Five Pillars of Pain-Free Living: Sleep

The next pillar of pain-free living that I would like to share with you is ‘Sleep’.

The NHS estimates that one in three of us suffers from poor sleep, with the demands of everyday living and stress often being the cause. However, other factors such as shift work, a poor sleep environment or too much caffeine can prevent us from catching those precious zzzs! If we’re not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, this can have a considerable impact on both our physical and mental health, as well as a detrimental effect on our concentration, work and relationships.

Here are my top ten tips to help you get a better night’s sleep!

“Your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep.”

Mesut Bbarazany

1. Stick to a regular sleep schedule
It can be incredibly tempting to treat yourself to a lovely lie-in at the weekend, can’t it? However, regardless of whether it’s a weekday or the weekend, try to go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up at the same time each morning. Sticking to these regular times will anchor your sleep, and improve both the quality and the quantity. If you’re struggling to stick to a regular bedtime, why not try setting an alarm to let you know when it’s time to wind down for the evening?

2. Establish a relaxing bedtime routine
When it comes to establishing and maintaining good sleep habits, a relaxing bedtime routine is just as important for adults as it is for children! To help you to get ready to wind down, you could try soaking in a calming bubble bath, reading a chapter of your favourite book, jotting down your to-do list for the day ahead, or doing some light yoga stretches.

3. Think quality over quantity
You will be familiar with the notion that we all need eight hours of sleep each night. Well, some of us need more, whilst others can cope with less. It’s important to determine how much our individual bodies require and ensure that we develop healthy sleep patterns to support this. It may well be a case that quality is more important than quantity!

4. Create your perfect sleep environment
The ideal sleep environment varies from person to person. Some love to snuggle under the thickest duvet possible, whilst others prefer a cooler atmosphere. However, there is scientific advice that humans actually need a cooler room to initiate sleep and then stay asleep. Try to aim to keep your room temperature at around the 18 degrees C mark for the optimum slumber!

A quiet, dark room is preferable to allow us to slip into a deep, undisturbed sleep. However, this isn’t always possible if there is traffic noise or bright streetlights outside our bedrooms. If this is the case, you may want to consider a blackout blind, thicker or perhaps wearing an eye mask while you sleep. There are also many ‘white noise’ devices on the market, which help to mask the ambient noises that may be keeping you awake during the night.

5. Find the perfect mattress
Just like the Princess and the Pea, are you very sensitive to the mattress beneath you?! To help our bodies relax into a healing and regenerative sleep, and minimise discomfort and pain, we need to find the perfect mattress! Soft mattresses tend to conform to our shape but offer little support across the whole body. Medium mattresses deliver the right balance of comfort and support, and alleviate pressure point pain for most people. Firm mattresses provide good support but little in the way of comfort, leading to pressure point pain in some people.

A good mattress will reduce how much you toss and turn at night, allowing you to slip into deep, healing REM sleep. We are advised to change our mattress every seven to ten years, depending on comfort and support. The life of your mattress can vary hugely though, depending on how you take care of it, how often you rotate it and how you sleep on it!

Tips for better sleep

“Sleep is the best meditation.”

Dalai Lama

6. Choose the right pillows
Don’t forget about another place discomfort could arise from – our pillows! Good sleeping posture is key to waking without pain and stiffness, and our pillows help us to achieve this. Good sleep posture is a body in alignment, from the knees and hips, through the spine, chest, shoulders, neck and head. Without sufficient support to your neck and shoulders, or if they are propped at an uncomfortable angle, our spines and bodies are out of alignment. This causes strain and discomfort night after night.

7. Don’t sleep on your front
Imagine having your head turned to one side all day. It just wouldn’t happen! Sleeping on your front tightens one side of the neck and stretches the other side. This posture is then reinforced night after night because it’s easy, and the body has quickly adapted.

8. Step away from the devices
Most smartphones, tablets and other screens (such as computer monitors and televisions) emit light within the blue spectrum, also known as ‘blue light’. It is similar to the colour and wavelength of daylight, which can have a detrimental effect on our sleep. Try your best to have at least one hour just before bedtime without any blue light sources.

9. Avoid caffeine
Caffeine is a stimulant, and in excessive quantities, it can lead to anxiety, irritability, rapid heartbeat, and sleep disturbance. Why not swap out your late afternoon or evening caffeinated drinks for decaf or herbal alternatives, such as chamomile or peppermint tea? This will help your body to relax in the run-up to bedtime.

10. Sleeping well through the winter months
In the winter months, the nights are longer, and we get less light throughout the day, at a lower intensity. This helps to explain why we feel more sluggish and less energetic. Our vitamin D levels, the ‘sunshine vitamin’ are lower during winter, which can also lead to a higher risk of sleep disturbances, lower sleep quality and reduced sleep duration. Try to increase your vitamin D levels by getting out in the winter sun as often as possible and eating vitamin D-rich foods, such as salmon, tuna, eggs, mushrooms and fortified cereals. Vitamin D is also necessary for absorbing calcium, so your bones will thank you too!

Sleep is your superpower!

Good sleep can have a huge, positive impact on all areas of our lives. Sleep does more than allow the brain to rest; it also helps our brains store what we have learned throughout the day and then reinforce it. How amazing is that?!

So, take some time to assess if you need to make small changes to your sleep routine. It could well deliver some life-changing results!