Sleep is our super power. Yes good nutrition, exercise and a healthy lifestyle are all incredibly important, but without sleep all of those can feel impossible. Have you noticed how you reach for the sweet treats after a poor night of sleep? Or how getting out for that run seems impossible when you are tired? When we are well rested we make better choices in all aspects of life; be that a decision at work, the choice to exercise or what we will eat for dinner.
Sleep deprivation is our kryptonite
Sleep plays a vital role in protecting our mental health, physical health, quality of life, and our safety. There are so many chronic diseases related to sleep deprivation, and sleep deprivation does not have to be chronic. When our clocks change from winter to summer time, and we lose an hour of sleep, the number of heart attacks actually increase the following day. The converse is true when we switch from summer to winter time.
Matthew Walker is a neuroscientist who has done some incredible work into sleep and its super powers. His Ted Talk is full of all the facts and really worth listening to for the science of sleep.
We know we feel better after a good night of shut eye, but so many of us struggle to either fall asleep or stay asleep. It can be one of the most frustrating feelings laying there wanting to sleep, but no number of sheep help us drift off into the land of slumber. So how do we get that elusive recommended eight hours?
Sleep hygiene, that’s how. Sleep hygiene is basically what we do during our day and evening to help us prepare your body for sleep. Below are our top sleep hygiene tips; how many do you currently do or don’t do?
1. Set a regular wake and sleep time – aim to go to bed and get up at the same time each day, including weekends. Sadly, we cannot catch up on sleep, the impact is immediate and cannot be ‘caught up’ by a long weekend lie in. Our body will learn this routine, preparing its self to wind down and wake up naturally.
2. Avoid caffeine and nicotine – these are stimulants and will keep us awake if we consume them in the afternoon. A good rule with regards to coffee is two before two (sorry to the espresso martini lovers!). Chocolate also contains caffeine, especially the darker the variety, something to keep in mind when you have an evening treat. Vapes also contain nicotine.
3. Alcohol – is also a stimulant. Whilst we may feel it helps us sleep the presence of alcohol in the body reduces our REM sleep. This keeps us in the lighter stages of sleep meaning we don’t get the full benefits and why we wake up feeling so tired after a night of drink.
4. Food – eating too close to bed time means we go to bed with a stomach full of food. Our body is busy trying to digest the food whilst all we want to do is fall asleep. Drinking too many fluids before bed can also cause us to wake frequently to visit the bathroom.
5. Screens – these are probably the biggest sleep blocker. Screens emit a blue light which suppresses melatonin, a hormone which regulates our sleep/wake cycle. So we need to minimise our exposure to these in at least the final hour before bed. Using blue light blocker glasses and switching screens to night mode are all helpful. But nothing will beat going completely screen free an hour before bed.
6. Wind down routine – creating a routine that works for you, allowing you to slow and wind down is another great tip for getting to sleep. Dim the lights at home, use side lights in the evening, take a shower or warm bath, do some relaxation breathing or stretches, read a book, put phones and screens away. All will signal to your brain it’s time to sleep.
7. A cool, dark bedroom – our body temperature needs to drop one degree to fall asleep. Ensuring our bedrooms are cool and dark will help us fall asleep. Keep the bedroom for sleep only, the brain will associate this with a place for relaxation. If you work or have screens in bed your brain will associate the bedroom with being awake and alert.
8. Write your thoughts down – often our minds tend to think that the bed is the place to start to go over everything you should have done, didn’t do or need to do. It’s the time when it finds space in our hectic day to remind us it’s there and very active! If this is you put a notebook by your bed, when the mind starts up with everything it wants to tell you write it down. Often simply the act of allowing our minds to vent and getting it onto paper is enough to then allow us to fall asleep.
9. If you can’t sleep – after 20 minutes of trying, get up. Don’t lay in bed for hours tossing and turning – again your brain needs to associate bed with sleep, not insomnia. Get up, sit in the living room, read something easy and not too stimulating, do some stretches or relaxation breathing and try your best not to look at your screen. When you begin to feel sleepy, then go back to bed.
What change can you make today to be able to sleep better tonight?
Be a little bit better. Not perfect.