We all instinctively know a good night’s rest each night is vital for our health and happiness, yet most of us are so busy trying to squeeze every single second out of the day that we forget to prioritise our sleep. When we’ve been running around, we might eat a hastily cooked dinner, watch a box set and collapse into bed. Yet, slightly changing our evening habits and setting up a simple wind down routine for the evening could be the key to sleeping deeply and waking up refreshed.
It doesn’t have to be elaborate – power sleeper, Ariana Huffington who launched her book The Sleep Revolution in April this year has a few quick rules to establish. Most important: switch off all devices and put them in another room at least 30 minutes before you plan to retire (that includes TV). Have a hot bath with muscle relaxing Epsom Salts or Magnesium Flakes; magnesium salts are thought to be more readily absorbed by the skin. Change into ‘dedicated’ bed clothes, for Huffington that means very glam silk jim jams by US brand Journelle (they’re washable she says!). Ultimately, wear whatever’s comfy and makes you feel good – for me, that means cosy homely brushed cotton pyjamas by Hush.
Rather than seeing make-up removal and cleansing as a chore, make it a nourishing ritual. Acupuncturist, Annee De Mamiel created her beautifully aromatic Restorative Cleansing Balm and Seasonal Facial Oils with layers of hand blended essential oils, herbal and flower essences as much to nourish the mind as the skin. She recommends taking a few moments to apply beauty products in a state of mindful meditation – be aware of their texture and inhale the scent as you use your fingertips to gently massage your face. And while cleaning our teeth might be less of a beautifying moment, we can still employ mindful meditation as we do it, knowing that we are caring for ourselves by doing so.
All of this feeds into calming our ever-whirring minds ready for resting – and adding in a simple breathing exercise can also help. One of my fail-safes is the 4-8-8 breath which I learned from an Indian spiritual teacher in Thailand. Sit or lie comfortably, and allow your breath to settle naturally for 30 seconds or so. Then, inhale through the nose for a count of four, hold for 8 and breathe out for 8 through your mouth. Do six rounds like this – make your count as fast or slow as you need to in order that you’re not straining to hold or desperate to exhale – it should be very relaxed. The idea is that this ratio of breathing, combined with the number of rounds switches the nervous system from ‘fight or flight’ into ‘rest and digest’ mode, ready for sleeping.
Reading is also a great way to unwind, making sure your choice of book is not going enliven your mind too much. The gently inspiring poetry of Rumi or Kahlil Gibran and the mindfulness writings of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh are always on my bedside table to dip in and help me drift off with positive thoughts. Also, the same teacher I learned the 4-8-8 breath from also suggested practising gratitude when lying in bed just before drifting off. Begin by thinking of the people you are grateful you encountered during your day, picturing them, smiling at them and thanking them for being in your life. Seems odd to read, but when I do this, I find I have so much to be grateful for in each day – it often extends way beyond the people in my life. And it never fails to help me to end the day happily and fall off into sleep easily.
Save yourself a rude awakening next day by investing in a Philips Lumie Alarm clock which gently wakes you up with soft, glowing lighting with the option of a gentle alarm call. Or, do as Huffington suggests and buy an old fashioned non-digital clock for your bedside table. You can even try setting your alarm in the evening to remind you it’s time to begin your wind down – at least until it becomes a habit. Above all, never get too hung up on your sleep regime, allow it to be effortless. If you have the occasional late night or you’re out for dinner, it’s no big deal – you go back to your routine when you can. Eventually you will love winding down for bed early so much it becomes the norm.