How to Sleep Well

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A couple of weeks ago week I introduced to you Dr Rangan Chatterjee, a GP and author of ‘The Four Pillar Plan’. I talked about how to relax and hopefully that’s given you some good ideas. This week I want to tell you what he says about how to get a good night’s sleep.

According to him, waking up feeling refreshed is a good general barometer of overall health, but I know that many people struggle with this. He believes that waking up at the same time, give or take 30 minutes, without an alarm, is a good indicator that your body’s intrinsic biological rhythms are working well. I am lucky as this happens to me, but Mr Simple complains as he likes to sleep in. Unfortunately I feel like death warmed up when I do that. Most days I get up and go and make a cup of tea. This helps to get Mr Simple going in the morning.

Not being able to drop off within thirty minutes of trying means that there is likely to be something in your lifestyle that is un-training your body’s own natural ability to sleep. I think Mr Simple is jealous of my ability to fall asleep almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. He would say that he struggles to get to sleep, because as soon as I do so, I start snoring and he can’t get to sleep due to the noise level.

What then are Dr Chatterjee’s tips for a better night’s sleep. Firstly…

Create an environment of absolute darkness

Try to keep your bedroom completely dark and free of televisions or e-devices. One of the worst things you can do in the hour or two before bed is look at your smartphone or tablet. What goes for e-devices also goes for television. Turn it off at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. I’ve never really understood the idea of having a TV in the bedroom. Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a bookworm and so bed is for reading and not watching TV.

Embrace morning light

Spend at least twenty minutes outside every morning. Even on the dullest days we’re still exposing ourselves to light at a higher amount outdoors than if we were inside. This is not something that I am good at. My excuse is always that if the weather was better I would do so. Also, our patio area at the back of the house is a bit tatty at the moment and not a pleasant place to sit. Once it is looking better I will have no excuse.

Have a cup of tea outside in the morning

Tips to help you embrace morning light:

Have your morning tea or coffee in the garden or next to a window

Don’t get your newspaper delivered; collect it on foot.  My frugal streak would say not to buy a paper at all, but just go for a walk. My grandfather used to go to the local shop every morning to buy his paper. Whenever we stayed with my grandparents we would go out with him to the shop in the morning.

If you must drive in the morning, leave the car a ten-minute walk away from your destination.

If you shop in the morning park as far as possible from the supermarket entrance.

Get off the bus half a mile from your destination and walk the remaining distance.

Consider getting a dog and taking it for a walk every morning. This is lovely on a summer’s morning, but I’m writing this on a particularly wet day in July and the thought of having to take a dog out in that is not something that I would look forward to. I do know though that when we looked after a friend’s dog for a week last August I went out twice a day no matter what the weather.

Try to take a morning break and go for a short walk outside. This obviously depends on where you work. Some offices are not in particularly good locations for walking, but if yours is, try to spend a few minutes outside.

Create a bedtime routine

No matter how late you go to bed, no matter if the next day is a Monday or a Sunday, always get up at the same time. If you did stay up late the night before and are still feeling tired in the morning, it is worth trying to catch up a with a nap later on in the day.

Dr Chatterjee’s ideal night time routine

Make sure that all vigorous exercise is done by 6.30pm.

By 8.30pm turn off your computer and mobile phone.

Watch a bit of TV, but make sure it’s relaxing and do some light stretching at the same time. I watched the film ‘Everest’ a few months ago; a true story about a climbing accident and couldn’t sleep as a result of thinking about the trip leader who had to say goodbye to his pregnant wife as he was going to die on the mountain.

Alternatively, sit and listen to relaxing music or do some deep breathing in silence.

Drinks should be non-caffeinated.

Go to bed around 9.30pm. Mr Simple thinks that this is super early, but it’s when I think about going upstairs. It takes time to brush my teeth, wash my face and then I have half an hour or so to read, so lights out is not until after 10pm.

Have the bedroom window open a little. Central heating can make the bedroom too warm. It is better to have a cool bedroom and snuggle under a duvet.

Read next to a dim light until ready to fall asleep. I have a sunrise/sunset lamp which I absolutely love, mainly for the mornings as it gradually increases the amount of light in the room over 30 minutes. It is so long since I was woken by the alarm in a pitch black room and had to tell Mr Simple to cover his eyes as I switched on the bedside lamp and blinded us both. I have also used it at night when Mr Simple is away as I can go to sleep next to a dim light rather than in darkness, worrying about who might be breaking in to murder me.

Manage your commotion

Minimise any activity that will raise emotional tension before bed. Make it a cast-iron rule that you do not discuss emotive subjects in the evenings or crack into a new work task.

Tips to manage your commotion

Don’t watch the news, a thriller or any similar commotion-causing programme before bed.

Don’t discuss financial or stressful family matters

Make it a rule not to check work emails in the ninety minutes before bed. In an ideal world I would say don’t check work emails after 5pm.

Focus on relaxing exercise in the evening such as yoga or light stretching.

Meditation before bed can help you quieten your mind.

Educate your family and friends about your evening routine.

Make an entry into a gratitude journal before bed.

Enjoy your caffeine before noon

Ensure that any caffeine you do choose to consume is taken before lunchtime. When I started taking a flask of coffee with me to the office in order to save money, as there was usually some left in the afternoon, I was drinking it and had several sleepless nights as a result.

Tips to reduce your caffeine intake

Drink non-caffeinated herbal tea to get you past your 3pm slump.

Avoid decaffeinated coffee as many brands still contain trace amounts.

Drink sparkling water in place of your caffeinated beverage. Not sure I agree – just drink tap water -it’s cheaper.

Reduce your sugar intake. This will actually give you more energy and reduce the likelihood of craving a caffeine pick-me-up in the afternoon.

Drink camomile tea in the evening. This can be a great caffeine-replacement as well as promoting relaxation before sleep.

So that’s it. How do you sleep? Could you try some of these tips to help you feel more refreshed when you wake up in the morning? Do you have any other advice for how to get a good night’s sleep? I would love to know them. If you want to find out more don’t forget to check out Dr Chatterjee’s book.

Ideas for relaxing

The by-line of this blog is ‘Ideas for simple living, saving money and being well’ and I feel that recently I haven’t talked enough about being well. With that in mind I decided that I would introduce you to Dr Rangan Chatterjee. Dr Chatterjee is a general practitioner (GP), and you may know him from the BBC One series ‘Dr in the House’. The basic format of the programme was that he would stay with people who were suffering certain medical conditions, which were often caused by their lifestyle. Once he had made his assessment he would then ‘prescribe’ certain activities, foods and therapies in order to treat their conditions. I really liked the approach that he took, looking at the causes of the medical problems rather than just treating the symptoms and helping people to make permanent lifestyle changes to address their difficulties.

I then started following his podcast in which he interviews people from all areas of the wellbeing spectrum, from other doctors to sleep experts and chefs. His interviews often lead me to discover some really interesting individuals and then I can explore their ideas and maybe even buy their books.

Dr Chatterjee has himself written two books. So far, I have only read one, ‘The Four Pillar Plan’. This is an affiliate link (my first one), so if you click on here and purchase the book I will get some money. Alternatively, do as I did and get it out of the library, but if you decide to buy a copy it would be nice if you remember where you heard about it first.

According to him ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ tells you how to:

‘Relax, eat, move and sleep your way to a longer, healthier and happier life. This book is the solution to help you feel better than you ever have before.’

This is a pretty steep promise, but I do think that it lives up to it. The book gives lots of simple and easy-to-implement advice about how to make small changes to your life in order to see big improvements to your health. I got it out of the library at first, but liked it so much that I decided to buy it. I thought that I would take you through the four chapters – relax, eat, move and sleep – over my next few blog posts to give you some tips on how you can improve these areas of your life.

So here goes….

RELAX

According to Dr Chatterjee the health problems of the majority of patients that he sees are driven entirely by their lifestyle. The source of their problem is the way they’re choosing to live and their conditions are often exacerbated by the fact that they’re very busy. In order to address this he suggests the following:

Regular Me Time

Every day, for at least 15 minutes, enjoy some time for you. It must not be an activity that involves any electronic device. Examples of phone-free me-time you might consider are:

  • Having a bath
  • Going for a walk
  • Sitting in a café having a drink
  • Sitting on a park bench relaxing
  • Reading a magazine
  • Reading a book
  • Singing
  • Playing music
  • Gardening
  • Cooking with your favourite album playing, or in silence
Focusing on the positives can improve your state of mind

Keep a gratitude journal

This is a popular tool which I have come across in a lot of literature. Dr Chatterjee suggests that every night before you go to sleep, you write a list of all the things that have gone well for you that day and what you’re grateful for. He believes that this can be really effective at changing your thoughts to a more positive outlook.

Practise stillness every day

I have written about the benefits of meditation before, but that can seem quite daunting. Here Dr Chatterjee has some very simple and easy suggestions for creating a small period of calm in one’s day. He recommends making time to practise stillness for at least five minutes daily. A simple way to create a similar state of mind to that of meditation is through simple breathing exercises. He says that when your out-breath is longer than your in-breath, you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which you can think of as your relaxation mode.

Stillness interventions you might think of trying:

  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga breathing practices such as breathing in through left nostril for four, holding for four and breathing out through the right
  • 3-4-5 breathing: breath in for 3 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and breathe out for 5 seconds.
  • Five minutes of colouring in

Reclaim your dining table

Dr Chatterjee states that in the last few years the importance of social connection to physical health has started to become clear. In order to increase our social time with loved ones he recommends eating one meal a day at the table, in company, without your devices. He believes that we’ve evolved as tribal creatures living happily in large groups so the brain interprets social isolation as a major problem. Apparently the levels of the stress hormone cortisol tend to be higher in lonely people, so we need to make more social connections with others.

There we have it, chapter one. How do you relax? I find cooking, listening to my favourite comedies on the radio or pottering in the garden are times when I can forget about my work day and feel relaxed.

Let me know your thoughts on his recommendations or maybe try a few of his suggestions and see how you get on. I think in our busy world we all need to find time to relax or and to make the most of the time that we do have to cut off from the pressures of the day.