Good Sleep 12 Top Tips
What follows now is a multi-point plan for improving sleep. Any point can be used alone or in conjunction with others, and are meant as a starting point for further exploration and development. I have experimented myself with most of them to good effect.
1. Keep a Sleep Diary
Keeping an accurate record of how much sleep we get and when sleeplessness occurs can be a great first step in assessing our sleep (or lack of it). For a start, by keeping track of our sleep we sometimes find it is not quite as “bad” as we thought. Second it gives us a pretty good idea of ho much sleep we are getting, and so help us to deduce how much sleep we would like to get to achieve better awake-ness in the day. Remember daytime sleepiness and drowsiness are both mild and severe signs that we need more sleep. Third, any further treatment we may seek from a sleep disorders clinic will require we keep, or have kept a diary for several weeks prior to treatment. Lastly, finding out more about our own body-process is often a great insight into managing our own health and well-being. (Chopra, 23; Idzikowski, 24; Dement, 336).
2. Not Minding
“Not minding” is the name of an attitude coined by Deepak Chopra as a suggestion of changing our attitude to lying awake in bed. Instead of worrying we can’t sleep we can adopt the attitude of “not minding”.
“The key to achieving this frame of mind is a total lack of self-consciousness. In other words, don’t watch yourself, don’t monitor yourself, don’t become a commentator on your dilemma, and, above all, don’t keep looking at the clock. Instead, just rest comfortably, not minding, and use this attitude as a way of placing yourself in nature’s hands. Simply lie in bed with your eyes closed, not minding whether you’re awake or asleep. The mere act of remaining motionless with your eyes closed, even if you’re feeling anxious or restless, actually provides the body with significant benefits.” (Chopra, 16).
I have tried this one and it really works for me – adding other relaxation methods like deep slow breathing and meditation as a way to relax and better two enjoy the night”. The key is really to lose the idea of “trying to sleep”, and trust sleep will come naturally when it is ready.
3. Enjoy Strategic Napping (Guilt Free)
Use daytime naps to actively manage your sleep debt. A 45 minute nap has been shown to improve alertness for up to 6 hours later. It is best taken in the early afternoon dip and can be part of a general strategy of reducing our sleep debt in anticipation of sleeplessness to come – e.g. from a long drive or from plane travel. The strategic nap is a great skill to develop to keep our levels of sleep deprivation – and daytime sleepiness under control. (Dement, 375).
4. Don’t Worry – Nature Catches Up
It has been estimated that parents with newborn babies lose on average two hours sleep every night up to the age of 5 months old, and one hour every night until the child is 24 months old. Without a way of catching up on this, or any other sleep depriving situation, we may turn into complete zombies. If we allow ourselves to nap whenever we can, and get a bit earlier bedtime, we may be able to catch up somewhat on this – but luckily there is a built in catch-up mechanism in Chapter 1 that allows us to regain the missing stage 4 and REM sleep at the earliest opportunity. After than our natural daytime sleepiness will prompt us to take daytime naps until the debt is more or less paid off.
Knowing that our body can cope with sleeplessness can be a great help to those suffering with insomnia – facilitating greater relaxation – a more “not minding” attitude, and better sleep. (Idzikowski, 45).
5. Enjoy The Day
As well as the relaxed “not minding” attitude of the night, a great strategy for approaching insomnia is to look to the attitudes, and feelings present in the day – encouraging a relaxed and fulfilled experience in a waking hours naturally
translates to relaxed and restful sleeping hours. This is a long term approach – but ultimately is deeply practical and effective (Chopra, 118).
6. Make a Great Sleep Room
Often the room, and bed we sleep in are not as wonderful and restful as we would like. It is really worth investing in our bedroom and make it a room for sleep – remove clutter a get a good mattress, get good heavy curtains to block out unwanted light and get some sheets and pillows you really like. In short, put rest, relaxation and sleep number one. (Idzikowski, 54).
In addition to receiving therapeutic massage treatment we can really benefit from a short simple treatment of basic massage, given in bed before going to sleep. Either we can ask our partner to give it, or we can give ourselves a basic self-massage. Both kinds can be a definite help promoting deep relaxation and subsequently improved sleep. (Cassar, 86) Head, feet, hands and neck are particularly good places to try.
There is an acupressure point, called that is extremely effective in “calming the mind”. It is called “Shenmen” (means “spirit gate”) and is the seventh point on the Heart meridian (also it is called Heart – 7).
It is located “At the wrist joint, on the radial side of flexor carpi ulnaris, in the deptression at the proximal border of the pisiform bone.” When working on oneself, pressure can be applied with the thumb of the other hand. I like to think of it as a condensed “one point” self massage and can be very very effective in reducing mental chatter and allowing relaxation. I have experience using it and have felt something like letting air out of a balloon – with a really relaxing, sedating quality that has, on occasion brought back sleep within minutes. It is especially useful because it is so easy to apply – perfect for when we are really tired and apathetic, but unable to sleep. It needs to be applied for between one and five minutes – depending on the reaction felt. Once we have felt a reaction – follow it on a bit (like giving a stretch) then slowly release the pressure. (The initial pressure is as deep as comfortable). Finish with bushing down the skin towards the little finger. This “mini-treatment” can also be incorporated in a therapeutic massage treatment with work to the hands. It is also good, incidentally, for people who are experiencing extreme emotions to help them settle.
It has also been clinically proven to improve sleep in elderly subjects in a trial conducted in Taiwan by Mei-li Chen et al. (Chen, M389).
9. Establish a basic 8 hour sleep Period
This may sound dull, but I have had good results with it. It means getting a regular pattern of hours in bed. While all our sleep needs vary, really most of us need, optimally, 8 hours a night. I’m not sure if anyone knows what the average, optimal sleep period is, but there is a consensus that 8 hours a night is a good idea for most of us. The idea here is to try and get a pattern of going to bed and getting up that is the same every day that allows 8 hours sleep.
Lets say the time span we’ve chosen is from 11.00pm (lights out) to 7.00am (awake). This timing allows some minutes going into sleep, and some minutes coming out to be included as “sleep”. To make it work we really need to “go to bed” earlier than eleven, to allow a relaxed pre-sleep routine and have lights out at eleven. If we fall asleep that’s great – and if we are awake a bit it is fine – we can follow the attitude of “not minding” and enjoy being in bed – knowing it is beneficial to be simply resting. The idea is that with a strict rising at 7.00am we train ourselves to rely on that time for rest and sleep. If we are awake for half the night worrying about something we still need to get up at 7.00, and trust that the next night we will naturally catch up on our sleep needs. This strategy does need discipline but it does work really well to regulate our pattern of sleep and give a good healthy sleep every night.
Once we have established the routine we may find we are getting our basic eight hours but are still sleepy during the day. In that case we can increase our time in bed by, let’s say, half an hour and see if that gives enough. Alternatively we can augment our night sleep with a daytime nap, as long as it doesn’t interfere with our dayime activities and commitments.
Conversely, if we find we are awake earlier than 7.00am, or not falling asleep until later, and not experiencing daytime tiredness then we can reduce our in bed time till we have a basic period that suits our individual needs.
It is best to avoid the use of an alarm clock generally, but with this strategy it can be a useful tool to establish the regular rising time. Ideally we will find ourselves waking up naturally a little before our “get up” time and enjoying a few minutes in bed. Our “inner clock” learns, by establishing it’s own rhythm, very quickly how to wake up at a certain regular time.
Keeping a regular slot time for sleep is a great aid in giving good sleep. (Chopra, 58).
This is a fundamental step in improving our sleep. It means completing our day activities, including eating, well before bed time, and I mean by this at least three hours before bed. I would also recommend reducing our evening T.V. consumption – turning it off earlier and being careful with what we watch and when. The mental and emotional stimulation that T.V. provides is best taken earlier in the evening … and I would generally suggest turning off at 9.00pm (for a 11.00pm bedtime) to give a good two hours of real unwinding. Also it is best to avoid bright lighting after 9.00pm so as not to risk resetting our biological clock to go to sleep later. Some relaxing reading is fine – and it is a perfect time to enjoy nurturing and soothing activities – like a hot bath, massage, listen to relaxing music, meditation, gentle yoga etc. Practicing this is about allowing us to really absorb what the night is all about – rest and renewal:
“We are not meant to fight against nature’s waves; we are meant to ride with them, and our bodies experience a need to do that. It’s only when we interfere with the process that we experience discomfort whether from insomnia or anything else.” (Chopra, 49).
11.Get into Nature and See the Sun
While the dart of the night is all about rest and renewal, the light of the day is all about activity. To fully appreciate the contrast between the two I would strongly recommend, at some point each day, getting outside, going into nature and absorbing as much natural, full-spectrum daylight as possible. If it is sunny, all the better – get out and soak some up. I believe in doing so we strongly influence our natural inner rhythm and fully appreciate the qualities of activity and aliveness inherent in the day. This can in turn help us lead a more productive, healthy and fulfilled life – and in doing so can promote more relaxed evenings and in turn deeper, more restful sleep. (Chopra, 53).
12.Good Diet, Good Exercise, Good Sleep
“One of the favourite pitches made by me and a few of my more activist colleagues is that there is a fundamental triumvirate of health; good nutrition, physical fitness and healthy sleep.” (Dement, 429).
With all three we appear positively radiant with vitality and well-being. Not only are diet and exercise foundations for well being in general (along with good sleep) they are specific factors in giving good sleep in itself. Actually, probably, all three are mutually inter-dependent, with the strength of one positively influencing the other two.
A healthy balanced diet, with not too much artificial “nasties” is important in giving good sleep. (Idizkowski, 75). So too is moderate exercise. This does not have to be vigourous to be effective – far from it – the best fitness programme for sleep is one that includes a range of activities.
Try to get to at least three sessions of twenty minutes duration of mostly aerobic exercise, and include gentler stretching exercises afterwards. Vigourous sports are fine, as long as they finish before about 6.00pm or they may interfere with out sleep. On a similar note we should try to finish our regular exercise slot three hours before bed to allow us to fully, deeply relax afterwards.
Especially for those of us with a predominantly sedentary lifestyle, which does not ordinarily provide a physical means of releasing tension, exercise remains a crucially important strategy for getting a good night’s sleep. (Idzikowski, 85).
The underlying themes of these points are about establishing a more natural rhythm and allowing ourselves to get, and be, more relaxed. This approach supports the work we do in the therapeutic massage session, extending relaxation and vitality into our daily (and nightly) lives. They are starting points for other themes of improving our well-being and health – of which there are many I have not mentioned directly: Any approach that instills relaxation and reduces tension could be considered as having potential for improving sleep. Two approaches I would like to personally experiment with more as assistants to sleep re breathing exercises (like yoga or Qi Gung breathing) and meditation.
I encourage you to experiment with the above points and use the ones that work, and make your own “strategies for sleep”. I hope that by better understanding how sleep does, and sometimes doesn’t work, we can all develop a better awareness of how to encourage our sleeping selves to get the deep rest and rejuvenation we want and need.
• Chen, M.L., Lin, l.C., Wu, S.C., Lin, J.G.
The effectiveness of acupressure in improving the quality of sleep of institutionalized residents
(J. Gerontol A Biol Sci med Sci 1999 Aug; 54 (8)): M389 - 94
• Field, Tiffany
(Med Clin North Am. 2002 Jan; 86 (1)): 163 – 71
• Mantle, F.
Complementary Therapies Sleepless and Unsettled
(Nursing Times. 1996 June 5-11; 92 (23)): 46 – 7
• Bearpark, Helen M.
Insomnia: Causes, Effects and Treatment; Cooper, R. (ed.)
Sleep (Chapman & Hall Medical, 1994): 587
• Cooper, Rosemary
Normal Sleep; Cooper, R. (ed.)
Sleep (Chapman & Hall Medical 1994): 3
• Hobson, J. Allen
Sleep (Scientific American Library, 1989)
• Hughes, John R.
EEG in Clinical Practice
(Butterworth – Heinemann, Boston; 1994)
• Kleitman, N.
Basic Rest – Activity Cycle in Relation to Sleep and Wakefulness; Kales, A. (ed.) Sleep Physiology & Pathology
Lippincott, Philadelphia & Toronto, 1969): 33 – 37
• Parkes, J.D.
Sleep and It’s Disorders (Saunders, London 1985)
• Chopra, Deepak
Restful Sleep, The Complete mind-body programme for over-coming Insomnia
(Rider: London 1994)
• Dement, William C. and Vaughan, Christopher
The Promise of Sleep
The Scientific Connection Between Health, Happiness, and a Good Night’s Sleep
(Pan: London 1999)
• Idzikowski, Chris
Learn to Sleep Well
(Duncan Baird Publishers: London 2000)
• Johnston, Fiona
Getting a Good Night’s Sleep
(Sheldon: London 2000)
• Cassar, Mario-Paul
Handbook of Massage Therapy
(Butterworths – Heinemann; Oxford: 1999) p. 86
• Maxwell-Hudson, Clare
Massage the Definitive Visual Reference
(Darling Kindersley; London: 1999) p. 145
• Werner, Ruth
A Massage Therapist’s Guide to Pathology
(Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Philadelphia: 2002) p. 233
• Kapke, B.
The Sleep Crisis
(Massage & Bodywork 2002, Aug/Sept; 17 (4): 126 - 130