Sleeping well must be one of the most severely undervalued gifts a person can have. It’s not til you spend a few nights tossing and turning unable to sleep, or waking in a sweat with a panicked dream and then lying worrying that you realise how valuable that eight or seven or six hours a night is. And it is scary how often one sleepless night can lead to another.
This year, especially, we need our sleep more than ever. In terms of keeping fit and fighting off the usual suspects like colds and flu, sleep is invaluable. Sleep is when our mind and body repairs itself, and when we build up resistence to infection. Sleep is our chance to be better and stronger in the morning. It also cradles our mental health, giving us valuable resources to dip into when stress hits.
Actually, mothers can probably tell you exactly how important sleep is: those first few days/months/years when Baby and then Toddler has no grasp on what bedtime means, or why Mummy doesn’t want to play at 2 in the morning when they’re awake and smiling, full of life…. well, she may drag herself to the cotside in the early hours without complaining, but the price will be paid the next afternoon, when mind and body work separately and neither are quite in the room. That, I used to find, was when I most needed to treat myself as a toddler. I would cancel any plans for the afternoon, tuck everyone into their respective beds or lie down with my preschoolers occupied by a game or TV show (the sign of a really good bad mother is judicious use of the electronic baby sitter) and grab myself a nap. 10 minutes could be enough: 40 minutes was better. And a promise to go to bed early that night.
At times of illness and stress, my body has always craved more sleep. I handle sleeplessness badly, as anyone who knows me will agree. It’s like Dr Jekyll’s potion, except the change isn’t instantaneous, it takes a couple of days. Too many late nights followed by early mornings and I grow short tempered, irritable and snappish. That’s no good at any time of the year, and especially not at Christmas.
So, how do we go about making sure we get a decent level of sleep over the festive period?
- Keep a careful guard over your diary: too many late nights in a row will play havoc with your body clock. Likewise, getting up to see the dawn on Midwinter works if you’re usually up at that time, but won’t work if you sleep in every other day.
- Establish a regular rhythm and ritual to your evening. Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary has great advice on setting one up: Clear your mind with a brain dump, identify the three essential activities you need to do the next day, identify three things you’re truly grateful for and have your evening routine set with intention. Start getting ready for bed at the same time, disconnect from the outside world by turning off screens, spend time looking after yourself and sleep.
- Keep your bedroom slightly cooler than the rest of the house. We sleep best in a room that is around 16 to 18 degrees Centigrade, and any warmer than that increases the risk of overheating and our oxygen levels dropping.
- Avoid rich food, alcohol or caffeine in the hours before bed. Switch to a caffeine free tea, or try a gentle herb tea. Surprisingly, bananas can boost the quality of our sleep, as can almonds and turkey. Separately, not together, of course.
- A warm bath boosts your chances of sleeping well, as well as providing a way to absorb something lavender scented. Use lavender oil or a good quality lavender bath essence and relax in the water. If you have no time for a bath, or you prefer showers, then use lavender pillow spray to boost your mood and lavender hand or body lotion as well.
- As far as possible, keep your bedroom for sleeping and sex, nothing else. If you do have a desk in the corner, make sure you can close it and cover it up at night time if you’re struggling to sleep. Your aim is to create a clean environment ready to sleep in.
- If noise is your issue and you wake to every creak, invest in either a pair of earplugs to block out the noise, or find a replacement noise. My friend has tinnitus and struggles to sleep without some white noise to block out the sound in his ears. Me, I listen to stories or podcasts as I sleep. Nigel Slater is ideal.
And, finally, don’t feel guilty if you can’t get to sleep. Get up and make a warm drink, or eat a banana. Read a little, knit or crochet a mindful project: something repetitive, nothing complex or requiring a pattern. Writing down your worries can help, and starts the sleep ritual off again. Wake up at your usual time, though, and start again the next evening. Eat well, drink alcohol in moderation and try to get a little exercise in during the day.
At Christmas the temptation to stay up all night can be irresistible. Late night parties have to be done, and sometimes if you have a visitor that you haven’t seen in ages, the chat lasts way past sensible o’clock. Enjoy, indulge in a late night just as you might a rich meal or one drink too many. Memories are made of moments like these. But remember to balance yourself for it on a different day by an early night, or an afternoon nap as long as you know it won’t stop you sleeping later. Moderation in all things, even sleep.
Daily Reading: Sleeping Well by Beyond Blue. This is an Australian Mental Health charity, and many of their practical advice pages are useful for people no matter what level their mental health is at.
Daily Book: Destination Simple by Brooke McAlary. It’s a short, simple read, but effective at explaining how and why to establish simple rituals that bookend your day and clear your head.
Self Care Act for Today: Set up your sleep ritual. Make a commitment to yourself to start going to bed an hour before you usually sleep. Turn off your screens, take a bath or rub lotion into your skin, spend 15 minutes writing your Three Things and Gratitude lists, read or listen to a story and sleep. Take some time to tidy your bedside table, clean your bedroom and change your bedding. Today is your chance to get into a good sleep pattern before the heavyweight Christmas actually comes.
How to Hygge the British Way is my gift to the world. I don’t get paid for writing it, I’m not in it for the kudos, financial rewards, to become an influencer, work with brands or otherwise make any money from the blog. That’s why there are no ads, and any products I mention and recommend have either been gifted or bought by me with my everyday wages.
I do get a couple of pennies each time someone buys from the Amazon links on my page, as an Amazon Affiliate, but otherwise if you’d like to support me, I like to give something back in return. That’s why I write books. You can find a full list of my books at my Author’s Page on Amazon, but especially recommended for this time of year are:
A Self Care Christmas: A short ebook on keeping Christmas simple and making sure it doesn’t overwhelm.
Celebrating a Contagious Christmas: Available in ebook and paperback, it’s about making this year a festival of Hope.
Happier: Probably my most personal book, it’s the story of how I used hygge and the little rhings in life to help boost my happiness. I still go back and reread to remind myself what I need to do to be a happy human.
Cosy Happy Hygge: Setting up a rhythm to life and rituals to enjoy it to make for a more balanced life that handles waves and storms better.
I wish you all a Merry Christmas, however we get to celebrate it this year, and a Happy, Healthy and Simple New Year.