The quality of your day rests on the quality of your sleep at night. Good quality sleep leads to a day where you feel mentally sharp, physically ready, emotionally at ease, and with consistent energy throughout the day.
It sounds pretty good doesn't it? So why is quality sleep so hard to achieve?
Sleep becomes evasive when we start living our lives at an unsustainable pace. That old saying of "burning the candle at both ends," was originally used to describe people who were up so early and then so late that they had to have their candles lit morning and night. What it means to us is that we are literally burning ourselves out. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, chances are you are burning the candle at both ends during the winter as very few of us modify our schedules as the world around us changes.
When we live unsustainably, it becomes necessary to change our lifestyle in order to get back in balance. Those changes mean something different for everyone, which is why there is unfortunately no one-size-fits-all route to getting the sleep you deserve in order to live a thriving life.
The key to increasing sleep quantity or quality is to experiment.
There seem to be as many suggestions out there for how to get a good night's rest as there are people, so if something doesn't work for you then just move on to trying something else.
I'll outline a few of my favourite sleep enhancing strategies for you to get started with.
First, I think that keeping things dark is the biggest tip I can give you. Being able to put on a sleep mask and keep things absolutely dark helps to calm you as well as give you an amazing quality of sleep. Sleep masks are a relatively inexpensive option, and personally I recommend the contoured ones.
Speaking of making things dark, make sure your room is dark and that you are away from screens for a few hours before bed. If you are really susceptible to waking up when there is light around, make sure you have a soft light flashlight for any midnight washroom trips so you keep yourself in a state where you're ready to head back to sleep. I think I should also mention that a lot of people turn off their minds so that they can fall asleep at night by watching a movie or television show, so if you find yourself in that boat perhaps trying a book to read would be a positive shift.
Once you have set yourself up for success by making sure you're creating a delightfully dark environment, you can try out a few of my favourite options to calm your mind so you can relax and eventually fall asleep. Our bodies want to sleep, and if your goal is relaxation and rest then your body will follow into sleep more easily than when sleep is the goal. Everyone has been there when they are yearning and yearning for sleep, but it is not coming. It's like a fight! So, aim for relaxation and you'll be on the right track.
Doing progressive muscle relaxation is a favourite option of mine. In your dark room, allow yourself to get comfortable and focus a few breaths on your breathing. Gently close your eyes and move your attention slowly down your body. Start at the top of your head and as you inhale noticing how you feel, and as you exhale inviting in relaxation.
If you get to the bottoms of your soles and you are still not fully asleep, try visualizing a peaceful place. If your mind or body gets restless while you're doing these exercises, simply be kind to yourself. Readjust your body, refocus on your breath, reset your goal of relaxation and simply begin again.
The amount we sleep also matters, and most of us are chronically undersleeping. There are so many different recommendations out there on how much we need to sleep, and there is some personal variation in what our needs are but 8 hours is a good place to start aiming for. It becomes easier to aim for those 8 hours when you are setting yourself up for success with sleeping by creating that dark environment and having a sleep enhancing relaxation activity before bed.
Do I need to mention coffee and other stimulants and their effect on us? Stimulants keep us up, and the less stimulant you can consume the better. I'll leave that to you to interpret what that means in your life.
If we can agree that people are generally burning the candle at both ends, the question I put to you is: what can you do to create a less hectic lifestyle for you? What can you do today to change this pattern for you? For me it means being dedicated to whatever task I have in front of me so that it gets done in a timely way, booking in time between my schedule as it permits throughout the day, and nourishing myself so that I can listen well to my body when it is needing rest. It also means giving myself a break. Last night I was up until 5 am with a 3 year old, and it meant that today I allowed a few things on my to-do list to be shifted to another day.
By taking care of myself first and resting more I have found that I can actually do more and have more success in my day to day life. That success in my day does not come with a cost, but it does come with a commitment. My wish is for you to find the same and to thrive in your day to day life. I know sleep can be evasive, but I know people are tenacious enough to keep searching for it until it is a welcome part of their day.
Let me know what helps you with sleep in the comments below or which of these tips you'll be trying tonight.
*If you are trying everything and sleep is still evading you, reach out to a trusted professional for more help. We all deserve to reach out for help instead of suffering in silence*