10 steps to your best rest yet!
Sleep is crucial to our immune-health, cognition, exercise recovery and even our insulin sensitivity, so it should come as no surprise that trying to function after a sleepless night is absolute torture.
Almost everyone is familiar with the frustration of being unable to fall asleep - especially when we have a big, important day ahead of us. Many of us are self-proclaimed insomniacs, having succumbed to the feelings of powerlessness and despair that come with prolonged sleep deprivation.
Although spending two-thirds of our lives in dreamland might seem like a waste of our limited time in the land of the living, there is no doubt that getting sufficient, good quality sleep leads to a healthier, longer and more fulfilling life.
If you’re one of the many who are suffering from insufficient or poor quality sleep, you’ll be relieved to know that there are many scientifically-backed ways to combat your bedtime blues.
Even if you have a diagnosed sleep disorder, are subject to frequent jet lag, or are a shift-worker, there are several simple things you can do to improve your sleep.
As for the lucky ones who already have their sleep sorted, stay tuned - there is always room for improvement when it comes to our health, and you might learn a few tricks that could take your sleep game to the next level.
1. Consider your consumption
Too often, we forget that what we eat, drink and consume has a direct influence on all aspects of our life, including sleep.
Having a healthy diet can do wonders for our sleep, but there are a few foods and drinks we should be particularly careful to avoid if we are struggling to snooze.
Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol are all substances that are well known for the way they interfere with our sleep - however, many of us don’t think of this when we’re having that 3pm coffee, a cheeky glass of wine with dinner or an evening chocolate indulgence.
Not only does chocolate contain a small amount of caffeine, but more importantly the high sugar content that is in the majority of chocolates will spike insulin levels, which will affect our ability to fall asleep.
It’s also important to avoid going to bed overly full, as digestion takes a lot of energy and slows down the body’s processes of repair and renewal that take place while you sleep.
The solution is to eat at least a couple of hours before bed, but not so early that you end up going to bed starving because the hunger pangs will keep you awake!
Finally, be sure to stay hydrated, but avoid drinking too much water too close to bedtime, or your sleep will be interrupted with those annoying, nocturnal trips to the bathroom.
2. Hello darkness my old friend
A great number of people are spending all day looking at screens, whether it’s for work or otherwise. Continuing screen-time into the evening, long after the sun has set, means that the natural darkness is unable to prepare our bodies for sleep.
As the rising of the sun in the morning stimulates our alertness, the darkness of night stimulates sleepiness. Exposure to darkness results in the production of the hormone melatonin, which physiologically prepares the body for sleep by lowering our core temperature, relaxing our muscles and making us feel sleepy.
Turning off your screens before bed, or at least removing the blue light on devices, is a sure way to allow melatonin to do its job and help us along to a restful night’s sleep.
If you normally watch a movie or go on social media to wind down before bed; try reading a book, or talking on the phone instead of texting. To further assist our bodies in the natural, biological preparation for sleep, we can also turn off all the bright lights in the house at least one hour before we jump into bed.
Perhaps consider using candles instead of electric lights (very romantic, but don’t forget to blow them out before you fall asleep…). You can also improve your sleep by blocking out light with an eye mask, such as Mindfold.
3. Sleep-friendly supplements
Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamins D and K2, have been linked to insomnia and other sleep disorders.
Fortunately, eating a varied and abundant plant-based diet can help prime your body for good sleep. However, even the biggest health nuts struggle to consistently hit all their nutritional targets (because of life…), so it’s a good idea to give yourself nutritionally dense supplements.
It’s also possible to supplement melatonin (the sleep hormone), and there are a variety of herbal teas which, when enjoyed before bed, can help you get ready for a good night of premium quality slumber.
4. Relaxing routines and rituals
Most of us thrive when we have a good routine and operate within daily and weekly schedules. We can’t help it, we are creatures of habit. Something as simple as waking up and going to bed at the same time each day, as well as having a relaxing bedtime routine, can have a surprisingly profound effect on how well we sleep.
Developing a pre-sleep ritual, or a series of bedtime habits can be a great way to ensure a good night’s sleep by mentally and physically preparing ourselves for the task of nodding off.
Taking a hot shower just before bed is a good addition to your bedtime routine because the slight drop in body temperature when we get out of the shower helps our muscles relax.
Whatever your personal sleep routine involves, make it a rule that anything work-related, or emotionally stimulating must wait for the morning. If you can’t calm your mind, it helps to write problems down before bed, then put them aside to be dealt with later. Surprisingly, this really helps.
5. Turn your bedroom into a sacred sleeping sanctuary
Your bedroom should be your special place where only two activities may take place - sex or sleep. In addition to making your sacred sleeping space a stress-free conversation zone, there are other things you can do to turn your bedroom into an ideal sleep environment.
All entertainment and work-related items should be removed and kept in other rooms. For the best sleep possible, upgrade your mattress, sheets and pillow, and ensure your room is at the ideal temperature (15-21 C) for inducing sound sleep.
To take it to the next level, consider painting your bedroom walls a calming shade of blue.
6. Exercise early
You’ve probably experienced the positive effect a good workout can have on your sleep.
It’s true that exercise can make you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly, but only if you do it at the right time. As exercise stimulates the secretion of cortisol, which makes us feel alert, try to avoid working out within 3 hours of going to bed.
7. Cutting complex carbs = potentially cutting sleep
Not only do carbohydrate-rich whole-foods help us feel calm by increasing the production of serotonin, they also lower the stress hormone cortisol, which can inhibit sleep when elevated at night.
Most meditation techniques are based on paying attention to the breath. Deep, steady and focused breathing can really help to relax the mind and body, especially if we release our thoughts with each breath.
A relaxing massage from your partner, friend, or a family member is not only a wonderful way to release the physical tension accumulated throughout the day, but a massage can also help to calm the mind, by making us feel loved.
This calm and contented frame of mind is an essential ingredient in the recipe for good sleep.
That said, if you don’t have some spare loving hands available, you can also benefit from using a foam roller on yourself before bed. Similarly, this will help to get rid of any stored physical and mental tension before you hop into bed.
10. Avoid long afternoon naps
If you take naps - keep them as short 20-minute power-naps, and ideally earlier in the day. Even though you’re feeling tired during the day, long afternoon naps may be what’s stopping you from getting a good night’s sleep, which only perpetuates day-time drowsiness. It’s a vicious cycle!
Busy, stressed out people tend to get less sleep than those who have more relaxed lifestyles. However, this doesn’t mean you need to quit life so that you can get some decent shut-eye.
Despite the many benefits of consistent high-quality sleep, people still seem all too willing to get by without it. We focus on our diet and exercise routines but often fail to maintain healthy sleeping patterns.
The reality is, the busier and more stressful our lives are, the more we need to make sure our sleep is up to standard. Apply the 10 points above to have your best rest yet!