Sleep is really important (lack of sleep caused many accidents including the Exxon Valdex oil disaster, which spilled billions of gallons of oil into the sea off the Alaskan coast, causing millions of sea creatures and birds to die). There is a lot of nonsense talked about having to eat turkey to sleep (the chemical it contains is found in other foods too, and most people fall asleep after a big roast dinner, of any kind). This organic sleep mask is made from organic cotton or bamboo silk (not real silk, which kills silkworms). Sold with its own cotton storage bag.
Learning to relax can help you sleep, as can avoiding caffeine and alcohol near bedtime, taking exercise earlier in the day, doing relaxation exercises, and getting good fresh air through the day. Although sleeping pills are not always necessary, this is not a medical site. So if you need more help than these suggestions, talk to your doctor.
Experts say that adults should sleep around 7 to 9 hours ideally, with children getting more (9 to 13 hours) and babies even more (12 to 17 hours). Sleep is simply an altered consciousness, when our muscles shut down and we are not aware of our surroundings. This is done so that the mind and body can recover from the day, in order to function well. Our organs also heal and repair as we sleep. We sleep less than cats (who spend two thirds of their lives asleep) and and far less than brown bats (who spend almost 20 hours asleep). Yet giraffes only need a couple of hours sleep a day.
To sleep well, be sure to follow a healthy balanced diet. Vitamin D is very important for your sleep cycle, so get plenty of sunlight (with natural protection) and also eat plenty of minerals and get plant-based omega acids. The three nutrients of seratonin ,melatonin and tryptophan are all found in plant-based foods. Going vegan can also help with weight loss, reducing snoring and less painful joints, all good reasons to sleep more.
How to Sleep: A Natural Method has 8 easy techniques to fall and stay asleep. Not sleeping can set up a viscious cycle of fatigue, anxiety and sleepless nights. Finding ways to turn off the racing mind and negative thoughts or stress when going to sleep is essential, towards moving towards a better place. These 8 steps and accompanying notes are designed to calm the mind, and allow sleep to come naturally. Distilled from east and west, they include cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and medication.
The Interior Silence: Lessons from a Monastic Life is by the former editor of BBC Today, who suffering from information overload and unable to sleep, has tried many ways to detress, but rejects them because too often they threaten to become an exercise in self-absorption. Inspired by the ruins of an ancient Cistercian Abbey at the bottom of her Norfolk garden, she begins to research the lives of monks who once lived there, and realises how much we can learn from those who renounce the world. This quest for that hidden knowledge results in a pilgrimage to 10 monasteries around the world, from a Coptic desert community in Egypt to a retreat in the Japanese mountains. And how by learning the wisdom behind cloistered walls, she gets clarity of mind and an unexpected capacity for solitude that enables her (after years of insomnia) that elusive, dreamless sleep.
What Causes Insomnia?
- Stress or depression. Obviously solving the cause of this is key. Cognitive behavioural therapy is more for phobias. Ask your doctor for some proper counselling, or take up something to help you relax – long walks, swimming, meditation, yoga etc.
- Noise (say neighbours). This is a tricky one, as you don’t want to cause arguments. If you can’t move, consider anything from earplugs, moving your bedroom to soundproofing. You may have to contact someone, if it gets bad. If it’s barking dogs, tell the guardians about positive dog training (usually barking is caused by boredom).
- Uncomfortable heat/cold or bed (homeless people can suffer from insomnia, from sleeping on the pavement in bad weather). If you can afford it, invest in a vegan nontoxic mattress and some nice bedding (organic cotton, linen, hemp or bamboo all wick moisture away better, so tend to keep you at a more comfortable temperature). Use an eye pillow to block light, and use good curtains.
- Addiction (smoking, caffeine or alcohol all cause insomnia). The latter makes you go to sleep at first, but often causes you to wake up in the early hours. Same with drugs (cocaine etc is renowned for keeping people awake for hours at parties).
- Jet lag can affect sleep patterns. To prevent this, get lots of rest before your trip and try to gradually go over to the new time, before you fly. Drink plenty of water, and if it’s night where you are arriving, try to sleep on the plane.
- Shift work. It’s not natural for humans to work nights. So if you don’t like night shifts, try to find something else. But some people do prefer the quiet of working at night. It’s up to you.
- Illness and some medications may cause insomnia
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
Before we go into ‘add-on helpers’, here are a few common sense tips.
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- The Art of Rest is based on the largest global survey of rest ever taken, completed by 18,000 people in 135 countries. The book counts down the top 10 activities that most people find most restful, including doing nothing in particular, a nice hot bath, a good walk, listening to music, spending time alone, spending time in nature, and reading.
- Keep to a routine. As mentioned above, we are not night owls by nature. So try getting up early at the same time, and going to bed the same time. You may have a bit of sleeplessness to start. But once you get into a routine, you’ll feel better.
- Turn off gadgets. Don’t scroll the news as soon as you wake up, nor check your likes or Twitter feeds just before bed. If you work from home or use a computer or watch TV, turn it all off at least half an hour before bed, ideally after dinner. Do something relaxing: cook a meal, go for a walk, play with your dog, take a warm bath etc. Ayurvedic doctors don’t think reading in bed is a good idea, but many people like to read a chapter of something relaxing before turning out the lights. But not horror novels!
- Exercise earlier in the day. Morning is good, but ideally not later than the afternoon. This includes yoga. Although it’s good to relax, at ashrams yogis do their yoga at dawn and/or dusk, never last thing at night. Some poses can actually keep you awake.
- Have your bigger meals early on. You’ve heard the phrase ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper’. This is good advice, as it lets your food digest before bed. If you eat a big bowl of pasta at 9pm, you’re probably in for a sleepless night, as your body’s energy is mostly used to digest food. A quick snack yes, but a big meal no. Likewise, keep coffee and alcohol to late afternoon or early evening, so it’s out of your system by bedtime.
- The jury on siestas is out. Some experts say to not nap during the day. But it hasn’t done Spaniards any harm. In Spain, the first thing builders do when on a job, is to find a place for their hammock!
- Don’t just lie there all night. Get up and have a glass of water, read a book and maybe do a little meditation or say a prayer. Walk around a bit, then go back to bed. The more you fret, the worse it will be.
- Take a sleepytime bath. See the post on zero waste bath salts (avoid Epsom salts for diabetes and avoid dead sea salts for everyone, as they are unsustainable – the sea is literally dying).
How to Choose a Sleepy Time Tea
Sleepy time teas are everywhere. But be careful which ones you choose. For a start, most of the big brands have just got on the bandwagon and don’t have enough medicinal values in the herbs to touch the sides. But those that do are very strong, so cannot be taken by some people.
If you can, choose loose tea leaves in tins. If not, then choose bags made from biodegradable cotton with no plastic or nylon string (then you can compost after use).
Valerian should be avoided for heart/blood pressure issues, and chamomile should be avoided for anyone with a daisy/aster allergy. Speak to your doctor if pregnant or nursing, before drinking these teas (it’s best not to drink any caffeine at all).
Never leave out tea bag with string for birds’ nests, it can choke or strangle. Birds have been making nests for thousands of years, they don’t need our help.
NHS advises no more than 2 cups of tea for pregnancy/nursing, and avoid strong teas (lemongrass, hibiscus, liquorice). Liquorice tea should also be avoided for heart, blood pressure or liver issues. Do not drive or operate machinery for at least several hours after drinking teas to help you sleep.
- Born Wild Tea’s ‘Do Not Disturb’ Tea is a mix of chamomile, rosehip, lavender, tulsi herb and valerian.
- Clipper Organic Sleep Easy Tea is a mix of valerian, chamomile and cinnamon, and orange flavouring in plastic-free teabags (made from banana fibres).
Alternatives to Sleeping Pills
The side effects of many sleeping pills are well-known: addiction, paranoia, not being able to stay awake during the day, right through to seizures, breathing difficulties and even chest pain.
- LSW Mind Cards were created by a Cognitive Hypnotherapist who offers wonderful downloads to help you sleep. You buy them for a few pounds each, or the whole collection is just £10. Deep Sleep for Stress Relief is a 25-minute recording.
- If you have unused sleeping pills, recycle them at your pharmacy. If you don’t need them and can safely come off them with help from your doctor, do so to help reduce medicine waste and animal testing. Wasted medicines in the UK alone (stopped) could pay for almost 12,000 community nurses, 80,000 hip replacements or over 300,000 cataract operations.
- Depending on your spiritual beliefs, try some kind of relaxing exercise a few hours before bed. This could be anything from a relaxing swim to yoga.
- Go for a gentle walk before bed (not a great big hike). This can get blood flowing in your legs and also rest your mind. In Italy, everyone goes for a ‘passeggiata’ after dinner. The saying goes: After dinner, rest a while. After supper, walk a mile.
- Try to get ‘sleep supplements’ from nature, when possible. Melatonin is the ‘sleep hormone’ produced by the pineal gland, but can easily be got from foods (cherries, asparagus, pomegranates) and meditation, than from pills (which have side effects for many including people with dementia). Likewise, be careful with other supplements (passionflower should be avoided for liver/kidney/pancreas issues).
How to Help Children Get to Sleep
Got a child that can’t sleep? There is sometimes no reason, it could just be what it is, and you’ll have to wait it out. But here are a few ideas. You already know that less computer games and more time in nature, is more likely to get a tired child who sleeps better.
- Stick to a routine, less gadgets, try reading a bedtime story after a bath, rather than have them stay up watching TV and eating crisps.
- Arlo is the story of a lion, who just can’t drop off. It’s either too hot or too cold. Too loud or too quiet. But then he meets Owl. She can sleep through the day, which isn’t easy, when most other animals are awake! Will Arlo ever get rest? Perhaps his new friend has some tips to teach…
- Avoid Calpol. This ‘Paracetamol for children’ is often swooned over by parents, but Professor of Paediatrics Alastair Sutcliffe (University College London) says it is can lead to like asthma and damage to the kidney, heart and liver. It’s just a sweet cocktail of preservatives and colourings (including E122, banned in Austria, Sweden, Norway and Japan, due to its concerns over hyperactivity and cancer).
- 100 Tips to Help Your Baby Sleep is a nice little book. It’s written by a sleep consultant and mother to triplets. Learn how babies sleep, and establish an effective bedtime routine. Includes tips on daytime naps and a troubleshooting chapter of bonus tips.
- Avoid dummies (pacifiers) after 12 months, as it moves teeth, and affects speech development. Don’t dip them in sweet sugar or jam.
- For teething, NHS suggests cooled (not frozen) teething rings. They do not recommend rusks as they have too much sugar, although a little supervised fruit is okay for older babies, like apple or carrot. They say there is no evidence that teething gels work.
- NHS says to keep lights low and place quiet, putting baby down after feeding/changing. Read their tips to prevent crib death (remove jumpers/hats/sleeping bags when entering warmer temperatures (including cars), even if you wake your baby. Many experts say to avoid pillows until 18 months (6 months more than the official 12 months). Cot bumpers are not recommended. NHS also say to avoid amber necklaces (choking hazards) and never tie a teething ring around a baby’s neck.