The Most Important Part of Your Day

22 Aug, 2017

Good sleep feels like a superpower, and there are also so many avenues to choose from when looking to improve sleep quality. Different practises will each have valuable approaches; whether it be getting out of a racing mind, regulating hormones and chemicals so that they switch on/off when they need to, facilitating optimal circadian rhythms with appropriate stress responses and coping mechanisms, shifting habits, or re-directing energy to when you need it (rather than when you’re trying to doze off!).  

You can initiate changes on your own to help facilitate a great night’s sleep whilst enhancing all that good work being covered with your practitioner.  

Good sleep is quite a powerful thing, no? It resets you, it refuels you, but it doesn't always come naturally, despite one’s best attempts. Sometimes it gets pushed back when we try to fit more into each day. So, whilst we all love a good sleep, where does sleep fall on your priority list during the day? Do you actively put it off to squeeze in one more episode, scroll social media or to get a few more emails sorted? Do you put it off because you feel it’s “impossible” to get to sleep anyway, regardless of what you do/don’t do?

Sleep is often impacted by stress, and whilst there’s plenty to say on the subject, for now let’s focus on limiting it to briefly mentioning cortisol (our stress hormone). Cortisol is meant to be higher in the morning (gets you up out of bed and alert in the morning; best time of day for productivity!) and lower in the evening (calmer and setting you up to sleep). Too much stress in your day and your cortisol stays up working over-time. What does this mean? Your body’s circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) becomes out of whack because high cortisol in the evening equates to zero sleep set up! It’s a big contributor to why your brain can still be whirring at a million miles an hour when you’re tucked in and trying your best to snooze.

So many of us are in the habit of closing a screen when we're already tucked in. It becomes a habit intended to help switch off and unwind a wired-mind, but unfortunately that same habit creates a false sense of rest. Sure, you may zone-out, but your brain is being sent a message that it's on stand-by, because light is still present. You may be lucky & fall asleep soon after everything is switched off, but the quality of your sleep can still suffer. How can you tell? How many hours sleep leaves you feeling tired vs. amazing vs. over-slept? Do you wake up feeling refreshed? Do you wake up during the night? Is your energy throughout the day low? Or do you struggle to fall asleep in the first place? Are your hormones a little out of whack? Do you have a short-fuse or feel as though your mood has moments of dictating your day? Is your body's stress-response leaving you managing the same cluster of symptoms over and over? 

Our body's way of telling us it wants better quality rest hides in plain sight. We clock a lot of them down as our version of "normal" & plough along with daily demands. So. Here's a trick to try & take hold of: Make sleep the most important appointment in your day. Make it your biggest priority. If your bed time is 10:30, then screens shut off at 9:30, regardless of unfinished emails or episodes. This is more important. This is going to increase your productivity in the long run, & short-term gains for long-lived burnout really doesn’t have the same allure!

That one final magical hour in your day designated to be technology free time isn’t designed for rushing around fixing meals for the next day, or stressing/getting anxious about things due in the following days/weeks/months, or picking up after other people. It’s for you. If it’s hard to imagine what to do with that time, write out a handful of things you enjoy doing (without staring at a screen), and may not have had enough time for regularly. It doesn’t have to be the same thing each evening if you’re not big on autonomy, but each of them must contribute in allowing your body to de-load from the stimulus of your day. Some things that I often recommend include:

  • Reading a chapter (or three) of something that isn’t work related,

  • Listen. To music, or a podcast (although these often come from your phone and need to be manually turned off, it’s still a gateway from being visually glued to a screen), or just reflect on the world around you.

  • Write notes to debrief from your day; whether it be 10 things your grateful for, or just getting things off your chest to step back and try to see things from a new angle. 

  • Smell. Put a diffuser on in the background to have a smell that will slowly be associated with rest and relaxation (Lavender is the classic, but there are ones that scents that have been suggested to help your sinuses, mood, or focus). 

  • Have a bath or a shower. Drastic changes in body temp/ambient temperature help your body fall asleep; when you get out of a hot bath your vessels has vasodilated, so core blood goes to peripheries and because you’re warm, body tries to get heat to escape, resulting in a drop in your body’s temp, and a drop in core temperature makes you drowsy/groggy.

  • Meditate. It’s one of the best things you could ever choose to do. Not one has ever regretted getting into meditation! Ever. If anything, the thing people don’t like is trying to get into it in the first place; being alone with your own thoughts can often be really, really uncomfortable. You may sit there thinking how silly it is that you’re sitting there when there are so many other things you could be doing. But if you submit to it, it’ll change your life.  If it’s not your thing & you feel like every time you try it you get agitated or can’t make it work, start with 5 minutes. There are guided ones or apps that allow you to hear a gong at the end of a set-block of time (such as I-Qi timer). Count your breaths. When you find you’ve distracted yourself and lost count, just start again. It’s no big deal. Each night add one minute on until you get up to 15-20. Box-breathing or square breathing are also wonderful, rhythmic and get your body back to rest-mode if it’s in the habit of being locking into fight-or-flight (high demand, stressful or ongoing pressure during the day? Your sympathetic system probably takes a while to shift from over-drive). If those don’t feel like they’ll quite do the trick, or you’re a little more visual, start with this for 1-10 minutes each night to help anxiety ebb away. 

If your routine becomes established, you’ll see shifts; you’ll start waking up feeling revitalised, your energy will feel more sustained throughout the day, your mood is less likely to fluctuate. Begin great sleep & make that final hour of your day the most important one.

 

Laelia Douglas-Brown

Acupuncturist

Available for consults at Health Space Newtown on Wednesdays & Thursdays

Call: 02 9557 1277