THE SENSES OF SLEEP
Trouble sleeping? Focus in on all five senses to ease yourself along the journey to dreamland
The results are in and the studies all say the same thing: the light that streams from electronic devices has a negative effect on sleep, circadian rhythms and morning alertness levels. Smartphones, tablets and laptops all emit a blue light – beneficial in daylight hours, as it boosts attention and improves your mood, but bad news after sundown, as it causes the brain to stop producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, which tells the brain it’s bedtime. Apple offers its ‘Night Shift’ setting, which makes the colour of the display warmer and can be scheduled to turn on automatically. Android has a similar ‘Night Light’ function, and most other brands have some form of ‘night mode’ to allow you to check your phone without disrupting your body’s sleep preparation.
Incorporating a certain smell into your bedtime routine over time can make you naturally drowsy, as the brain learns to associate the fragrance with sleep. There are also specific scents that are known for their slumberinducing properties. ‘Certain essential oils can help us to relax and improve the quality of our sleep,’ explains Anne Murray, an aromatherapy expert at Aromatherapy Associates. ‘One of the most widely studied is lavender, which has a long history of use for reducing anxiety and helping insomniacs. Studies show that it can lower your blood pressure, reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and have a generally calming effect on the nervous system.’ Other well-known essential oils that contribute to sleep include sandalwood and chamomile. Try burning Neom’s ‘Tranquillity’ candle from its ‘Scent to Sleep’ range (£45; neomorganics.com) – a blend of 19 essential oils – two hours before you want to nod off, for a nightly hit of English lavender, sweet basil and jasmine.
What you put in your body at the end of the day is important when it comes to getting a solid slumber. ‘Try to eat your evening meal at around 7pm – it gives your system time to process everything efficiently, so that during sleep, your body can focus on rest and replenishment,’ says Lily Simpson, founder of The Detox Kitchen. Dan Parr, co- founder of Clipper Tea, recommends a nightly brew: ‘the act of drinking a cup of tea at around the same time each night can act as a psychological trigger for wind-down in preparation for sleep’. Try Clipper’s ‘Snore & Peace’ infusion, which contains lemon balm, lavender and chamomile (£2.25 for 20 bags, clipper-teas.com).
Lying in bed can be the only time the mind is able to wander, so it’s not surprising that it can be difficult to switch off. Having something relaxing to focus on can help to calm your thoughts – which is why reading in bed is so meditative. However, upon closing the book and shutting your eyes, the brain can often re-awaken. Enter the podcast. There are many sleep-inducing shows available: tune in to ‘Radio Headspace’ to drift off to talks on mindfulness, altruism and creativity ( headspace.com), try ‘Meditation Minis’ for short guided meditations to calm anxiety and negative thinking (meditationminis.com), or head to ‘Sleep With Me Podcast’, which sends you to sleep with stories that get progressively more boring (sleepwithmepodcast.com).
Physically preparing the body for sleep will enable you to drift off that much more quickly. James Reeves, teacher at London practice Triyoga and specialist in Yoga Nidra – which translates as ‘ Yogic Sleep’ – recommends the Uttanasana ‘wall hang’ as a pre-bedtime stretch. ‘Start with your heels a foot’s length away from a wall, with your hips, upper back and the back of your head touching the wall behind you,’ he explains. ‘Begin a slow roll down through the spine so that the head hangs forward, then the shoulders, and then your upper body hanging from your hips (which are resting against the wall). Bend your knees on the way. Once your head is low, let out three long ‘ahh’ sounds – the slower the better. Roll back up just as slowly. This will reduce your blood pressure and prepare the body for sleep’ (triyoga.co.uk ).
‘The act of drinking a cup of tea at around the same time each night can act as a psychological trigger for wind-down in preparation for sleep’