Why Creating a Reading Habit was so Important to Me

In the past my relationship with reading has been a bit hit and miss. For the most post I have always enjoyed reading. Somehow I just managed to avoid actually doing it. I found distraction in so many other, seemingly less demanding activities, namely watching television and playing video games. In some cases it would take me three months to finish a novel. I just did not have the discipline to sit myself down and concentrate on reading a book.

I am glad to say that the above is no longer the case. Reading on a daily basis is now something I am fully committed to. It is quite easy for me to identify the point at which this change in mind-set occurred. My attitude towards reading changed around 18 months ago.

Reading became a priority for me when I was suffering from terrible insomnia. It was actually my mother who suggested that reading might help. It was nearing Christmas time and she had bought me the latest book in the Bones series by Kathy Reichs (we had read all of them in our house). She handed me the hardback and told me that it was an early Christmas present.

That night I took myself up to bed and read for well over an hour. At that point my eyes became heavy and I was no longer able to concentrate on the plot line. I decided to call it a night, turned the light off and curled up in my duvet, expecting a sleepless night. Just over six hours later I awoke having had the longest sleep I had managed in weeks. I could have cried. I felt like a totally different person.

Being off of work at that time, I had nothing really that I needed to do during the day. I curled up on the sofa with a (decaf) cup of tea and continued reading. My anxiety was melting away. I no longer had time to sit there and ponder all of the horrible things which may or may not ever happen to me. Now I was too busy as I just had to know who the killer was (the book was a thriller with a murder at the beginning). It only took me a couple of days to get through that first book.

I wouldn’t say that reading was the only thing that helped me at this troubled time (I will be writing many posts on the ways I overcame anxiety, depression and insomnia). Reading did however bring about a change in my attitude. Whereas I felt a lack of enjoyment with other activities, for some reason I did not feel that way towards reading. Today, reading is an important part of my life. In particular, it is a key element in my bedtime routine (which I have written about here: The Importance of Creating a Bedtime Routine).

I have found that reading has made me a more interesting person. I have more to add in conversation and therefore social situations seem less daunting. For example, my friend’s husband is a librarian and we can now have in-depth discussions about our latest reads. My sister enjoys this new-found habit of mine as well. She has a master’s degrees in English literature and is always wanting to recommend new books to me.

Now, I know a lot of people who are keen to get into the habit of reading on a regular basis, but find themselves unable to do so. We have so many distractions in our lives that we convince ourselves that we do not have the time. I am inclined to disagree with this thinking. Personally, I found that once I was into the flow of reading that it became a priority for me. I stopped making excuses and created the time to read.  Specifically I had replaced much of my television-watching with reading.

There are many different ways in which you can make more time for reading, even if it is just ten minutes here and there. Ten minutes a day is over an hour every week. Imagine what you could read and learn about during that time!

I have been having a good think about ways that we can fit a bit of extra reading into our busy days. I’ll be writing about it in my next post: Ways to Find More Time for Reading in Your Day.

For now, thank you for reading this post. Any comments or even book recommendations then please, I would love to hear from you.

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Creating the Perfect Environment for Sleep

When I first started to have issues with my sleep it was a long time before I realised that my sleeping conditions were far from optimal. It took my mother walking in to my bedroom (I lived with my parents at the time) and exclaiming, ‘well, no wonder you can’t sleep!’ It was only at that point that I considered that there might be a problem.

My bedroom was in a very bright room due to it being a loft conversion. Even with the blinds down it was still very light in the evenings. I think my mattress must have been at least ten years old and you could definitely feel it, although I had never considered doing anything about it. I think that was probably my student mindset, not wanting to spend any money on something I had deemed to be non-essential. My room was also very cluttered as I had tried to fit the contents of my old flat into one room at my parent’s house.

With my sleep problems dominating my life I made the decision to make some major changes to my bedroom. I decluttered, rearranged and replaced all in one day. I cannot recommend it enough. As well as finding the process very therapeutic, the changes I had made helped improve my sleep drastically.

As I can confirm from my own experience, our environment can have a profound effect on our mental well-being. When it comes to sleep there are a number of different environmental factors which we should be thinking about. Optimising these can not only help us to fall asleep more quickly but also improve the quality of our sleep. Below is a list of key points you might want to consider when looking at the set-up of your bedroom:

1. Temperature is key – we need to ensure that our bedrooms are the right temperature for sleep. Opening the windows in the hours before bedtime can cool the room down in warm weather. On the other hand a hot water bottle may be required in the winter months. Recently I was told a nifty trick to help sleep during a heatwave. Half-fill your hot water bottle and stick it in the freezer. This then goes in the foot of the bed to cool the bed down.
2. Animal-Free Zone – pet owners may want to consider shutting the pets out of the bedroom. I’ve had to close the door on my two cats on a regular basis as they chase each other around the laminate flooring in the early hours of the morning. Your animals may not like it at first but they will soon get used to sleeping elsewhere. Hopefully you’ll be sleeping that much better that your improved mood will be noticeable to them. When they realise how much happier their owner is then I am sure they will forgive you!
3. Create Darkness – good quality curtains are important but you may want to consider investing in black-out blinds/curtains. Also if you have something like a digital alarm clock then you might want to consider removing that as the screen can generate excess light. Darkness is a key trigger for our bodies to recognise when it is time to go to sleep. Using an eye mask may also be helpful to shut out excess light. I have found that this is particularly helpful in the mornings as it prevents me from waking up too early in the summer months.
4. Say No to Screens – ban technology from the bedroom. Resist the urge to have a television set on the wall and try not to use smartphones/tablets in the bedroom. Even avoid ‘night shift’ mode on things like iPads and iPhones. Your brain will appreciate the break from constant information overload in this digital age. I would recommend reading as a relaxing bedtime alternative.
5. Invest in a Good Mattress – now I know we are not all made of money but a good mattress is important for your health. Not only does it help you with sleep but it is also important for the health of your spine. When I was using my ten year old mattress I could actually feel the springs through the fabric. I took myself down to Ikea and spent £300 on a new mattress (of course I spent an hour testing out all the options in the shop). It was honestly one of the best purchases I have ever made. Investing in your sleep is a wise choice as it is a key element of our health. Poor sleep can have a knock-on effect in every area of our lives. Weigh that up in your mind against the price of a new mattress.
6. Quiet – now sometimes the level of noise is not something we have control over, for example living near a busy road. It is surprising how quickly we can get used to this though as I found when I moved into my new flat. For the first few nights I thought I would never get a decent sleep due to cars racing up and down the main road next to my window. A few days later I was barely noticing it and now I actually find it difficult to sleep without these sounds. Some people find that white noise can be helpful so that may be something you want to consider experimenting with.

In the last week I have been redecorating my new flat. I had chosen a calming light blue colour for the bedroom walls, with matching bedding and black out curtains. Also I decided to remove the television bracket that was on the wall in front of my bed and replaced it with a canvas print of a mountain range. I’ve created myself a sanctuary. I feel instant calm every time I walk into my bedroom.

I hope that these ideas have been helpful to you. Have any of you had a similar experience with re-decorating? What would be your advice for creating the perfect sleeping environment?

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Eight Simple Steps for Improving the Quality of Your Sleep

Sleep hygiene is a phrase coined by experts to describe a collection of habits. These habits should be implemented in order to achieve good quality sleep. When I first started having issues with my sleep, I thought that I had a fairly good understanding of these concepts. As it turns out, my knowledge only scratched the surface of this complex subject. I decided to throw myself into researching this topic in order to heal myself and piece my life back together.

Following this advice on a daily basis can help to improve both the duration and quality of our sleep. After reading many such articles myself I found that good sleep hygiene really does make a big difference. Knowing we are taking steps to help ourselves can reduce any anxiety we might have surrounding sleep.

Below I have compiled a list of what I believe are the key points one should follow when trying to improve their sleep. I have also provided links to further information on the points which I feel need to be discussed in more detail. So here we are, eight simple steps for better sleep:

  1. Limit your exposure to screens – here I am referring to iPads, smartphones and televisions. Screens keep our brains wired and alert, preventing us from switching off. In the hour before you go to bed try to avoid looking at screens of any kind. I would even suggest that using ‘night shift’ mode is not enough. Just go cold turkey and avoid screens altogether. This will also give you time to take part in other activities such as reading prior to going to bed.
  2. Use the bedroom for sleep and sex only – all other activities should be banned from the bedroom. Sitting on our beds working or surfing the internet are common examples of where we go wrong in this respect. Your bedroom should be your sanctuary. It should be a place that your mind associates with going to sleep.
  3. Have a set bedtime – we are creatures of habit; it makes us feel safe and secure. Going to bed at the same time every day allows our hormones to regulate themselves. Hormones such as cortisol and melatonin send signals to our body to tell us when to wake up and when to go to sleep. Also, actually going to bed is important rather than just falling asleep wherever we are. For example, it is not uncommon for people with poor sleep to stay up in an armchair in the living room and then fall asleep there during the night. This is detrimental as the association between bed and sleep becomes lost to our minds.
  4. Wake up at the same time every day – this is equally as important as going to bed at a set time. We should all try to avoid sleeping in of a morning as this will affect our ability to fall asleep the next night. This is a common problem at the weekends. ‘Sunday night insomnia’ is the phenomenon of not being able to fall asleep on a Sunday evening after a lie-in on a Sunday morning. This has the knock-on effect of causing tiredness on Mondays, which is no-one’s favourite day in any case. We don’t want to risk starting off the week on the wrong foot.
  5. Avoid napping – again, similar to the point above. We are trying to create a sleep routine and napping will interfere with this. Sleeping during the day to compensate for a bad night will cause problems when bedtime comes around in the evening.
  6. Create a bedtime routine – In my opinion this may be the most important point of all. Developing a set of actions which we carry out every night before bed can trigger our minds and bodies to get ready for sleep.  Such a routine will be different depending on the individual so it is important that we come up with our own. For more information see my post ‘Improving Your Sleep: The Importance of Developing a Bedtime Routine’.
  7. Avoid caffeinated drinks – when we are having trouble sleeping it is best to avoid caffeine altogether. If we do feel the need to indulge in a cup of coffee then it is better to do so before 3pm. That way it is out of our systems by the time bedtime comes around. Better still is if we can find an acceptable decaffeinated alternative. Personally I find that I cannot taste the difference, although others I know will disagree.
  8. Temperature is important – being too hot or too cold can have a detrimental effect on our ability to fall and remain asleep. Research has shown that going to sleep naked can help you to fall asleep faster. I have tried this myself and tend to agree, although I wouldn’t recommend this during the winter months. In cold temperatures, wearing socks in bed has been found to help significantly. You may also want to think about investing in a hot water bottle. In warm temperatures think about opening windows in your bedroom a couple of hours before you go to bed. For more ideas about optimising your bedroom for sleep see Creating the Perfect Environment for Sleep.

These simple steps are easy to implement and can have a profound effect on the quality of your sleep. I hope that you have found this post useful. I’m sure this is an area in which we all will have some experience.  I look forwards to hearing any ideas or comments you might have on the subject.

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