By Jo Joiner

You’re dog tired, it’s Sunday night and your mind is racing. Upcoming deadlines, your mental to-do list, things you got done…but did you do them as well as you could have?

You try to switch off the worries of work by focussing on home life. But then you’re thinking about the piles of laundry and whether you have all the ingredients to make the kids lunches in the morning?

By now, you’ve been in bed for an hour and sleep is not on the agenda. Your monkey mind is leaping from thought to thought, worry to worry. How do you get it to slow down, so that sleep can sneak up and take you away?

Here are some ideas for improving your go-to-bed routine and calming the monkey mind. Some will work better for you than others, so try a few to see what has the best effect.

Preparing the way for a calm sleep

Light tells your body when it’s time to be active and when to rest

  • Expose yourself to sunshine or bright light during the day
  • Reduce bright light and blue light (from phones, laptops etc) two hours before bedtime

Exercise and rest are both important factors to aid sleep

  • Long naps during the day will upset your internal clock, negatively affecting your ability to sleep when you need to
  • Sticking to regular get up times and bedtimes helps create a sleep cycle
  • Get daytime exercise to tire your body for night time
  • Relax before bed – enjoy a bath or meditate to calm your body and mind

Food and drink can disrupt your slumber

  • Avoid caffeine, especially later in the day as it stimulates your nervous system
  • In the two hours before bedtime avoid heavy meals and liquids
  • Avoid alcohol, as it interferes with your natural melatonin process, which disrupts your sleep

Sleep environments can be sleep enhancing

  • Minimize light and noise while you are sleeping, although it can help to play a soothing white noise soundscape of a babbling brook or gently falling rain
  • Set your alarm clock or phone clock brightness to dim
  • Keep the room a consistent, comfortable temperature (around 20°C) – a wide-open window might be lovely as you drift off, but freezing in a few hours

Supplements, smells and salts can help your body prepare for sleep

  • Sleep-support supplements taken before bed may help to calm your body and mind
  • Lavender, a naturally calming herb, can be used as an essential in a diffuser                          
  • A hot bath sprinkled with magnesium bath salts (Epsom salt) may improve relaxation

Quietening your monkey mind

When you’re snuggled up in bed, but your mind has yet to unwind for the day, there are various sleep-inducing mind games and activities you can try.

Read a book

  • E-readers without blue light are a good way to calm your racing thoughts and allow your imagination to kick in. Reading also uses the muscles in your eyes, which results in your eyes getting tired and wanting to close – one step closer to sweet sleep.
  • Listen to an audiobook – most apps have a sleep setting to automatically stop playing at the end of the chapter or in a set amount of time.
  • Relax listening to a sleep story – with a voiceover that’s slow and calm, sleep stories are designed to stimulate your imagination and pave your way to sleep. Spotify has lots of them.

Play a brain game

  • Cognitive shuffling: You’ve probably heard of counting sheep to try and fall asleep, but given its results haven’t been overly encouraging, you might like to try cognitive shuffling instead. Cognitive shuffling is a simple brain game that uses random words and images. This randomness causes the processing part of your brain to lose interest and relax. Start the game by thinking of an emotionally neutral five letter word. Then visualise as many new words as you can, beginning with the first letter of your starting word. Once you’ve exhausted the first letter, move on to the second. Repeat until you’ve spelled out your starting word or are fast asleep.
  • A-Z games: Another game to focus your non-sleeping energy on is the A – Z game. Think of a wide subject like animals or foods – something that interests you. Then work your way through the alphabet naming animals/foods. For example aardvark, bear, cat… or artichoke, banana, capsicum… Try to go all the way to zebra and zucchini, or blessed sleep.
  • Maths games: If numbers are more your thing, you could count backwards from 100 in ones, twos or three. Or play the double up game – start with 1, double it = 2, double it = 4. Keep going too infinity and beyond!
  • Memory games. Pick a topic from your own past, like a family tree if you have a large family; traditions, if your family has them; travel, if you’ve had lots of trips. Use your memory to list out all your relatives, every tradition your family is fond of or every place you’ve been to.

If nothing seems to work and you’re still struggling to get to sleep, it might be time to call your doctor and rule out any medical causes.

Maybe it’s time for a new bed? If your mattress is feeling too hard, too saggy or too lumpy, it could be time for a new pocket spring mattress or even an electric bed. Dreamland is a leading New Zealand designer, manufacturer and importer of quality mattresses. You can’t buy directly from us, but you can try our mattresses at stockists throughout New Zealand.

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