I think it’s safe to say we’ve all experienced crazy sleeping patterns these past few months. For me, a healthy sleep cycle ebbs and flows. There are times I have great, quality sleep down to a T, and there have been a few nights where my mind has kept me up the entire night. Even before quarantine, when left completely to my own devices and not using one of the things on this list, I generally suck at sleeping.
Thankfully, with lots of experience comes learning. On that note, these are some of the things that have helped me to have a better night’s rest. And no, I’m not going to shame you for screen time or even tell you to reduce it, because there are other ways and during lockdown, our screens are part of our survival.
Disclaimer: this post is based on my personal experience, and you should always do your own research and consult with a medical practitioner on your personal condition(s).
Mindset shift: view your brain as just another organ. Just because your brain is firing thoughts at you and coming up with a million anxious scenarios to stress you out, it doesn’t mean you should take them all seriously. Just like your heart’s job is to pump your blood, your brain is just doing its job even when the thoughts are a little wild. Do you notice every heart beat and stress about what it all means? No. So imagine your thoughts as heartbeats, or as your brain carrying on with its job. In the words/concepts of Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and The Power of Now, don’t identify with your thoughts, just be a witness to them. Know that you are not your ideas, you are the space in which your ideas occur. And if none of this makes sense, go and read A New Earth to get a better understanding. This mindset shift just a few pages into the book made me go from an anxious, nightly over-thinker to falling asleep in minutes.
I try and drink chamomile tea with collagen every night. With no sugar or dairy, I add a teaspoon of xylitol to sweeten it and almond milk. Now we all know chamomile has calming effects but collagen is really the number one thing that has improved the quality of my sleep, and as a result, quite literally saved my life! Aside from better sleep, collagen has many benefits, including better/plumper skin, joint pain relief and healthier bones. It also heals your gut and I find it relieves my bloating quite a bit. Consumed daily, give it one or two days to get into your system and you’ll find yourself having the best sleep ever! It’s a deep, good quality sleep and that’s what I love. It also makes tea and coffee extra creamy, is basically tasteless and around 17g of protein per serving. I find if I get lazy with this tea routine, my nights become restless again. I get mine from Pomegranate Wellness. They only ship within SA, and you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to order yours.
I take magnesium supplements. Magnesium has been proven to assist with managing anxiety. You can read more about it here. It also helps relax your muscles and ease cramps. I enjoy the tension release, since stress tends to make me tense up!
Get the temperature right. Being just a little too hot or too cold can ruin your chances at rest. So whether that means wearing lighter pyjamas, adjusting the thermostat or leaving one limb out of the blankets to regulate your body temperature, do what you need to do. I often find it’s just being a few degrees too warm that keeps me up.
I started using the Calm App. I’m no stranger to meditation but when it comes to breathing and ignoring thoughts I’m not always a pro at it. However, what I love about this app is the daily practice of meditation (not necessarily at night), has helped me to find calm. It has different meditation programs that span over days and some are just once off. You can find programs to teach you how to begin meditating, while there are others that aid coping with anxiety, depression, confidence, happiness, self esteem and training your mind with athlete, LeBron James. There are sleep stories read by Matthew McConaughey and, my personal favourite, Stephen Fry. It’s a little steep in price for an app, R250 per month, but it’s a small price to pay for the peace it brings me even if I am not that diligent in my practice. I’ve tried YouTube meditations and other sleeping/meditation apps but this one is still by far my favourite and I love that it tracks my progress too.
Focus on your breathing. This I learned from the Calm app, however it’s something you can do on your own if you can focus enough while tossing and turning. Do your best not to give into your thoughts and take slow, steady, deep breaths in and out. Concentrate on your breathing and creating a quality rhythm in your lungs. Usually by the time I reach that level I am knocked out. I’m sure there are more scientific reasons for why it works, like brain function and all that. But the point is, it really works.
Consume positive content online before bed. Like I said, I won’t shame you for screentime, especially in lockdown. While yes, too much screentime can keep you up, it’s my personal experience and opinion that shows it’s more about what I consume that affects my sleep, as opposed to how I consume it. Keep things funny, positive, lighthearted. Nothing that’s going to make you sad or overthink your life. Try watching cute animal videos on YouTube, an episode of Friends or The Big Bang Theory, or read something more spiritual. Keep all the hectic stuff to the earlier hours of the evening, that way it (hopefully) won’t affect your dreams too.
Read a little bit. Again, keep it light-hearted, boring even, and you may find yourself getting that burning sensation in your eyes that makes you drift off.
Drinking enough water in the day makes a big difference. I once read dehydration can mess with your body’s production of melatonin, ie: your sleep hormone. So get a few extra glasses in during the day and see how your sleep is that night!
Wear an eyeshade. Aside from the darkness it brings, when my eyes don’t feel heavy, an eyeshade seems to add just the right amount of weight on my lids to cheat myself into thinking I’m tired. I have three different eyeshades of different thicknesses in my bedside drawer so that I get that weight right every time!
Occasionally I take Easy Sleep 40 Winx tablets (available here, but again, please consult with your doctor before taking them!). This double pack has two natural supplements in them, one for better sleep at night, the other is a multivitamin so you feel refreshed in the morning. Even without taking the morning one, I tend to feel really refreshed the next day, ie: not groggy as if I need to sleep more! This won’t knock you out in an instant. You still kind of have to get yourself to sleep for the most part, but it does aid the process and give you a really deep slumber. The wake up tablet is just an added bonus.
Lastly, I find a carbohydrate overload keeps me up at night. Since I have PCOS, I have found in that department, reducing and monitoring my carb intake helps my symptoms. The added bonus is that it gives me fantastic sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I am most definitely Team Carbs, but I do find that carb-rich foods need to be spaced out for me. So sometimes, if I’m tossing and turning at night, I look back on my eating habits for the few days prior. It’s hardly breaking news that lockdown has many of us eating for comfort/boredom. If there’s been lots of carby activity in my days, then for the next two days I consume less than 50g of carbs per day and find my sleep improves.
How has your sleep been these past few months? Do you have any tips that work for you?