Science has shown that sleep plays a critical role in bone health. However, from my patients’ experiences — as well as a few nights spent tossing and turning myself — I’ve also learned that getting a good night’s sleep may be easier said than done for many of us.
When we’ve been having trouble sleeping night after night, it becomes a habit to crawl into bed every night already stressed that we won’t be able to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, while this worry is understandable, it may be the very stress that is keeping us awake. That’s because sustained stress increases cortisol levels, which in turn tell our bodies to stay alert — and awake.
One of the first ideas I introduce to my patients who have trouble sleeping is the idea of developing a focused, positive intention to sleep soundly through the night.
Here are some ways to do so
- Visualize sleeping through the night and waking up refreshed in the morning.
- As you lie down, become aware of the relaxing sensation of your bed, sheets, and pillows — notice how good they feel and take a deep stretch. On cold winter nights I love getting into a warm bed, so I heat it up with an electric blanket (unplugging before I get in). I take time to appreciate the warmth and I bask in a feeling of well being.
- Take calming breaths deep into the belly and intentionally let go of any thoughts or worries. Imagine them floating off into space and know they’ll be fine for the night to be picked up tomorrow — if you choose.
- Uncover hidden stimulants. Most women with sleep issues are already avoiding coffee and chocolate because of the caffeine content. These women would also do well to pay close attention to reducing intake of decaffeinated coffee and tea, mate, coffee-flavored ice cream and yogurt, and some sodas — all of which may contain enough caffeine to disturb sleep.
- Watching TV or reading horror or high-intensity novels right before bed can also be agitating and interfere with sleep.
Positive intentions for sleep can begin well before bedtime. I have recently begun studying with a Qi gong master to learn how practicing mindfulness can help normalize our body rhythms, as well as clear and calm the mind throughout the day.
I also set aside the half hour before climbing into bed for relaxing activities. Some of us need as little as 15 minutes to wind down, while others benefit from up to an hour of rest/relaxation time, for activities such as a hot bath or meditation. And what is considered relaxing can be different for each one of us — so take some time to find what works best for you.