The lost art of sleeping

The path to wellness includes a constellation of lifestyle changes. And so over the last week as I reflected on what would be the next best topic to write about for our journey to wellness I was quite conflicted on the subject matter.

I considered first writing about the benefits of salt baths (an activity which saved me on a number of occasions), or perhaps a list explaining the symptoms of adrenal fatigue … there are so many us who, if not at stage three of adrenal exhaustion, are working diligently toward it. From what I’ve read in comments here, and on Facebook, none of us feel really great.

Whether or not you have beaten yourself up to the point of adrenal exhaustion, as I did, I think wellness tips are especially relevant as autumn falls and the long winter nights set in.

Let’s start with what I consider, as did my doctor, a very important step. Sleep. Without good sleeping habits and the resetting of circadian rhythms, none of the suggestions I make in the future will truly help you reduce your stress or regain your vitality. We must make sleep a priority – an art form.

I say art form, because there is so much that we can do to make a nighttime ritual truly a highlight – many of us have insomnia, or lousy sleep habits, and we push through the day (and often into the night) time and again, never making sleep a priority. This is something that we can really personalize and make a wonderful time of each day where we indulge and care for ourselves.

We simply don’t think about how fantastic a sleeping routine can be … We certainly think about how we aren’t sleeping, so let’s look at the ways in which to regain the lost art of sleep.

  1. Create your nest: All things beautiful – new pillows, fresh linens, maybe some aromatherapy. The place where we retire each night should be a haven of safety and relaxation. It’s your room so do with it what makes you feel best and create a place of comfort which will welcome you to the land of nod. For me, it means a clean environment without fuzz busters in the corners or clutter all around. I love fresh linens, a bouquet of flowers, lovely green plants, personal items with meaning, and setting the temperature a bit low.
  2. Ditch your devices: This is super important. I have to say, I really didn’t believe that devices in the bedroom work against a good night’s sleep, but boy is it true and now I know the difference. I used to have my laptop, my mobile and my tablet always at the ready in the bedroom. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to check-in on Facebook, or research a great new writing idea on the internet. I would also read every night before bed from my tablet – I now read from a print book because indeed reading is a wonderful way to escape and release tension but reading from a back-lit screen is not good for your REM sleep. Put the tablet away at least 30 minutes before you head to bed. Also, reduce lighting in your nighttime environment – yup, get rid of all the blue lights, the clock lights, the night lights, and leave your gadgets in another room.
  3. Try an eye mask: If getting rid of all the lighting in your room is just not possible, try a light blocking eye mask. It’s wonderfully comforting and they are sold in most pharmacies.
  4. Perhaps a bath: Oh yes, the bath! The mission for a good night’s sleep is to transition from your day into a relaxed state for the evening. Hydrotherapy or balneotherapy is the art of finding relaxation or rejuvenation by bathing in varying water temperatures. Here is where I get to write about one of my favorite indulgences – the salt bath. I have always found the beach to be incredibly therapeutic. Now I bring the beach to me, with a few enhancements. We don’t have Epsom salt here in Sweden which is just fine by me because I prefer sea salt in my bath. Of course, there are a good number of bath products which may provide what you seek or you can make your own. Sea salt combined with essential oils are nice for a relaxing bath and depending on the time of day, something like lavender will relax you for sleep, while something refreshing like lemon will wake you up and prepare you for the day. Not only will a salt bath relax you but its effects are wonderful for detoxing, sore muscles, cleansing pores, banishing negativity which you may have collected through the day, and providing soft nourished skin. Don’t forget the candle light.
  5. A little TLC: Prepare for sleep with a gentle self massage of lavender oil, coconut oil, or your favorite lotion. Of course, good dental hygiene and washing your face are both important. By providing a night time ritual of self care (rather than just falling into bed) we remind ourselves of ourselves.
  6. Go to bed before 11:00pm: Cortisol production follows a curve where it is the highest at around 8:00am and is at it’s lowest at around 11:00pm. After 11:00pm, if you are not tucked in and sleeping, you get a second wind where cortisol rises … this is why you may often suffer insomnia until you finally fall asleep at 1am or 2am. High night time cortisol (which is generally the case with adrenal exhaustion) makes it difficult to relax from the stress of the day (and often leaves you laying in bed recounting every single thing that stressed you out) and reduces your REM sleep. The reduction in REM sleep is not restorative and thus those with adrenal exhaustion often wake up feeling as if they never went to sleep.
  7. Wheat pillows and weighted blankets: Wheat pillows are very popular in Scandinavia, and so much nicer and more natural than the electric version of a heating pad. I recently bought my first wheat pillow and I love it. They are filled with buckwheat and can be used hot or cold. Mine is about 45 centimeters long and 8 centimeters wide. This is a perfect size for throwing around my shoulders to relax sore muscles, or against my back, legs, toes, arms … you get the picture. The inside of the pillow (which contains the wheat) is pulled out from its cover and you spray it with a bit of water and if you are feeling fancy, some lavender water, and cook it in the micro for about 2 minutes. The result is a lovely warm pillow to melt away a days tension. Puts you right to sleep too. Weighted blankets have also become popular and it is found that by using a weighted blanket anxiety, PTSD, depression, insomnia and a host of other issues are relived. They are expensive, but there are quite a few videos on the internet which show you how to make your own.
  8. Wake up at the same time every morning: Resetting one’s circadian rhythm takes a lot of practice and a lot of mindfulness. It takes a good amount of time before your sleep is once again regular and sound – maybe several months. While I believe that if you need sleep, you should take it … it’s also important to try to get up at the same time every morning. This is perhaps the hardest part of the sleep routine, because when you are exhausted all you can think of is hitting the snooze button.
  9. Try a wake up light with soft soothing sounds: Here in Sweden, we will not see the sun at all during the month of November. Sunrise might be somewhere around 9:00am and sunset is at approximately 2:30. That’s not a lot of sunshine – which is very important for resetting your circadian rhythm never mind just in providing that sense of well being we all get from the sun. Scandinavians, and mostly expats to the Nordic region, find using a wake up light quite useful. It slowly floods your bedroom with light and some soft soothing sounds. This might also help with the challenge of waking up at the same time every morning.
  10. Move. Create a morning routine: We all know the importance of moving and regular exercise. This is very important in preparing ourselves for sleep. During the day, and even more importantly in the morning, it’s a good idea to get moving. It sets your day up in that you have already accomplished something beneficial for your health  and rejuvenates the body and wakes up your spirit.

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