Getting better sleep is something that most people want. Whether it is better quality or more sleep, it is common to know someone who struggles falling asleep and staying asleep. For people with a chronic illness, getting good quality sleep can really help your body cope with the stressors of illness.
How does sleep affect us?
Sleep affects us more than just making sure we don’t fall asleep in class or at work the next day. Sleeping well helps your brain work at its best.1 It has been found that while people sleep, their brains form new pathways and organize material from the previous day.1
Sleeping well also helps with physical health. Getting good quality sleep helps heal and repair parts of the body.1 It also helps your immune system stay strong.1
Sleep affects us positively and not getting enough sleep can cause side effects. For example, not getting enough quality sleep can make it harder to make choices throughout the day.1 Poor quality sleep has been linked to "depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior".1 In addition to that, not sleeping well can make it harder to get along with others.1
Tips for quality sleep
Now that we know that we need quality sleep, how do we help our body get that sleep? Today I will list two things that can help you get enough sleep. The first one is to make sure you go to bed and wake up at the same time.1 Even on weekends! I know for me and my husband, Saturday mornings have always been days we have slept in. I have noticed that when I do sleep in, I tend to feel more sluggish and less motivated that day.
The second thing that can help you get enough sleep is creating a wind down routine.1 What is a wind down routine? A wind down routine is a set aside time each evening to give your brain and body the chance to relax.2 Setting aside time each evening for a wind down routine will help signal to your brain and body that sleep is coming soon. You have probably seen or heard about a baby having a nighttime routine. When a parent, or guardian, start to get their baby ready for bed, they often bathe them, give them a bottle, rock them in a rocking chair, play white noise, and turn down the bright lights of the bedroom. These signals are letting the baby know that it is time to go to bed. It may look different, but we can do the same for ourselves.
Tips for a wind down routine
It will take time to figure out what works best for you, but here are some ideas from Nour London as to what can help you wind down at the end of the day.3
- Keep your feet warm. Put on your warmest, fuzziest socks and keep your toes from freezing. I have a pair of socks that I go-to if I am feeling particularly worn down. After only a few minutes of having them, I feel warmer and more comfortable!
- Dim the lights around the house and in the evening. After the sun sets, but my husband and I rarely have overhead lights on. We use lamps or candles to light our house in order to keep our eyes from being overstimulated by the bright light.
- Turn off electronic devices.
- Take a warm bath/shower. Warm showers have shown to relax the body and soothe the mind as well as lower your blood pressure.4
- Have a warm drink. A traditional warm drink that helps release neurotransmitters and hormones associated with well-being and sleep is warm milk. If you are lactose intolerant, you can also have almond milk, valerian tea, chamomile tea, or coconut water.5 Just make sure it doesn't have caffeine.
- Practice meditation. Recent research has shown that mindfulness and meditation can help you fall asleep because it helps you relax.6 As your mind calms, your body calms and it can help you not focus on stress.
- Read a relaxing book. This can be helpful especially if you have turned off your electronics, like the TV, your tablet, or your phone. According to a study by researchers at the University of Sussex in 2009, they found that reading for six minutes reduces stress by 68%.7 If you worry about nightmares, make sure to not read a horror story!
- Write down your thoughts. I learned about this method from a friend. She explained that she felt panicked going to sleep because she was afraid she would forget something important. To help her relax, she would write with a pen and paper all the things that were in her mind. This helped her relax knowing that she wouldn’t forget something because she had it written down.
- Make your bedroom your sanctuary. This isn’t always possible. Not everyone has the privilege of being able to make their bedroom their sanctuary. If you are unable to make your room a sanctuary, there are still ways that you can make it your space. Keep a favorite pillow or spray an essential oil, like lavender, on your sheets. These small touches will help you feel grounded as you get into bed and provide another reminder to your body and mind that it is time for bed.
Getting quality sleep is so important to everyone, especially if you live with a chronic illness. By helping your body and brain know when it is time to go to bed and providing a good nighttime routine, you can help yourself have the best chance of getting quality sleep. Even if it isn’t as long as you would like for it to be.
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