sleep to restore your body's functions and provide the rest required. If you need caffeine hits to get you through the day, you just aren't getting enough sleep, end of story.
Let's start your journey to la la land with some food for thought. Is your bedroom calm and peaceful? Does your bed linen feel soft to the touch? Is your mattress supporting you? Is the bedroom cool enough to sleep in? Is your phone on silent and away from you? Have you turned your wifi off? It's important that where you sleep is comforting, and promotes sleep. This is why phones, tablets and tv's in the bedroom are never a good idea.
The ritual... you knew it was coming, and the bedtime ritual is something that can and will make all the difference to your quality of sleep.
1-.Set the scene. Put your leisure wear on (said in an American accent), dim the lights, activate the aromas, lavender, chamomile and geranium will soothe you.
2. Get a taste of sleep- pour hot water onto a herbal tea made with chamomile, hops and valerian to promote calm, reduce nervous energy and realign you ready for a better night's sleep.
3. Take deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, breathing in the aroma and breathing out your day.
4. Do a sleep meditation; there are many of these available either on specific apps or on Youtube. It's very personal, but it works. I often use guided meditation and more recently I've been listening to a 'Gong Bath', not heard of those? Google, listen and enjoy.
5. Don't fight it, if you wake up in the night, go and do something for 90 mins and then try getting back to the land of nod.
My all time favourite sleep tip though, is, drum roll please.....
A long walk... go out for a few hours in the afternoon, allow the cold air to bring colour to your cheeks, let the wind ruffle your hair and let the mud splatter your legs. If you are lucky enough to live in the countryside then get out there, use your energy and breathe in the sights and sounds of nature, and when you get in, take a hot shower, wind down with some music and some soft clothes, stretch out, whip up some nutritious comfort food and relax into your evening.
I am hoping that this peacefully packed pill will be just what you need to find out more about your own sleeping patterns and cycles, in lockdown and beyond.
Above Artwork credit goes to Bruno Cavellec ... a rather wonderful and kind French Artist Based on The Isle of Man.