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Six ways to improve your sleep hygiene

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If you want to improve your immune system, improve your sleep.

Do you have a sleep routine? Does your exercise program help you sleep?

There are many ways to improve your sleep hygiene and we’ll touch on a few different strategies; however, this article is going to focus on encouraging you to set up a sleep routine with pre-sleep yin stretches.

Firstly, let’s assess if you actually have a sleep disturbance. There are a number of screening tools you could try; here are two:

Did you know a regular exercise program can contribute to more restful sleep?

Choosing to be physically active increases time spent in deep sleep, which is the most restorative sleep phase.

Deep sleep helps to improve immune function, and assists in controlling stress and anxiety—very important when you’re in the middle of recovering from a pandemic

Over the years I’ve worked really hard to develop a good sleep routine.

“Good” as in, I have a few go-to strategies which I can control while I’m living in the fantastic mess.

Mind you, I can’t control the 10-month-old, or the three-year-old who’s suddenly scared of the dark, or the five-year-old who has lost her favourite unicorn lion at 1 am (which was actually on her pillow!).

However, there are some things I can control.

No phone past 8.30 pm

Owning a business during a pandemic makes my mind very active at the most inconvenient times of the day (especially night time—when all is quiet, and I can actually think for myself!).

I find switching off the device helps to ease my forward planning brain.

No drinking water after 6 pm

Three kids in four years has forced the pelvic floor to change my drinking habits before sleep.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) three times a week for 30 minutes

I make sure I don’t program this type of training two hours before bed, although research does indicate that exercise at ANY time of the day or night is better for sleep than no exercise at all.

I guess it depends on what your body needs and how it responds.

Cardiovascular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day

Regular exercise boosts the effect of the natural sleep hormone melatonin. A daily hike is always on my sleep hygiene plan.

Regular 5-10 minute meditation, mindfulness or breathwork

I do this at the same time every night, to prepare my body for deep sleep. It calms my mind.

Plus, the fantastic mess is in bed, so it’s my only chance—Mummy needs this, right?! And it does NOT happen if we don’t schedule it in!

Her Sleep Stretches: Yin style

The last point regarding Yin style stretches is what I’d like to focus on for this column.

Yin stretches can be held anywhere between 1-20 minutes as the fascia (the cling wrap-like connective tissue surrounding all muscles), can take longer to respond to the gentle stress.

I caught up with Kayla from Yoga with Kayla this week and she sums up Yin stretching perfectly:

“Yin yoga is a series of slow, long-held stretches or postures with the added connection of mindfulness and breath awareness. Yin yoga utilises props to make poses more accessible and allows the person to find their ‘edge of stretch’ within their natural range of motion without placing strain on the joints.”

“Yin Yoga doesn’t ask too much of us physically but instead, the challenge comes from maintaining stillness, cultivating patience and being okay with not doing too much at all. Yin yoga, mindfulness and breath awareness can also help us tune into our parasympathetic nervous system (our rest and digest system) where the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered, there is an increase in digestive system activity and the body tries to conserve energy”.

Sounds like the perfect way to end an evening before a deep sleep.

I have a little window of opportunity to do my Yin stretches with three little kids and a business. Some experts believe “stretching doesn’t help”. Even research has proved that that stretching doesn’t improve performance.

Well, those experts don’t live inside my body. I know what my body needs. Again, it goes back to your “why”? I’m not doing this particular stretching routine for functional gains—I’m doing it for sleep hygiene purposes.

Here’s my Her Sleep Stretches routine:

1) Thoracic mobilisation, side-lying position

2) Gluteal muscle stretch

3) Reclined Butterfly Pose

4) Puppy dog pose

5) Hamstring stretch

You can print the PDF here

I’d recommend holding the five stretches for five mins. I’ve worked up to these long holds—I’d suggest starting with a 1-minute edge of stretch hold and add 30 seconds every 4-5 days.

Other sleep hygiene methods you could try

  • Early morning sun exposure (sets circadian rhythms).
  • Look into the environment: not too hot or cold, quality mattress, make sure there’s low to no light or noise.
  • Regular sleep and wake times.
  • If you haven’t gone to sleep within 20-30 minutes, get up and try again in 30 minutes.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine.
  • Avoid daytime napping.

Have you found your sleep quality improves your immune system?

What is your pre-sleep routine?

Do you need to change your night-time plan in order to set your deep sleep up for success?

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