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In the womb, we gently rock in a bubble of amniotic fluid.  As mothers, we rock our babies to sleep, in our arms or in a cradle.  When my babies wouldn’t sleep, we’d often put them in a car seat, and let the gentle motion of the car ride, put them to sleep.

And scientists have finally confirmed that gentle rocking (think hammock or waterbed)  propels us into sleep faster, and allows us to sleep more deeply. The Better Brain Life  blog quotes Dr. Sophie Schwartz, one of the researchers:  “The use of rocking to soothe sleep thus belongs to our repertoire of adaptive behaviors in which a natural mechanism of sleep … has been harnessed in the simplest manner since immemorial times,” wrote Dr. Schwartz and her colleagues in the report of their findings, published on June 21 in the journal Cell Biology.

There’s no question that some environments allow for better sleeping than others.  Imagine trying to sleep in a bright room, with a lumpy bed, and a jack hammer working away outside your window.  (Although I suspect my husband could do that with no problem.) It’s important to create the proper environment for sleeping, and that not only includes the absence of lighting and loud noise, and the proper bedding, it also includes creating a bedtime ritual for yourself.

It’s long been proven that children do better with a consistent bedtime ritual.  A warm bath, brush your teeth, get into fresh jammies and have mom sing you a lullaby or read you a story (or two or three.)  Adults would do well to create one as well. If you can, try going to sleep at the same time every night. Check your calendar for the next day and prepare ahead so you start the day without stress.  Wind down the day with soft music, or a bit of quiet reading. This is not the time to answer some more emails, watch the news (who decided that 11 PM was a good time for news?) or start on a new project. By doing the same thing night after night, you’re signaling your brain that it’s time for sleep.

My nightly ritual includes my nightly face ablutions, reading, and a sleep sound machine set to rain.  (And ok, I admit it, sometimes a bit of the Cooking Channel.)

Can’t get to sleep?  Try taking deep slow breaths, or doing a relaxation exercise or meditation.  Visualize a calm, peaceful place and then starting at your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.  If you still find yourself wide awake, don’t fight it.  Make yourself a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, daydream about something pleasant in a dimly lit space, and then let yourself drift off into sweet slumber.

I wonder if someone will make a king-sized cradle?

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