Sleep is one of the most important factors, if not the most, when it comes to recovery. To many of us rest is sitting on the couch and binge watching Netflix. This isn’t a bad thing. It just ins’t real rest! Our bodies need to sleep to really rest. They need to sleep a lot at that!
While we sleep our cells produce chemical reactions that rebuild muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Our bodies do this all day long too. But during sleep our pituitary gland produces more growth hormones than when we are awake. This means that sleep is key to recovery and even performance.
We all hear that 8 hours is what we need for a good night sleep. We treat this like a maximum when in reality it should be a minimum! I know that it is hard to get 8 hours. But, it is something we should all strive to meet and exceed.
As a parent with three kids in the house, a business to run, clients to please, workouts to do, and tons of miles to log each day, I know it is hard to get 8 hours of sleep. The hardest part about rest for me is falling asleep. It has been a problem my whole life. The second hardest part is going back to sleep if I’m awakened. I usually can’t go back to sleep for hours! There have been times my son had to pee at 2:30 at night and I didn’t fall back asleep until 4:45am! Only to have my alarm go off 15 minutes later at 5am! This is because I just can’t shut of my mind. I am always thinking, dreaming about the future, worrying, working, and planning.
I have been slaving away for years to overcoming my restless mind. It is still a process but I have learned a lot and would love to share what I have learned with other insomniacs. Below are some practical ways to help you go to sleep and sleep better. This isn’t just about quantity. It is about quality too!
1. Sleep in a dark room or wear a sleep mask. Light is a stimulant that will keep you awake. The darker your room the better. We use black out curtains, aka a black sheet from walmart, in our room. I even have a face mask for when we travel. The face mask does help! Try it!
2. Get ready for bed before bed. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been ready to fall asleep while talking or watching something. I’m almost asleep and then I brush my teeth! It takes me from the door step of sleep to 100% awake! I then lay in bed forever thinking, “why did I brush my teeth!” I have fixed this by getting ready for bed before bed. After we put the kids down, we turn all the lights off in the house and get everything ready for bed including brushing our teeth. This keeps me from that surprise awakening right before bed. I don’t always remember to do this but when I do, it helps!
3. Make sure you are comfortable. Being comfortable is key to rest. Sleep is a deep form of relaxation. Your body won’t be able to slip off into sleep if you can’t relax. Experiment with pillows (or lack there of), sleeping on your back or side, clothes or no clothes, and room temp. Just keep working until you feel perfect. This will help you drift off into a world of dreams!
4. Restrict fluid intake a few hours before bed. This one is difficult for me. I love to drink water and drink it a lot. The problem is that many times I wake up in the middle of the night and have to pee! The fix is simple, if you are thirsty just have a small swig of water and not a massive gulp. This will help you with that dry mouth and keep you from peeing at night. If you have bladder control issues, try using cypress essential oil. It supports bladder function and strength. We used it on our son when he reverted back to wetting his bed. It helped him a lot.
5. Don’t drink caffeine after lunch. This isn’t problem for many people. For me, caffeine is a crazy stimulant. If I drink coffee after 3 pm, I won’t go to sleep for a long time. If you’re tired during the afternoon try drink some water, Chia Fresca, or add a drop or two of a high quality peppermint essential oil to your water. Make sure that the label of the oil says it is for internal use before you ingest it. Our body runs on chemical reactions fueled by water. Many times when we feel tired it is because we need more water to support our bodies’ science lab. Go for water and skip the coffee.
6. Take a magnesium supplement before bed or take an epsom salt bath. Magnesium is a powerful relaxation aid. It helps calm the nervous system and muscles. For an extra does of relaxation, add some lavender and marjoram essential oils to your epsom salt bath and soak for 20 minutes. Lavender is great for supporting relaxation and marjoram works wonders in soothing sore muscles.
7. Eat nut butter before bed. It is believe that low blood sugar is one of the reasons many of us wake up in the middle of the night. Almond butter can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and keep you sleeping. Instead of having that late night ice cream have 2 table spoons almond butter either by itself, on celery, or my favorite bananas! Not sure how that helps with stabilizing blood sugar but bananas and almond butter taste so good!
8. Don’t drink alcohol right before bed. This is a big one for a lot of people. Many of us wind down with a glass of wine or two… or four. This can help your bodies relax and even make you feel sleepy. The problems is that alcohol dehydrates your body and prevents you from going into a deep restful sleep. My suggestion is not to drink much before bed and make sure you drink water with your alcohol. Just don’t have too much liquid. You might find yourself waking up in the middle of the night to relieve that bladder pursuer.
9. Listen to music, nature sounds, or a guided meditation. This has changed my life. Listening to something gives my mind a focus point. It keeps my mind from racing from thought to thought. I can then focus on relaxing and falling asleep. I LOVE the iPhone app Dormio. It has changed my sleep. It is a free app with a library of paid and free tracks that you can download and listen to on your way to dream land. It has a build it timer to shut off the music and the music gets quieter as the timer counts down. My favorite tracks are “Voyage”, “Sleep Wave”, and the life changing guided meditation “sleep well tonight”. Sleep Well Tonight helped me learn to control my restless mind and has allowed me to fall asleep in under 10 minutes instead of over 30+. It takes time to get use to it but it is worth it.
10. Practice Ujjayi Breathing. I have been using Ujjayi Breathing for years. It has served me well while climbing, pushed me through hard workouts, helped me relax and release anger, and yes… sleep. The basic way to do Ujjayi is to take a deep breath through your nose expanding your chest, lungs, and diaphragm. Next breath out through your mouth. You want your breathing, inhale and exhale, to be audible. It should sound like waves on the beach. This kind of breathing brings lots of oxygen to your cells, allowing your mind to clear and your body to relax.
11. The 4, 7, 8 breathing techique. This breathing exercise is simple but deceptively hard. It requires you to breath deeply through your nose for four counts, hold your breath for 7, and then exhale for 8. The first night I tried this method, I felt like I was suffocating! It was difficult not to gasp for air! Over time my body got used to this type of breathing and I have found it to be a great way to relax. I use this method when I can’t stop thinking. Concentrating on breathing and counting my breaths helps keep my mind at bay while relaxing my body.
12. Use Essential oils. Lastly, use essential oils to help you relax. There are a lot of oils and different ways to use them for sleep. You can apply them to your feet, the back of your neck, wrists, spray your pillow with them, or use a diffuser. Lots of people love to use lavender for rest and relaxation. It is relaxing but I have found it isn’t strong enough for my crazy mind. I have found cedar wood, yalang yalang, and different proprietary blends to be better for me. My all time favorite oil for rest is vetiver. I apply a drop to my big toe and massage it down the rest of my foot. It has a calming effect and helps quite my mind. I also like to put a drop of marjoram on my feel to relax my muscles. The two of them have been effective in helping me rest. I usually use them if I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t seem to fall back asleep.
There are so many tactics to control our minds and relax our bodies. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you get to sleep! What are some of your favorite ways to get to sleep and stay there?