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Sleep is one of the most important factors in physical and emotional health, wellbeing and healing. Due to the importance of healing and recovery, as well as REM sleep requirements, we may need to sleep more if we are recovering from substance misuse. The ultimate aim should be to sleep for as long as possible, preferably without an alarm clock waking us up. However we know that this is not always possible. What you can do, is take steps to ensure that we get the best night’s sleep you can.
Aim for between 8 and 10 hours’ sleep, or as much as your body seems to need. Sleep will be most beneficial if we can minimize interruptions and sleep right through. It will also be more beneficial the closer our sleep cycle is to our circadian rhythm. Ideally, aim to be going to bed for 9pm or 11pm at the latest. Adapt the time you go to bed based on the time you need to be up by. So if you need to be up by 5am try to get to bed by 9pm the night before.
Here are some tips for a good, uninterrupted night’s sleep:
1. Finish eating all meals and snacks by 7pm.
2. Drink sufficient amounts of water and liquid throughout the day, but aim not to drink anything after 8pm (or, even better, 7pm).
3. Don’t drink caffeinated drinks after 4pm.
4. Ensure a regular intake of whole foods, rather than refined foods, to ensure balanced blood sugar levels. Eat a sufficient amount at each meal to satisfy your needs.
5. Make sure your evening meal contains plenty of carbohydrates, such as brown rice, pasta, millet, barley, oats or potatoes. Carbohydrates help us produce lots of melatonin in the evening, which makes us sleepy and promotes deeper sleep.
6. Exercise every day. This could be walking, running, swimming, yoga, tai chi, cycling or going to the gym, for example. Regular exercise helps reduce stress hormones which can keep us awake, and it also boosts serotonin and melatonin production, which helps to improve sleep.
7. Develop a bedtime routine. For example, an hour before bedtime, turn off all television, stressful or loud music or music with a beat, electronic screens and telephones. Change your clothing, lower the lighting and perhaps have a warm bath. Use relaxation techniques like meditation to help you unwind if necessary.
8. Write a journal before bed. An overactive or restless mind will mean we need to spend more time in REM sleep. If we can write down our concerns before bed, it will help us get a more refreshing and relaxing sleep.
9. Once you are in bed, use deep breathing techniques such as the 7/11 breathing technique if you are struggling to sleep. (Breathe in for a count of 7, then breathe out for a count of 11, breathing as deeply into your diaphragm/stomach as you can.) This will promote your body’s natural relaxation response.