Back to school is occurring all over the place and my clients tell me that bedtime is a challenge. Not just for the children but for themselves. You need to create a new bedtime routine for the family now that there are so many activities like homework, after-school activities, and sports. Because it is the beginning of the school year your children are not used to going to bed early enough to get the sleep their body requires.
Once you have finally gotten them off to bed, you start your chores. You finish them and you finally get a few minutes to wind down. But it never feels like enough. You end up scrolling and watching Netflix or a cat video to help you disconnect from the day’s work.
When you finally do get to lie down your mind is racing with all the things you did not do or need to do tomorrow, and you are awake until 2am.
How to do you manage to make sleep a priority when you can’t shut off the day. This is where you want to look for one or two small habits to allow you to wind down quickly.
One of the most helpful practices is the use of progressive relaxation to deal with the stress at the end of the day. This will help reduce your desire to munch, wine or stair at the ceiling all night. This is not hard to learn and will be an enjoyable part of your sleep routine.
I first learned to do this in a test taking class in high school many moons ago. I later taught my children this as a way to relax. My daughter used it to fall asleep and to help her when her creativity has a momentary block. My son used it when his anger would get out of control. It help me survive their childhood with my sanity.
The first step is to get that comfortable spot. Some people sit up and some lie down. It is a personal preference. It always starts at your feet and tighten them as tight as you can and hold for 10 seconds then relax for 10 seconds. Move to your ankles and do the same thing flex for 10 seconds than relax for 10 seconds. Move up your legs to your bottom. That is a large muscle and will really help you to relax. Move up your abdomen and chest to your shoulders. Then you need to move down your arms. Always tighten for 10 then relax for 10. Finally you need to do your face than your scalp. That is where I start to do visualizations if I am going to.
Visualization is not my strong suit but I imagine a soft while glowing ball growing from the middle of my chest all the way out to my toes and fingers. I see the light heal any soreness and weakness I might have. It is my light so I can make it do what I want.
All of this take about 10-15 minutes and helps me feel very relaxed. It is a tool I am using frequency while I am working and going to school and raising children. It is a great tool for focus and does not require anything special except maybe some music. I have used Jeff Gold’s music to help with my exercise and to relax at night. He has a gift for the beauty that music can lend a relaxation technique.
As we start the New Year we always make resolutions or goals we would like to achieve during the year. This past year we have all learned that sleep affects all aspects of your health and so you may want to add a better night sleep as one of your goals for the year. The problem is how to approach this to make it practical. Creating SMART goals are usually the most successful goals.
Let’s look at some small changes you can make and add to your daily life that can improve your sleep. These are not big things but small changes you can add to your routine and as you build one on the other you will find that you will sleep better and have more energy during the day.
· Give you your electronics 40 minutes before bedtime. The light given off by your electronics confuse your brain and make it believe it is daytime. If you turn them off 40 minutes prior to bedtime you give you mind time to relax and allow Melatonin to be releases helping you to sleep. Melatonin is released when you are exposed to darkness. So turning down the lights, turning off the electronics and enjoying the quite time during the evening helps to allow this hormone to be released.
· Practice diaphragmatic breathing. One of the great ways to relax is to deep breathe. Lie down, put your hands on your abdomen just below your ribcage as you inhale push out against your hands, as you exhale pull your abdominal muscles in. This exercise helps you to increase your oxygen levels, increase your lung capacity and calm your brain due to your concentration on your breathing. Doing this for 5-10 minutes as part of your bedtime routine will help you especially if you have transient insomnia, or insomnia caused by a particular issue.
· Create a bedtime that is 15 minutes earlier to increase your sleep time. Large changes in bedtime will most likely lead to insomnia but a small change such 15 minutes will allow you to increase your sleep time without adding time just staring at the ceiling.
· Do not use the snooze button. You will find that if you get up at the same time every day and do not linger in bed you will have more energy during the day. It will also help you to not feel so
· Add ten minutes of sunlight to your morning routine. Open the curtains, sit out on the balcony, or take a walk. Any of these ideas will help you to feel more awake and have more energy. Your brain needs the light to tell you to be awake just like it needs the dark to tell it to go to sleep.
These are just a few ideas to add to your life during the New Year. It is not necessary to add all of these ideas or to add them all at once but when you are making a goal using the smart method is the best way to more ahead. Each of these is measurable, sustainable, and very specific. I know improving your sleep will make this year a great your for you.
We all experience a night where we stare at the ceiling or cannot turn off our mind. Transient insomnia is something we experience when we are living with a stressful situation or maybe just a long day. The problem is that if you do not get a good night sleep you may find that it is difficult to concentrate, your hunger may increase, or you may experience more aches and pains.
One of the exercises that you can use is to use imagery along with breathing exercises to help relax and go to sleep. This exercise may also help with people who may be experiencing nightmares as well.
Let’s start with the breathing as this is what allows you to increase your oxygen levels and helps you to relax. Take a slow deep breathe imagine filling your lungs from the bottom to top. For women this is not as natural as you thing as we tend to be shallow breathers. Once you have filled your lungs hold it for the slow count of four then slowly exhale to the count of 8. This will also help you to increase the use of your longs. The breath hold allows some of the small airways we do not usually use to open.
The second step is to use imagery. Choose a place you want to be. I personally am a warm white beach person or on a flower covered meadow person. You choose an image that suits your personality. Now focus on that image. Image the smell of the air, the temperature of the sun, fell the grass under your feet. The more you can focus on the details the more it will help you to relax.
In my mind I travel to a valley between the mountains. I am lying looking up at the sky watching the clouds pass through the sky. I feel the grass under my hands and between my fingers. I smell the sweet smell of violets and wildflower. I can hear the wind across the pond and rustling in the leaves. The more I concentrate the more relaxed I become. Along with the slow deep breathing I can feel my muscles relax. I allow myself to float along and eventually I drift off to sleep.
This exercise was taught to me when I was in high school as a way to get past my test anxiety. I found that doing this exercise for just three to five minutes really reduces my stress. I use this on nights when I can not turn off my mind to ideas or to my family. It allows me to drift and it does help minimize the nightmares I experience.
Are there exercises or imagery you use to help you to relax and unwind?
You think that sleep is mostly about what you do right before you go to bed. This is not the case at all especially for women. There are many things that keep us from sleeping including what we eat, stress and how much we move. If we make some plans we can improve our sleep by reducing out stress, improving our diets, maybe have a little time to work out and possibly save a bit of money.
Plan your food. Not just for the day but for the week. Taking the time to do this little bit of planning and preparing takes a great deal of stress off you for the rest of the week. The food does not have to be very fancy. It can be as simple as yogurt and cereal during the week for breakfast a sandwich and salad for lunch and meatloaf for dinner. The other benefit is the reduced fat and sodium will allow the food to digest better so you can sleep better. If you have GERD or acid reflux you can plan your meals so that you are less symptomatic and it will not disturb your sleep. If this is an issue, consider having your veggies and fruits early in the day and your lighter proteins at night. If breakfast is your problem make muffin cup egg quiche. They also will help to add a little veggie to your morning.
Plan your exercise for the best time for you. I am not a morning person. The idea of getting up early to exercise and actually doing it made me unhappy and more tired. Because I have planned my dinners and cooked some of them ahead of time I am able to go to the gym or to the park right after work and exercise. You should also consider how it is going to affect your sleep. Sometimes the rev you get from working out can keep you from falling asleep. So keep in mind you want to have three hours to unwind after you work out. This does not include exercises you use to unwind such as yoga, meditation or stretching. Those exercises will actually help you since the will center your mind and allow you to relax.
Plan for the stressful situations for the week. If you have to bring the kids to practice straight after work do not include that day as your workout day. We cannot be perfect and we need to find our balance. We can also plan how you are going to unwind afterwards. It might be as simple as taking 10 minutes to read or journal after you put the kids to bed or a bubble bath or a hot shower before bed. Both will help you to unwind and the shower will actually help your body prepare for sleep by helping to bring your body temperature down as you dry off, a signal to your brain that it is time to sleep.
As women we tend to be overschedule and not know how to say no to anything. We do need to make the time for ourselves so we can sleep well so we can be more productive. If we take that little bit of time once a week to plan we will have less stress. It is not about being perfect but removing some of the situations that stress us out so we are able to live better.
The commercials show a family all smiles enjoying a meal laughing and enjoying great conversation. They all look relaxed happy and well rested. The truth is that the holidays can be a stressful, depressing and hectic time of year. However, with a little planning and setting a few priorities you can enjoy your holidays and not look like you just trained for a marathon.
Make bedtime a priority. You will feel better if you go to bed at the same time every night. This does not mean you should never go out and enjoy a night out with friends, but this should not be an every night. Sleep deprivation will make you fuzzy, grouchy and tired the next day. You can sleep in the next day and you will make up for some of the lost sleep.
Take time to unwind. With all the excitement going on during the holidays we take very little time to relax and unwind. This is the time of year when a sleep routine is most helpful. Take twenty minutes to relax, read a little, journal, an do a little stretching to help you unwind. It will be one of the best ways for you to fall asleep faster.
Get some exercise in the morning. A little physical activity in the morning will help you start off the day with a little more energy. It will be even more helpful if you can spend that time outside. The light and the increase in oxygen and blood flow will help you to be more focused during the day.
Drink your water. Dehydration can keep your mind fuzzy and increase you stress. If you are dehydrated you can also have muscle cramps that can keep you up at night. It is one of the easier things to keep you healthy.
Don't sweat the small stuff. A little planning and the acceptance that some things will go wrong during the holidays will allow you to enjoy the holidays with less stress. The holidays are not about perfect place setting but about laughing and hugging. These will help you to relax and when it is time to go to bed you will find you will be able to fall asleep faster.
The goal of the holidays is to all your to enjoy food, fun and family. Whether it is Thanksgiving, Hanukkah or Christmas take some time out to enjoy it and make sure that you plan your sleep time into your day.