With falling asleep having been rather problematic for me of late, I have gone back to basics and reintroduced a better bedtime routine.
I had gotten lazy with a bedtime routine thanks to the powers of melatonin. I knew that within an hour of taking the magic white pill I would be blissfully and peacefully asleep. I did not need to do anything else to cultivate good sleep. I fell asleep quickly and easily. I slept through the night and I woke up feeling rested and refreshed. Job done.
Take the melatonin away and things unravelled somewhat.
So I have turned to more natural sleep aids. These are simple things that encourage the body to relax and slow down, preparing it for sleep. They all support the parasympathetic nervous system, the part of our bodies that is responsible for rest and recuperation. That is oversimplifying but for this post suffice to say, it is vital to have a strong and supported parasympathetic nervous system for good sleep (and generally to be a calm and healthy human being).
Before I share these with you, I will say that it is very easy to get very officious about a bedtime routine (if you’re a neurotic type A person such as myself at least). I of course did this in the first week or so when I was overwhelmed and stressed out by not being able to sleep – see this post about frantic stressed Jess.
I was anxious to ensure I did each and every thing on my bedtime to do list each and every night. Needing to mentally tick them all off because otherwise I wouldn’t sleep. This meant my bedtime routine started super early and I barely got to see Mr B when he came home from work which just further stressed me out. I can get stressed about everything it seems.
But this ‘I must do bedtime yoga and then I must have a bath and I must drink my tea and I must mediate for 15 minutes and I must clean the windows and cleanse the bedroom of bad air and and and and and AND – pop, I just burst into flames with all the stress! (And just to be clear, I am kidding about cleaning and cleansing the bedroom before bed…) Anyway, all this ‘I must’ (and just as bad ‘I should’) simply serves to undermine the wonderful support that a good bedtime routine comprising natural sleep aids can bring.
So, take a little or a lot of what I list below. Do some. Do none. But don’t try and do them all with the mindset that if you don’t hit all of them before bed that somehow you’ve failed or that you won’t sleep because guess what, then you won’t sleep well!
A Gentle Touch
Be kind and gentle to yourself by cultivating a calm and accepting approach to sleep (or lack thereof). Soothe yourself with reassuring words. See this post on how I’m doing this for myself.
A Cup of Tea
Make yourself a small cup of tea to sip as you relax before bed. But not just any tea – black caffeinated tea is obviously not the drink of choice here. Liquorice, peppermint, lavender, oat flower, chamomile and fennel are all said to encourage the parasympathetic part of our nervous systems. And variations of these flavours are widely available to buy as teas (and are just about all also located in my kitchen cupboard). My preferred sleep tea though is a DIY job:
1/2 tsp dill seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp peppermint leaves
combine all in a tea pot or bag, cover with freshly boiled water and allow to steep for five minutes before straining and slowly sipping as you unwind ready for bed.
Bed time Yoga
A Warm Bath
Soaking in a warm bubble bath is blissful. I like to dim the lights, light some candles and listen to some classical music. Or I sometimes listen to a short relaxation track or meditation whilst in the tub. I like this one by Faith Hunter.
I have used lavender to help me sleep since I was a small child. Back then my Mum would dab it on one of my Dad’s handkerchiefs for me to smell as I tried to drift off (I was notorious for not falling asleep easily, especially before any big event, Christmas, birthdays, first day of school, vacations…and when I was awake my Mum wasn’t allowed to sleep either!)
Fast forward to today and the technology has advanced slightly but the principle is still the same. I have a little lavender oil roll-on that I keep on my nightstand and use on my temples and wrist pressure points as I climb into bed. For me the smell is calming and brings back wonderful childhood memories (of happy moments not of sleepless nights, my Mum may say the latter!)
I love Bach Flower Remedies and have used the original Rescue Remedy during times of acute stress and nerves throughout my life (remembering University exams, teeth extractions, big work meetings etc) to quell my anxiety.
Recently, I have been taking Rescue Sleep each night. It is a natural sleep aid made from 6 of the original Bach Flower Remedies known for their effectiveness at reducing stress, irritation, and worries; thus calming the emotions, enabling the body to sleep. I have it in the original drops format but it also comes as pastilles.
Our breath is an excellent barometer for our mind. A slow and steady, calm breath reflects a calm mind and vice versa. In Kundalini yoga the left nostril is seen as calming and directly linked to the parasympathetic nervous system (whilst the right nostril is stimulating and energising). So gently blocking off your right nostril with your right hand thumb and slowly inhaling and exhaling just through your left is very soothing and very helpful in inducing sleep. I’ve been doing this for at least ten breaths when I get into bed each night.
Not forgetting the basics
And of course then there’s the much spoken about basics of a bedtime routine. Try and have a fixed time for going to bed and for waking up in the morning. This helps cement your body’s circadian rhythms enabling you to fall asleep more easily. Even if I’m not getting to sleep until late I still generally set an alarm for 7.30 am so that I don’t perpetuate the not getting to sleep cycle at night by having slept in late. Though on that last point, be flexible. Sometimes extra sleep is essential just to get through the day.
Make sure your bedroom is dark and you are protected from as many disturbances as possible – I’m the cool kid sleeping in a blindfold and ear plugs! Well I don’t want to wake up with Mr B’s insane 5.30 am gym session alarm now do I?!
So there you have it, the many things I have been using to sleep better. The tea, Rescue Sleep, breathing and lavender oil seem to be really helping. And I tend to do bath or yoga, though not every night. I try and channel my first point and be kind and gentle on myself and do what I feel intuitively will help me that night.
Do you have a bedtime routine? What do you find helps you sleep well? Or are you naturally a good sleeper? (grrrrr I
hate admire you!) Please comment below!