Healthy habits to help you get more
Feeling stressed and tired? Finding it hard to sleep? Struggling to concentrate, maintain healthy relationships or remember things? Your circadian rhythms (or body clock) may be out of sync. Here’s a look at what you can do to press the reset button, calm your mind and body, and get better sleep.
Our hormonal system releases melatonin as the sun goes down, which makes us drowsy; the reduction in light is vital in triggering this biological mechanism. But thanks to electricity, we’re exposed to light for longer (particularly blue light from screens in smartphones, TVs and tablets) which tricks our brains into thinking the sun is out – and as a result, melatonin release is reduced. This means we can struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep or get back to sleep after waking.
Give your eyes a break from bright light and devices for an hour or two before bed. Instead, read a book in gentle yellow light, meditate or listen to some calming music. You can also eat cherries before bed to stimulate melatonin production. If all else fails, chat to your GP about melatonin supplements.
In the middle of the night
Waking up in the middle of the night and then struggling to fall back to sleep is a brutal reality for many of us. Fortunately, you can break bad sleep habits with time, determination, self-compassion and patience.
If you haven’t gone back to sleep after 20 minutes, get up and try a calming activity. Do some gentle yin yoga postures with slow breathing, make a cup of non-caffeinated tea or read for a while – and then go back to bed. Remember to resist the urge to check the time.
As the sun begins to rise, melatonin levels drop and cortisol levels rise to wake us up. If you wake up with your heart racing and your mind working overtime, chances are your cortisol and adrenaline production is in full swing. Blood sugar levels are also usually low when you wake up, which doesn’t help feelings of stress.
When you wake up, do a guided or solo meditation e.g. a body scan meditation to relax your muscles or a breath-focused meditation to help calm yourself. You can also practice calming breathing techniques to start your day with mindful awareness. Avoid checking your phone or apps when you wake up as this stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. Finally, eat something within 20 minutes of waking to balance blood sugar levels and reduce shakiness and light-headedness.
If you wake up feeling groggy, you may not be benefiting from all four main sleep stages, particularly the deep Delta wave sleep. However, with discipline and planning, you may be able to reset your natural cycles within a few days.
Get out into the sunshine as soon as you can after waking. If it’s dark when you get up, consider getting a light with time settings. Keep a sleep diary where you record what you eat and drink during the day, any stressful episodes you experience, what time you go to bed, etc. to help you to identify any habits or substances that could be affecting your sleep. Maintaining a daily routine for meals, self-care tasks (e.g. brushing your teeth and washing your face before bed), and sleep and wake times, can help to reset your body systems.
About Harriet Sciberras
Harriet has a Masters in Science (Health Psychology), and is a certified yoga teacher. She specialises in helping young people improve their mental health by gaining increased awareness and control of their body-mind system.