We have previously covered how you can master the perfect morning routine. This week is all about constructing an evening routine that is conducive to a restful night’s sleep. By improving your quality of sleep, you ensure that your mind and body are fully rested and prepared for the following day. This will not only make your training easier but you will find you reap many more benefits than if you were tired or lethargic.
The perfect evening routine should focus on two main goals:
- How do we wrap up the day with a clear mind?
- How can we set ourselves up for a deep, glorious, and restorative sleep?
There is nothing worse than getting yourself cosy and ready for bed but not being able to switch off your thoughts about the things you did and didn’t do during the day. Follow these 5 simple steps towards perfecting an evening routine and this will never happen again!
1. List the positive impacts you left on the day
This approach was first developed by Benjamin Franklin who would reflect on his day and ask himself, ‘what good did I do today?’ before going to sleep. Instead of stressing over how productive you were during the day, shift your focus into a more positive and fulfilled one.
2. Take the time to wind down for the evening
Research has found that our brains need about 2 hours to cool down before we can really get into a deep sleep. This means that about two hours before bed you should start winding down your brain. Classical music, meditating, journaling, stretching, and pampering routines are all great ways to relax before jumping into bed.
Put away your phones and switch off the TV to make your evening more purposeful. It is worthwhile avoiding stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol close to bedtime and steering clear of rich meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks, all of which can trigger indigestion.
3. Make tomorrows to-do list
So often, we are completely overwhelmed by all the tasks we are facing over the next day. This anxiety can negatively affect those precious sleeping hours. By making a to-do list the night before, it helps to clear your brain so it can relax.
4. Make your bedroom a sleep haven
The Mayo Clinic has done a ton of amazing sleep research and found that we need to start thinking of our bedroom like a cave if we want to get a good amount of quality sleep. Consider using blackout curtains, eye masks, ear plugs, ‘white noise’ machines, humidifiers, and fans to keep things cool and quiet.
5. Utilise Sleep Tools
There are several apps out there which are specifically designed to help you sleep or monitor your sleep so improvements can be made.
Sleep Cycle is a great app which will monitor your sleep cycles by movement. This can aid in learning about what evening ‘cool down’ gives you the best night’s sleep.
HeadSpace is another app which takes you through various meditations and mindfulness exercises to help clear your mind and wind down before bed.
Lastly, try to use lights without the blue spectrum. Research has found that the blue spectrum in lights and on our electronic devices actually keep us awake and can disrupt our sleep. Be kind to your eyes and use fixtures that have a more calming light or utilise your phone’s settings to disable the blue light during evening hours.
Remember that an evening routine is just as important as a morning routine. Learn how to perfect both in your life and you will be on your way to a more productive, healthy, and successful day.
About the author: Laura Smith is an athlete who has been a Sundried ambassador since 2017.
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In my work as a counsellor, there are some common themes that crop up again and again. One is that little girls are brought up to be polite. This can manifest as women being polite to people who actually need to be told to stop doing something harmful. For women, being polite can get in the way of asserting healthy boundaries.
The other recurring theme is men coming into therapy 'being strong' because they have been taught as little boys that it's not okay to feel sadness or fear, and that even if you feel it, it's definitely not okay to display it publicly. Not in this country anyway.
It's the latter that I want to talk about here and it's the latter that drove me to set up The Wellness Cave with holistic fitness coach Cris Ramis. I noticed during the lockdown that lots of men were really struggling. Suffering in silence whilst carrying heavy burdens such as job uncertainty, financial pressures, social isolation and loneliness. There seemed to be so much out there for women and yet men were going it alone.
When I spoke to my old university friend Cris, he summarised this perfectly, "These days there is a lot of emphasis on helping women with mental health but not men until it all comes crashing down."
We decided we wanted to set up a 'man cave' with an emphasis on wellbeing. A safe space for men to talk about their issues, get a bit of support, and ultimately realise that they are not the only ones feeling this way.
The free Facebook group is still very new but we are really pleased with how it is going so far; we have been having some great discussions. One has been around the importance of habits - something both Cris and I are really passionate about.
In lockdown, we lost our healthy habits and as a group we are supporting each other to get them back in place. I tell my yoga students that you just need to keep showing up. I love the quote, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit."
The UK sees 84 men commit suicide each week - that's one man every two hours. If that isn't evidence that men need to talk more and support each other, then I don't know what is!
Come and join in the discussion at The Wellness Cave. Men's mental health matters now more than ever.
About the author: Natasha Wellfare is a Mental Health Counsellor and Therapeutic Yoga Teacher.
We find ourselves in the strangest of times. Without warning, we are now confined to our homes either in complete isolation or with a bunch of children who we love dearly, but suddenly require educating and entertaining. As our bodies and our brains are trying to compute what is happening, we need exercise and movement more than ever.
My personal wellbeing plan includes yoga, but when I suggest yoga to my counselling clients, some of them are sceptical. I understand why. Not everyone is comfortable with the spiritual side of yoga and there are so many different types of yoga that it can be hard to figure out where you fit in.
Evidence can be useful and I tell clients there are robust studies out there supporting the positive impact of yoga. In a series of clinical trials, Dr Bessel Van Der Kolk used before and after neuroimaging of the brain to prove that yoga is more beneficial than trauma medication. I find it fascinating and reassuring to know that activities such as yoga and mindfulness have been proven to reactivate the areas of the brain concerned with pleasure, control, engagement and trust. Simply put, yoga helps you feel more at home in your own skin.
But what about other forms of exercise? Yoga is very different to running for example, and yet both disciplines link back to the same benefit. They are both, in essence, a moving meditation. I asked Sundried Founder Daniel Puddick what it feels like to be ‘in the zone’ when running. He told me:
"I go running every morning and I find it's a great way to start my day. It gets my mind firing and allows me to go over anything troubling me, make mental lists, and plan the day ahead. It's a great way to get some 'me time' in away from the stresses of family life and allows me to completely concentrate and focus."
Believe it or not, brain scans show that meditation and running can have a somewhat similar effect on the brain; simultaneously engaging executive functions (giving you a feeling of control) and turning down the chatter of the default mode (giving you a feeling of being present and focused). So perhaps runners and yogis have more in common than we realised!
Exercise for mental health
For anyone who is thinking about adding yoga, running or indeed any form of exercise into their mental health toolkit, here are some suggestions to get you moving:
Choose a form of exercise you enjoy
If you don’t, you won’t stick to it. It will end up being a bit like a crash diet which puts you right back where you started.
Racing and competition
Do you thrive on competition or does it put you off? I prefer to do non-competitive sport, but I know my Sundried friends really enjoy beating their best time. Either way is OK!
Try anything twice
I remember going to a new dance class and being furious that it was so difficult. I was never going back. Now it’s the best part of my week. I just didn’t like the feeling of not being able to keep up but that passed after a few weeks.
Get a coach
Choose a coach or a teacher that you really like. I struggled through yoga classes at one point with someone who I really didn’t connect with. Why did I do that? There are loads of fabulous teachers who offer good quality AND enjoyable sessions.
The simple message in all of this is that now, more than ever, we need to keep moving. Whether it is an online yoga class in the lounge or a Joe Wicks P.E. class with the kids. Movement matters and we need to keep exercising during the lockdown. Your brain likes it and the quality of your mental health depends on it.
About the author: Natasha Wellfare is a qualified Mental Health Counsellor and Yoga Teacher at The Wellness Project. She helps companies and individuals improve mental health in order that people can be happy in the now.
Having your world turned upside down can affect your mental and physical wellbeing in a number of ways. Follow these 5 daily habits to make sure you stay healthy both mentally and physically during these testing times.
1. Stick to a routine
Humans are creatures of habit and there is nothing we love more than a daily routine. Now that we're not going into work every day or taking the kids to school, it can be hard to know what to do. By creating a new daily routine and sticking to it, you will soon find your brain has time to calm down and settle, which will take a lot of pressure off other areas.
When we follow a daily routine, it allows us to do things on autopilot which eases the workload for our brains. Once your new routine is in place, you will find it easier to focus on other tasks and chores. By doing things at the same time each day such as getting up, eating meals, doing certain activities, and exercising, you will ease a lot of stress and brain power.
2. Get up early (and go to bed early)
For a lot of people, not having to get up early to go to work or school is a dream come true and the temptation will be to snooze until midday then lounge around until bed time. This is not a healthy habit and after doing this for a few days you will soon find yourself feeling lethargic both mentally and physically.
Give your day purpose by getting up early and doing something productive, whether this be household chores or your daily exercise. Enjoy some downtime in the afternoon and go to bed at a sensible time (before 10pm if possible!)
3. Eat healthily
A lot of people are finding that by spending all day indoors, it's far too easy to snack constantly as the kitchen is always open. Feasting on a diet of sugar will inevitably lead to mood swings and fatigue, so stick to a healthy diet to make sure you feel at your best. Plan your meals in advance to take the guess work out of it and to prevent mindless snacking. You could even get the kids involved in planning a weekly menu to make things more fun.
Avoid keeping unhealthy snacks in the house and instead stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables during your shopping trips. This will mean you can snack on fruit instead of junk food which will help you to feel healthier and keep your mind clearer.
4. Exercise daily
The government have identified that being able to go outside for fresh air and exercise is imperative for both our mental and physical wellbeing, which is a huge benefit for everyone. Make the most of your exercise allowance by going for a walk, cycle or jog outdoors. Don't push yourself too hard as you want to keep your immune system fighting fit, but a one-hour walk, jog, or cycle will do wonders for both your mental and physical wellbeing.
Allow your mind to focus on other things while you are exercising and enjoy the stress-relieving benefits of the endorphins and runner's high. If you're someone who usually has to squeeze a workout in after work in the dark, make the most of the day light and Vitamin D from the sun by going at lunchtime instead.
5. Keep your mind active
Staying at home all day will inveitably lead to boredom for a lot of people and inside the same four walls there can be a lack of stimuli for our brains. Keep your mind active by doing crosswords, puzzles, quizzes, and stay connected with friends and family.
Thanks to modern technology, you could even organise a nightly 'pub quiz' with friends and family via video chat or play games together. Just be wary of getting out that dusty game of Monopoly as we all know how that often ends!
Physical exercise has an enormous effect on my mental well-being and I am sure that's the case for a lot of people reading this too. It allowed me to stop taking anti-depressants and instead of relying on a pill each day for endorphins, I decided it would be better in the long run to replace them with natural and simple exercise.
I reinforce this with other things; practising mindfulness, not rushing, going to bed early, and eating more vegetables! But overall, I feel happy that this is a better way for me to cope with my depression and anxiety. It’s important to talk and I find that being open about my experiences encourages others to do the same. It’s too easy to hide issues away and forget they exist, but that’s not healthy and at some point down the line they will resurface and be even more difficult to deal with.
The knowledge we have of the benefits of physical exercise has grown and a quick search through research papers shows just how much evidence there is to suggest that exercising can be seen as medication or therapy in its own right. Even Sport England now has mental well-being ‘at its heart’ of its current strategy. Doing any kind of physical activity, whether it be yoga, climbing or running, is proven to improve mood, reduce stress, better your self-esteem and help to manage or even prevent depression and anxiety.
So it’s a no-brainer right? It should be. But with all the knowledge in the world, it can still be hard to make the time or find the motivation to get your heart-rate up.
So what can we do to help ourselves not skip out on mental health therapy? I struggle when it’s early morning, dark, cold and I’m in bed, but here’s what I find helps me:
- I’m an independent person but I can feel isolated at times. Having like-minded people to support, motivate, and exercise with me is good for me. Therefore, I choose to be around those people and limit my time around those who do not fit this ideal.
- I highly value having a goal and a step-by-step plan of how to get there. For me, that means sitting down with a flipchart (plus bright pens) and writing out a triathlon training plan for my bedroom wall. Without one, I’d be stumbling around in the dark mentally and probably physically too. Being able to see the progress I make fills me with motivation each day.
- I’m more interested in new experiences and opportunities that will aid my personal development and ultimately enrich my life. However, I take care not to take too much on and I’m okay with saying no when things get too much. So if anyone needs a kayaking buddy, I’m itching to try it and maybe enter a cool adventure race!
It’s a no-brainer to help yourself and others who may struggle with mental health, but I think we can do it better, even in the most simplest of ways, and sport provides us with a huge platform to help make more of a difference and to put our health first.
About the author: Alister Brown is a coach with Tri Energy Triathlon Club and an advocate for mental health awareness.