I Just Want To Go To Sleep! How to Sleep Better (According to Science)

I Just Want To Go To Sleep! How to Sleep Better (According to Science)

For something that’s meant to be instinctive and so-easy-that-babies-can-do-it, sleep certainly doesn’t mind playing hard to get at times. It can be a bit of a punk like that. Here’s how sleep is meant to happen – your body temp starts to drop and melatonin – the sleep hormone that tells your body that it’s bedtime – starts to rise. Your blood pressure drops, your heart rate eases back and your breathing finds a steady beat. Then … sleep. Restful, restorative, glorious sleep. Easy right? Yeah no. Not at all.

As a third of us who are getting less than six hours a night already know, sleep doesn’t always follow the rules. Here are some ways to bring sleep back into your life like it wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

How to get blissful zzz’s.

  1. Establish the association: bed = sleep.

    The brain loves associations. Like, loooves them. If your bed has become the place you toss and turn, worry, and try to wrestle your eyes closed these are the feelings that will be triggered when you settle for sleep – not the restful, peaceful, blissful, exquisite … okay – stopping now. The goal is to break the association between bed and restlessness and have bed trigger feelings of relaxation and calm. To make this happen, the only things that should happen in bed are sleep and sex. Be patient though – this might take time. It took time to build the association so it might take time to undo it. 

  2. If you don’t fall asleep in 20 …

    If you don’t fall sleep in about 20 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room, and do something relaxing for a while until you start to feel sleepy. Try to stay away from screens and go for a puzzle, a book or a mindful colouring book. Staying in bed when you’re struggling to fall asleep will only strengthen the association between bed and restlessness – and you know how that ends up.

  3. Those screens!

    The blue light from screens is interpreted as daylight by receptors in the eye that are there to regulate our internal body clock and tell us when it’s time to go to sleep. Even if the lights are out, staying on a screen – whether it’s texting, emailing, shopping, or reading – will delay sleep. Research has found that people who read e-books release less melatonin (the hormone that helps you fall asleep) so they stay awake for longer. Because they take longer to fall asleep, the next morning they feel less alert than those reading a more traditional book. Particularly for adolescents, screens have been associated with shorter sleep, higher daytime sleepiness and poorer grades. This can happen with as little as 12 minutes exposure to a device. 

  4. A bedtime ritual – (because sometimes a little same-same is good for you).

    Find a bedtime ritual will help your body get into sleep mode. Work out one that feels lovely for you – a warm shower, a relaxation exercise – whatever will give your brain a gentle warning that it’s time to wind down. 

  5. Go to bed at a consistent time.

    Researchers have found that a consistent bedtime is one of the most important factors in getting a good sleep. Try to go to bed at the same time every night. This will work better for you than having some late nights and some trying to catch up. Try to make your bedtime one that will let you get at least seven hours consistently.

  6. Get the worries out of you.

    Your body knows how to sleep, and it wants to, but your mind can get in the way. If bedtime is like a welcome mat for worries, regrets, guilt – anything that’s hard to let go of, get them out of you. Do this by either writing in a journal or by making a list of the things you need to remember. Let your mind know those things it’s hanging on to have been taken care of for the night.

  7. Oh, so this is what ‘relaxed’ feels like.

    Your body can hold stress and tension without you realising it. By tensing and relaxing your body, the contrast between the two can help you to feel the difference, making it easier for your body to find calm. Here’s how. Lay down and close your eyes. Pull your toes up towards the top of you and hold them there a count of ten. Relax for 10. Tense for ten. Repeat this about ten times.

  8. Slow the beats.

    Research has found that listening to relaxing classical music for 45 minutes before bed can significantly improve sleep quality. can trigger your brain to synchronize your heart rate with the musical beat, and classical does this best. Music or songs that have string based instruments with minimal brass and percussion can calm the sympathetic nervous system, and decrease anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate. Music around 60 beats a minute seems to bring on a relaxed state by causing heart rate to synchronise with the music. (60 beats a minute is at the lower end of resting heart rate.) The music used in the study, was a collection of classical music including popular pieces from Baroque to Romantic (The Most Relaxing Classical, 2 CD, Edited by Virgin 1999).  The authors suggest that it may work to bring on sleep by relaxing the muscles and providing a distraction from worrying or stressful thoughts.

    Then there’s this little gem … ‘Weightless’ by Marconi Union is officially ‘the most relaxing song’, according to science. Sound therapists and Manchester band Marconi Union used proven elements of scientific theory to produce the quintessential relaxation track using proven elements of scientific theory. Research by the British Academy of Sound Therapy found that it was able to lower blood pressure, slow heart rate and reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) remarkably. The song begins at 60 beats a minute and gradually slows to around 50, at which time the listener’s heartbeat automatically falls into line with the beat. ‘Weightless’ is eight minutes long but the ride is a blissful one. You can listen to it here (but make sure you’re not driving while you’re listening!).

  9. Use your breathing to quiet your nervous system – two ways.

    •   Deep breathing.

    Breathing deeply into the belly helps soothe the nervous system by calming the fight or flight response. If bedtime has become a place of angst, or if this is where your head does its very best worrying, breathing deeply will initiate the relaxation response. This reverses any of the physiological changes that come with stressful or anxious thoughts. It’s an instinctive response so you don’t have to believe it will work, it just will. When you are lying down, breathe and feel your belly and feel it rise with every breathe in. Feel is fall with every breath out. Keep repeating until you start to feel settled.

    •  4-7-8 Breathing

    According to Harvard-trained physician, Dr Andrew Weil, the 4-7-8 breathing technique can bring on sleep in under a minute. Here’s how it works: 

    Place the tip of your tongue behind the top of your front teeth, and keep it there for the exercise.
    >> Completely exhale through your mouth with a ‘whoosh’ sound.
    >> Close your mouth and breathe in through your nose for a count of four
    >> Hold for seven
    >> Exhale through your mouth, with a whoosh sound, for a count of eight.
    >> Repeat the above sequence three more times (inhale for 4, hold for 7, exhale for 8).

    If you have trouble holding your breath, it’s okay to speed things up a little but make sure you keep the ratio of 4:7:8. (Try 2 : 3.5 : 4, for example.) You’ll feel your heart rate slow as you do this. By controlling your breathing your body is getting the oxygen it needs, and getting rid of the carbon dioxide it doesn’t. See Dr Raymond Weil demonstrating the technique here.

  10. Acupressure yourself. 

    According to Bastyr University, these acupressure techniques will help you to fall asleep – and they can be done at home. Here are the options:

    •  Apply a minute of gentle pressure to the small depression between your eyebrows, just above your nose.

    •  Press the small depression on top of your foot between your first and second toes. Keep pressing for a few minutes until you feel a dull ache.

    •  On the bottom of your feet, find the point that is about about one third back from the tips of your toes, and press for a few minutes.

    •  Massage both of your ears for about a minute.

  11. Let your mind relax mindfully.

    According to the National Sleep Foundation these mindful techniques will bring calm to your body and mind:

    •  Mindful breathing.

    When you close your eyes, pay attention to your breathing. Feel the air coming into to you, through you, down into your belly and then feel yourself exhale. As you do this, check your body for anywhere you feel tension. Imagine that tension leaving your body with your exhale. If your mind tries to grab on to a worry or a thought, imagine yourself letting it go and gently bring your attention back to your breathing.

    •  Mindful sensing.    

    A racing, traveling mind is the enemy of restful sleep. By focusing on your senses in the now, this can keep your mind wandering to the what-ifs that haven’t happened yet, or overthinking the things that have already happened. Feel the breath moving into you. Listen to the sounds around you. Feel the sheets against your body. What can you smell in the air around you? 

  12. Moderate exercise.

    Research has shown that moderate aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality and reduce anxiety in people who were struggling to fall asleep. In the study, the moderate exercise was 50 minutes on a treadmill at a moderate pace. The pace will be different for everyone and will depend on fitness.

  13. Increase your fibre intake.

    Low fibre and high saturated fat and sugar have been associated with lighter, less restorative sleep and more sleep wakings. A study with a bunch of adults in the normal weight range found that when they amped up their fiber, they had more time in deep, or slow wave sleep. Higher fat was linked with less slow wave sleep and increased sugar was associated with waking up more during sleep. People fell asleep quicker after eating meals lower in saturated fat and higher in protein. 

And finally …

What you do during the day as well as what you do immediately before sleep can all impact on how easily you fall asleep as well as the quality of sleep you have. A few tweaks can make a difference between tossing and turning and blissful zzz’s. 

18 Comments

Phyllis

I have tried many many sleep tips but so far I haven’t found one that is very helpful for me. At times I go 24 hours with no sleep. Would really appreciate all the help you can give me Thanks

Reply
simon

WOW,
Just listened to the Marconi Union track on you tube within the first 10 seconds I could feel parts of me relaxing!
Who needs Chemicals? Will try this tonight alongside the Amitryptaline and see how I get on!

Reply
Robert

Great tips Karen. My favorite drink before bed is banana tea.

I cut off ends of a banana and put it in the hot water, without any peeling or chopping. I leave it for 10 min. and then filter the tea and let it cool.

It’s effective because banana contains magnesium which calms your body and relaxes your muscles.

Thought I share, It works wonders for me. 🙂

Reply
Peris Mukuru

Karen, these are very helpful tips and very easy to apply, especially “breathing in and out” i will try all of them. I love sleep. thank you.

Reply
Peggy

When I am worried or angry and trying to sleep, the thing that helps most is doing several rounds of the yoga posture, Lions breath.

Reply
Jasmin Beck

Hi Karen,
LOVE the sleep article as Iam only getting 2 hours max. a night and am on verge of either a full blown manic episode or complete collapse.
Have been doing all of the thihgs you have mentioned and you are 100% right according to the sleep specialists.
I am waiting to hear date for my appointment with Sleep Specialist.
Also, FANTASTIC update article on anxiety- have passed it onto social worker here to try to assist staff in their understanding of mental health which AIN’s aren’t trained in.
Thank you for what you bring into our lives- Earth Angel.
Jasmin?

Reply
Steph

Thanks, Karen, this is very helpful.
I’m wondering if you might be able to list some 60-beat classical music sleep pieces?
thanks

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Steph I’m so pleased the article is helpful. I’ve updated the post with the music they used in the study and also another one that science says is ‘the most relaxing song’.

Reply

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Let them know …

Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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