Articles and Media

Sleep Well

by Ana Palles

Comfortable Bed A good night’s sleep is more elusive than you would think. According to the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services, studies suggest that sleep disorders affect between fifty and seventy million Americans, or about twenty percent of the population.

With so many people having trouble getting their nightly rest, it’s no wonder most of us know someone struggling with insomnia. It is frustrating for the person experiencing the sleep disorders, and for their loved ones who want to help them get some rest.

Without enough sleep, we are more tired, irritable and sometimes the exhaustion can lead to a sense of depression or hopelessness. I know when I am over tired that things seem overwhelming. After all these years, I have finally learned to listen to my body when I am over tired. Now when I start feeling as if there is more work than I can handle, I stop.  This is my cue that it’s time for rest.

But what if that sleep eludes you, what can you do? The first thing of course is consulting your doctor. Your medical professional can determine whether you have any conditions, nutritional imbalances or deficiencies that are causing a disruption in your sleep patterns.

Once you’ve checked into the medical issues, you may want to look at some lifestyle and wellness choices. Try these suggestions. They may bolster your quality of life and maybe even be the missing pieces to a restful night’s sleep.

Prepare Your Space

Setting and clearing your living space is very important. The place where you sleep, where you surrender yourself to the dreamtime, is special. We want to feel that our sleeping area is our sanctuary. This is important whether you are sleeping at home, or are traveling.

I was at a residential workshop recently where several folks reported trouble sleeping. Some had prescription sleep medications, some had over the counter aids, and still others thought a few nightcaps might help. The fact that we were all tired from all day workshops and in unfamiliar beds made it difficult for folks to sleep.

I normally am very conscious about making my bedroom comfortable and blessing it, but with the group feeling so disturbed, I felt it was particularly important.

I went to my room after our evening gathering and prepared for bed, pulling down the covers, fluffing my pillows making everything comfortable and welcoming. I took my time getting things ready, really focusing my attention on what I was doing as if I was preparing my room for a treasured guest.

My actions seemed to still the energy in the room and I felt serene, cozy and relaxed. Whatever restlessness was going on outside didn’t intrude on my rest at all. I slept very well feeling comfortable and enfolded. Not so with several of my colleagues who stayed up most of the night.

The next morning, over a hot cup of coffee, we talked about quick and easy techniques for setting space. Things like blessing our rooms, spritzing flower hydrosols or essential oils to freshen and clear the air, and bringing in fresh green plants and flowers.

A day later, sitting at the breakfast table, everyone reported having a really good night’s sleep. It was wonderful to see them looking refreshed and energized. They had all gotten into the spirit of things and were surprised at how easily they changed the entire feeling in their rooms.

It’s always a good idea, whether at home or traveling, to take a few minutes before bed and consciously work with your surroundings. You want your space to be inviting, enfolding and serene when you lay down to get some rest.

Self Care

It’s a no brainer, right? It’s not a great idea to have a challenging conversation, or read or watch disturbing shows right before bed. Your brain likes to process, sift through images and work on problems, all while you’re trying to get some sleep. Honor the time right before bedtime as your wind down. In yoga classes, there is always a rest and relaxation section at the end of class. The idea is to lay back, observe and go within the body. It is a time dedicated to stillness, focusing on one’s breathing and how our body feels after exercising.

Stilling our thoughts and focusing our attention on our breathing and the different feelings in our body helps us ground and center ourselves. There is plenty of time for worry, anxiety and stress later. Vow to yourself that your sleep time is not one of those times and be respectful of your rest. This is ultimately about caring for you.

So how do we do this? It’s easy to tell ourselves to put worry and stressful thoughts aside but maybe not so easy to actually do it.

What do we is important and restorative to us? Is it a bath, a walk to the park with your dog, a weekly yoga class that you refuse to miss, or a wonderful date night with your partner to your favorite restaurant once a week?

These are all examples of time carved out for nurturing and self care, a no-nonsense boundary around these that everyone understands is not to be crossed. Self care is not just something we would like to do for ourselves; it is a necessity for a healthy life.

Getting a good night’s sleep so often hinges on our body’s memory of that self care. Settle in and think of restful experiences. Floating on the ocean, sitting in a hot bath, breathing in warm, scented air. Feel the enfolding stillness. Take a deep breath and settle in, experiencing the warmth and comfort.

And remember, it's not just adults that can have trouble sleeping. Sometimes children can have a tough time, and this translates to little sleep for their parents as well.

When my younger daughter was a baby, she had trouble falling asleep and when she did sleep, would startle herself awake after a brief few minutes. We tried a number of things to help her get her rest, insisting on silence in the house and tippy toeing around her crib. Nothing seemed to work until one day we had the great idea to use music. I had a compilation entitled Nightfall that was restful piano music. Every night I’d put the music on while I fed and rocked her to sleep. There was a bit of resistance at first when she realized that hearing the music meant it was bedtime, but it did the trick. Within minutes of putting it on and rocking her, she would fall into a deep sleep. But the healthiest part of this is that she wasn’t startling herself awake. She learned how to relax with the music providing the cue.

If music doesn’t do the trick for you, try using a meditation or guided imagery cd. Another way to entrain yourself is to use aromatherapy.  Choose a favorite essential oil or blend and rub it between your palms, breathing it in deeply.  Or even spray your pillow.  It will act as another cue to your brain that it is time for sleep.  Any of these tools help shift brain wave patterns for relaxation. The point is we can train our bodies and minds to relax using scents, sounds, lighting and meditation techniques.

Having the experience let our bodies remember it. And memory of an exquisitely relaxing moment is an easy way to help quiet your thoughts, calm your mind, and sink into a restful state on the way to sleep.

Watch Your Mouth

Babies put anything and everything in their mouth. Toddlers want to explore the world, and what better way to do so than to find wonderful new textures and tastes that we can sample in the course of our day.

But sampling everything in sight is not necessarily going to sit well. My eating habits have changed over the last decade or more and this has made a huge difference in how I feel and in the quality of my sleep. I make it a point to stay away from very fatty, heavy foods, and particularly so if I am having a late meal.

I noticed that eating lighter, fresh food, made me feel energized, refreshed and much healthier. I have not had problems with acid or indigestion in all these years, and I know it’s the change in my eating habits. Our livers do a lot of work throughout the day, breaking down the fats we eat, and cleansing our blood. At night, the liver shifts into synthesizing our foods and cleaning out toxins from our system.

Some skincare experts even advise against using heavy moisturizers on your skin at night so that the liver does not have to work so hard breaking the fats in the moisturizers down. Often, people with liver disease will have trouble sleeping, or will wake up around three in the morning as the liver shifts its processing and prepares to produce more bile. Remember to eat and drink moderately in the evenings, and try to be kind to your organs by not consuming a fat-rich meal, or alcohol just before bedtime. Your stomach is better able to digest fresh, clean food. Your body will feel the difference and you’ll have better rest.

A good night’s sleep is critical to our wellbeing. It keeps us in a happier frame of mind, we’re more energetic, alert and inspired.  A well rested mind is open to opportunities and possibilities. Don’t wait for that good night’s rest to elude you.

Take action and get some sleep.