Did you know that your brain is more active when you’re asleep than when you’re awake? The brain and the blood vessels that supply it work together at night to do maintenance tasks and to actively make sense of what has happened to us in the day. It’s how we learn, connect to other memories about similar situations and prepare ourselves to respond better should something similar happen in future. Poor sleep is implicated in high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and dementia so we need to consider how we can sleep well.
“Sleep hygiene” means making sure that you are set up to sleep well. Avoid looking at screens for an hour before bedtime, don’t eat late, get regular exercise, wind down before bed with a relaxing activity such as reading or having a bath (perhaps with calming Epsom salts and some lavender essential oil drops), keep regular hours, have a cool bedroom, a comfortable bed, avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening, and keep electronic devices and chargers out of your bedroom, to help you sleep better
But we lead stressful lives, don’t we? And it is often fretting and anxious thoughts that disturb our sleep. It is important to make time to relax – it’s part of our essential healthcare. Regular exercise is a great stress buster as well as being good for our physical health. Exercise raises our cortisol level (in a healthy way, as long as it’s not too intense) which stimulates the release of insulin to help transfer glucose into our cells where it can be used as fuel. This improves insulin sensitivity and reduces the level of systemic inflammation in our body, reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Balancing cortisol and insulin helps drop us out of a ‘fight-flight’ state and back into a more neutral or relaxed state. Some forms of exercise, such as running, lead to the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormones, which also help to relax us.
Spending time in nature is also a good way to relax. Even if it’s hard for you to go for a walk in the country or at the coast, just listen to the pink-footed geese honking as they fly over in the autumn, alerting you to look up and marvel at their V formations, connecting you to our fellow creatures. Notice the changing colours of the trees. Reading, spending time with loved ones and meditating can all help to calm you.
And BREATHE! Even taking a few long, slow breaths calms your nervous system and tells your body to relax. Try to take a longer out-breath than in-breath to normalise diaphragm function, so-called 7/11 breathing (that’s quite long though – work up to it!). Or try box breathing for a few minutes – breathe in for 4, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, hold your breath out for 4, repeat. It’s a great way to nod off!
Osteopathy can help improve your sleep in various ways. We can relieve any aches and pains that are disturbing your sleep. We can treat your baby who is disturbing your sleep. We can discuss your bed, pillows and other environmental factors that might be affecting your quality of sleep. Treatment calms your nervous system to relieve your stress, and by listening to you we can help relieve emotional tensions. We can help you think things through, whether it’s work/life balance, relationships or managing all your responsibilities, and discuss healthy behaviours or lifestyle changes to support you to achieving better sleep and lower stress.