Did you know we have seven senses? While most people are familiar with sight, touch, taste, sound and smell, two further senses – vestibular and proprioception – round out the way we process the world around us. Using these senses to help calm us is known as sensory modulation. Focusing on certain senses while trying to ‘wind down’ can help to relax our body and mind – preparing us for the best sleep possible. This approach can be particularly helpful for those involved in stressful work. So if you find it hard to switch off your mind, try calming the senses instead.
SIGHT refers to the capability of the eyes to focus and detect images of visible light and generate electrical nerve impulses for varying colours, hues, and brightness. Use the sense of sight when preparing for bed by looking at items or pictures that are calming – such as images of the sea or forests. It is important to consider this sense when choosing a colour scheme for your bedroom. Natural earth colours are generally more calming than vibrant colours and will assist in preparing your mind for sleep.
HEARING involves the processing of your own sounds and those made by others whether human, animal or machinery. With your ears positioned to the sides of your head they are open to sounds from your entire surroundings. You cannot ‘close’ your ears, so you are connected with the world of sound during all your waking hours. When preparing for sleep, relaxing music or the sounds of nature can help to calm the nervous system and minimise distractions or frustration or stimulation from noise within the home or on the streets outside.
TOUCH is a perception that results from the activation of neural receptors in the skin including hair follicles. The sense of touch includes pressure, pain and temperature. Individuals who note this as a sensory preference may benefit from a bedtime routine that includes heat. This could involve consuming a hot drink, taking a warm shower or using a hot water bottle. Stroking a pet also stimulates the sense of touch and is used to help calm patients in hospital during pet therapy sessions – so bringing your furry friend to bed may improve your sleep.
SMELL is our ability to detect scent. It begins in our nose which has hundreds of olfactory receptors. Researchers have identified 10 categories of smell – fragrant, woody/resinous, fruity (non-citrus), chemical, minty/peppermint, sweet, popcorn, lemon, pungent and decayed. More complex smells such as baking and coffee are considered to be a mixture of theses smells. Individuals who identify smell as a sensory preference commonly report the smell of lavender to be relaxing at bedtime.
TASTE is our ability to detect the taste of substances such as food, minerals, poisons etc, with five basic tastes – sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. The sense of taste is often confused with a ‘sense’ of flavour but this is actually a combination of our taste and smell perceptions. We receive taste through sensory organs called taste buds which are concentrated on the upper surface of our tongues. Some tastes serve to stimulate us while other can be used to calm the nervous system. While this is less common, some people report relaxation benefits from consuming a hot milky drink.
VESTIBULAR. The vestibular system relates to our perception of our body in relation to gravity, movement and balance. This sense measures acceleration, g-force, body movements and head position. Examples of the vestibular system in practice include knowing that you are moving when you are in an elevator – and knowing whether you are lying down or sitting up. Gentle movement can be helpful in calming our nervous system, something parents have always understood as they rock their baby to sleep.
PROPRIOCEPTION is a vital sense that lets us know exactly where our body parts are and how we are positioned in space. This enables us to plan our movements. Examples of proprioception in practice include clapping our hands together with our eyes closed, writing with a pencil by applying the correct pressure and identifying objects using touch alone. Those who find it calming to walk slowly, do yoga at bedtime or stroke a pet are likely using this sense to calm their nervous system.
Knowing how to effectively use our senses to calm our body and mind is a key to initiating and maintaining a deep sleep.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with the words SENSORY ASSESSMENT FOR A GREAT SLEEP in the subject line to find out how to use your senses to calm your body and mind or to arrange a Sensory Screening Assessment to develop your own unique sensory menu.