In the 21st century, we could quite literally consider ourselves to be in the midst of a sleep deprivation epidemic. Our modern culture often encourages the idea that ‘sleep is for weak’, associating the need for sleep with laziness and a lack of motivation or effort. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
Many would argue that an increasing tendency toward sleep deprivation is one of, it not the most dangerous lifestyle changes to have accompanied our evolution in the past 50 years.
DOES ANY OF THE FOLLOWING RESONATE WITH YOU?
• Trouble falling asleep at night?
• Trouble waking up in the morning?
• Tired and moody during the day?
• Gaining weight?
• Craving sugar?
• Increased stress levels?
• Experiencing brain-fog or poor performance?
These are just some of the delirious effects of that inadequate amounts of sleep could be having on your body and mind. Through taking action to improve our sleep, we unlock the myriad of incredible benefits that come with being well-rested;
• Increased energy and concentration
• Greater learning capacity
• Better ability to make healthy food choices
• Improved immune system functioning
• Reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes and obesity
• Improved memory
• Reduced levels of stress
• Increased life expectancy
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?
Many researchers recommend that you should seek to achieve between 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Whilst the length of sleep is undoubtedly important, I don’t necessarily agree that we should always be aiming for a number. Instead, I like to argue that the QUALITY of our sleep matters just as much as the number of hours that we lay unconscious!
Ideally, you should aim to wake up feeling refreshed, at the same time each day and without the need for an alarm. This provides a good indication that your body’s circadian rhythm (your 24-hour body clock) is functioning well. The reality for many of us, however, is that there is room for improvement when it comes to our sleeping habits.
WHAT MIGHT BE STOPPING US?
By far one of the greatest influences on our sleep in modern times is the constant bombardment of artificial night once the sun has set. Exposure to artificial blue light in evening suppresses the production of our key sleep neurotransmitter ‘melatonin’. Your brain has evolved to produce melatonin in response to darkness. It is melatonin which allows you to naturally feel sleepy after sunset and wake up at or near sunrise.
By exposing yourself to fake light late at night this has a devastating effect on the quality of your sleep. What you are actually here doing is telling your body that it is day time. This completely disrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythm, reducing your body’s ability to restore and repair itself.
Researchers believe that sleep is the time during which we clear out waste and toxins from our brain, thereby allowing the body to actively recover itself. The mere fact that we spend one third of our time on this earth sleeping (or at least we should) is a testament to how crucial sleep is for the proper functioning of body and mind.
AWARENESS, ACTION, APPLICATION
Quite frankly, the first step toward improving our sleep is bringing any poor habits into your awareness. There is a time at which we come to the realisation that we need to prioritise quality of sleep over other activities (such as watching TV or working late into the night), especially if we wish to attain optimal health and prevent disease.
Once our own paradigm has shifted toward wish for greater sleep, there are a number of other simple procedures to consider. We might say that these steps are related to our ‘sleep hygiene’. They can aid us to achieve the highest quality of rest and repair possible.
MY TOP TIPS FOR IMPROVING YOUR SLEEP HYGIENE
1. WIND DOWN 1-2 HOURS BEFORE BED IF YOU CAN
Read a book or do anything that you can to get away from artificial light. The blue light emitted from all digital devices such as LED screens – namely, iPhones, iPods, iPads, Samsung Galaxy and all smartphones, Kindle and all tablets, laptop and computer screens, is a factor that can cause sleep disorders by suppressing your body’s melatonin production. This can be solved by wearing special blue-light blocking glasses if you can’t avoid screens. Other options are to download the ‘F.lux’ app for your laptop or initiate the nightshift mode on your Apple devices.
As mentioned, ANY artificial blue light has the ability to suppress melatonin production. Therefore, doing ANYTHING that you can to reduce your exposure to blue light after dark will help to increase the quality of your rest.
2. SUPPLEMENT MAGNESIUM WITH YOUR EVENING MEAL OR A FEW HOURS BEFORE BED
I regularly take 200mg of Magnesium Glycinate with my evening meal or a few hours prior to bedtime. Magnesium is known as nature’s tranquilliser, helping to calm and relax the nervous system by promoting rest, relaxation and improved sleep. Magnesium Glycinate is a highly bio-available form of magnesium which is very easy on your digestion.
3. SLEEP IN THE DARK (NO LIGHT AT ALL)
Ensure that your room is pitch black. You need to block ALL sources of light as your skin possesses light sensors in it which will affect the quality of your sleep. Black out blinds can be really helpful here!
4. REDUCE OR ELIMINATE CAFFEINE
Many people find it helpful to cease all caffeine after 2PM. Be realistic though – if you know that you are sensitive to its effects, you may wish to trial eliminating caffeine altogether. As much as I hate to admit it, I know that I sleep much by avoiding my daily cup of joe.
5. SWITCHING YOUR MIND OFF
Practicing meditation or other forms of mindfulness before bed is very effective, especially if you have been working hard into the evening and as a result, you still feeling overly energised. It’s vital to do something relaxing in the evening if you are the sort of person who is still ‘buzzing’ late into the night.
6. EMPTY YOUR THOUGHTS
I like to gratitude journey often, others may prefer like to scribble a few ‘positives and negatives’ onto a piece of paper. There is something deeply satisfying about take a few moments each evening to review the events and emotions that have occurred throughout the day, creating space for tomorrow’s opportunities.
Whichever your preferred method, be it writing or ranting to a close friend, it can very therapeutic to ‘empty out’ all of your thoughts, examining aspects of that possibly didn’t go as well as we had planned. Giving ourselves the permission to neatly package our aims and goals for the day ahead.
Nothing gets done whilst we sleep. Through actively giving ourselves permission to work on any perceived shortcomings beginning the following morning, we invite an intention for deeper rest and restoration to face these challenges.
7. USE ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils can also help to calm the nervous system, promoting relaxation and preparing us for sleep. The following resource will provide you with some more information about the types of essential oils that are useful for promoting sleep: https://draxe.com/diy-sleep-aid/
I personally use a diffuser in my bedroom, adopting a blend of chamomile, lavender, frankincense essential oils.
8. GET OUT IN THE MORNING SUNLIGHT
Make a conscious effect to get out and about in the daylight as soon as possible after you wake up each morning (it doesn’t have to be sunny). When you expose yourself to bright light in the morning, your brain turns on a timer that says “okay, it’s time to wake up” and this begins a cascade of biological processes that heighten attention and alertness.
More importantly than this, however, another signal released from your brain saying “14 hours from now, it is time to sleep”. You are putting in the groundwork for a deep, refreshing sleep after you begin this whole process.
The magic amount of morning light exposure seems to be around 15 to 30 minutes within an hour or two of waking up (the sooner the better). Just being outdoors is effective, even if it’s overcast there is still much greater light intensity compared with being indoors!
Steadily beginning to incorporate these simple changes into your sleep routine can add up to a serious improvement in the quality of your sleep.
Here’s to some better ‘Zzzz’ for each of us in the coming weeks ahead!
As always, if anything in this article sparked your interest, or if you have any questions or queries relating to its content, please feel free to ask!