Have you ever found yourself staring at the ceiling at 1am with a Taylor Swift song stuck in your head, unable to fall asleep despite feeling so exhausted. Your mind races to think of all the things you need to do the next day, how tired you’ll be, and how the day will unravel in an awful manner. And the anxiety grows and grows.
I’ve been there before and I know it’s a frustrating feeling.
Being unable to fall asleep or stay asleep are symptoms of insomnia. Around one third of Australians experience insomnia at some point in their lives, although only 5% will need professional treatment (1). To discuss diagnosis and treatment options related to insomnia, please consult your health professional.
This blog post will cover two of my favourite tips to help improve your sleep hygiene to help you fall asleep faster, and stay asleep longer.
Throughout the day, many of us are living in the fight or flight mode of the autonomic nervous system, called the sympathetic nervous system. When it comes to falling asleep, we need to bring ourselves down into the rest and digest mode, also known as the parasympathetic nervous system.
1. If you’re looking for a natural supplement to support sleep hygiene, I recommend Neurocalm Sleep by Metagenics to help calm your nervous system. Neurocalm sleep contains California Poppy (125 mg), an herb indigenous to California and used in traditional Western herbal medicine as a sedative and analgesic. California Poppy remains widely popular among herbal practitioners today as a reliable treatment for sleep disorders, especially overexcitement and sleeplessness (2).
2. This next tip helps with both calming the nervous system AND it supports spinal stability, and that is diaphragmatic breathing.
You breathe in and out approximately 20 000 times a day, so it’s a movement pattern you’re going to want to practice! Dr Karel Lewit, considered by many to be “The Father of Manual Medicine” said “if breathing is not normalized—no other movement pattern can be” (and we know that moving better matters ;))
Your diaphragm is a muscle located across the bottom of your lungs and above your stomach. The diaphragm is the main respiratory muscle of the body, but also plays an important role in postural stabilisation of the spine. During inspiration, the diaphragm flattens, and this movement, in coordination with other muscles of the core, creates an intra-abdominal pressure to stabilise the spine.
Diaphragmatic breathing calms you by activating your parasympathetic nervous system, mainly through influence on your vagus nerve, which passes through the diaphragm. A 2010 study found that diaphragm breathing reduced the "fight-or-flight" response of the sympathetic nervous system and could enhance vagal activity (3).
Now that we understand WHY we want to breathe with our diaphragm, let’s go through the HOW.
Diaphragm breathing is an exercise you can do comfortably in your bed.
Lay on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, and breathe in through the nose, and out through your nose. You want to make sure that your belly rises, and that the breath fills all the way down to between your hips. You want to do this for five minutes, or you may even fall asleep before that time is up :) so it’s probably a good idea to set your alarm for the morning before you start this exercise.