"... promoting health and emotional wellbeing."

Improving sleep for a healthier life

We often spend more time, attention and money on our homes and cars than we do on our bodies. So why is it that we neglect our bodies and only pay attention to them when there is something wrong? This month we will focus on sleep as the number of prescriptions for sleeping tablets soars.

The way in which we care for our bodies can be superficial and mindless. We wash, we exercise, we eat, we dress and most of the time without really tuning into our body, understanding what it needs, and then responding accordingly. This disconnection and disassociation from our bodies is fuelling the obesity epidemic and leading to a range of physical, psychological and emotional disorders.

When you learn to develop a good relationship with your body you will have more chance of staying well and improving your health. So how do you do this? Quite simply, by taking a few moments each day to sit in stillness and begin to notice the way that you feel, the way that your body feels and the pattern of your breathing. Then take 3 - 5 deeper, longer and slower breaths, just allowing the breath to come and go naturally. Notice the thoughts that enter your mind and then let them go, do not judge them, just let them go. Stretch the fingers and the toes, move the head gently from side to side. Take a deep breath and sigh the breath away, notice any changes.

There is currently a huge increase in the number of prescriptions written by GP's for sleeping tablets. We are tired, often complaining of low energy and poor quality sleep. There may be many reasons for this but largely worry, stress and anxiety are what cause your sleep pattern to become disturbed. Once a new pattern of poor sleep has been established, it then has to be unlearned by your body and your mind.

So follow this countdown to a better nights sleep for two weeks, and notice the difference:

10: Eat early
Try to eat your evening meal by 7pm. Eat late into the evening and you will be going to bed digesting food which may lead to indigestion, overheating and restless sleep.

9: De-clutter your bedroom
Give your bedroom a thorough clean and remove any clutter. Ensure that the space is well ventilated, as quiet as possible, and dark. You may wish to invest in thicker curtains if street lights are illuminating your room. Do not do any kind of work in the bedroom and avoid watching television in bed.

8: Get out of work mode
Whatever time you finish work, make a conscious switch from the day at work to your time at home. Simply changing your clothes can make a huge difference to the way that you feel. Acknowledge the day and the achievements you have made, also acknowledge any difficulties, especially with people, and then let them go. Remind yourself that it is time now to relax and unwind from the events of the day.

7: Exercise
If you are feeling wound up and finding it difficult to calm down, some kind of exercise in the evening may help. However, it is important to consider what kind of exercise your body needs in relation to the day. Good health is about balance, so is it a walk along the canal on a warm summer evening, a run round the local park, a session on the treadmill, or an hour of yoga or tai chi? Getting to know your body will enable you to make the right choices for you.

6: Avoid sugary snacks, excess alcohol and caffeine
If you find yourself feeling peckish during the evening try some fresh fruit and a delicious herbal tea, or malted drink. Caffeine is a stimulant and can stay in the body for up to twelve hours. It is a common factor in poor sleep and can also cause irritability and palpitations.

5: Take a warm bath or shower
Help your body to prepare for a good nights sleep by bathing in warm water. If you usually have a quick shower or bath take extra time and allow the warm water to wash away the worries of the day. Water is a great cleanser and we are fortunate to have instant access to this wonderful healing element.

4: Avoid watching or listening to anything upsetting or disturbing
In the hour before you get into bed, avoid working on the computer and watching or listening to anything violent upsetting or disturbing. It is important to take time to calm the body and the mind in order to relax. If your body is tense during sleep, the quality of the sleep will diminish.

3: Go to bed when you are tired
Many people are sleep deprived and simply do not get enough good quality sleep. We need between 7 - 9 hours of sleep a night, teenagers and children more, so if you regularly miss an hour, this will soon mount up and begin to impact on health. It is during sleep that your body repairs itself and sleep before midnight is especially beneficial. Try to go to bed early a couple of nights a week, you may wonder why you didn't do it before.

2: Write down any worrying thoughts
Keep a notepad at the side of the bed and write down any worrying thoughts. Try saying to yourself: 'this is my time to rest and to sleep peacefully, everything can be dealt with in the morning'.

1: Relax and sleep well
As you settle into bed, take a few moments to notice the body the mind and the breath. Just let your body begin to soften and allow yourself to be completely supported, as you do this, any unnecessary tension will begin to melt away and will continue to do so with each exhalation. You may want to stretch or yawn, just do whatever feels right for you. Listening to calming music may help or reading something light until you begin to feel sleepy. Switch off the lights when you start to feel drowsy.

Better quality sleep is within your reach. Make time today to improve your sleep and your health. Sleep is one of the most important ingredients in a healthy lifestyle and yet one which we often  overlook or take for granted.

Sleep well.

Vicki