Struggling to sleep? You’re not alone. Two-thirds of us report trouble sleeping. There’s the overthinking among us, who worry about the never-ending to-do list, the 3am-wakers, late-night snackers, and the toss-and-turners. Not only that, but women are 40% more likely to suffer from insomnia compared to men. Considering most of us don’t get enough sleep, is sleep really that important?
As it turns out, yes! Getting our recommended 7-10 hours of sleep each night is critical for our recovery to maintain normal bodily functions.
Without that time to restore and recharge, our body simply can’t keep up with the demands of everyday life, which in the short-term could lead to things like having no energy, being less productive, experiencing reduced cognitive function (making decision-making harder, increasing the likelihood of mistakes and causing slow reflexes), fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, and depression.
Plus, they call it beauty sleep for a reason – a lack of sleep shows on the outside too and could reveal itself in obesity, acne, breakouts, and thin, brittle hair and nails prone to breakage. More worryingly, a prolonged lack of sleep has been linked to serious long-term health consequences like hypertension, diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes. So how can we all fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer and get better quality sleep?
Dr. Rajagopal Manda, a Naturopathy Counselor at YO1 Health Resort in New York that runs an Insomnia Management Program for guests, says there are five key components to better sleep: sleep environment, nutrition, mindset, hormones, and stress (and many of these influence one another). We’ve delved into exactly how you can improve and regain a more restorative sleep night after night, and in turn, boost your health and wellbeing.
1. Ban all digital screens from the bedroom
To encourage a restful night’s sleep, switch off all digital devices two hours before bedtime. The blue LED lighting of TVs, phone screens, and tablets trick our circadian rhythm into thinking it needs to be awake. To stay in sync with your natural body clock, aim to rise with the sun and switch off and wind down as it gets dark, as practiced in Ayurveda.
Dr. Karina Patel, a sleep medicine expert from The London Sleep Centre, says, “The electromagnetic waves emitted from electronic devices can also cause some stimulation so should be kept outside of the room.” Blue light filters on digital screens actually only reduce it by up to 57%, so it’s best to leave the device out of the room completely, or at least away from your bed to avoid sleep disruption.
2. Create a bedtime routine
It probably comes as no surprise that watching TV, scrolling through Instagram, or checking your emails after dark is not the best way to spend your evening. Lisa Artis, Deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity suggests tech-free ways to unwind: “Try reading a book or doing some yoga. Even the weakest glow, like a phone notification or a digital alarm clock, can keep you alert and stop you from achieving a good night’s sleep.”
Wind down with some gentle stretching, have a hot bath, or practice meditation or breathing techniques. Overthinkers and worriers might also benefit from journaling or ‘brain-dumping’ their thoughts on paper before they settle down for the night. Writing your worries down on paper can have a cathartic effect. It allows you time to acknowledge your thoughts but also enables you to leave them on the page to come back and deal with later. You could even add a calming herbal tea like chamomile to your wind-down routine. It’s all about creating a cozy, safe, relaxing environment for you to be able to switch off.
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3. Create a relaxing environment
Your bedroom should be dark, quiet, and cool for the ultimate snooze session. Dr. Deborah Lee, health expert and founder of Dr. Fox Pharmacy explains how we can encourage a restful slumber with our surroundings. “As daylight falls, the pineal gland in the brain produces the sleep hormone melatonin. In the evenings, prepare for sleep with dim lighting. Keep your curtains or blinds drawn, preferably using the blackout variety. Another good tip is to wear a dark eye mask in bed.”
For the ultimate relaxing environment, take some tips from the Swedish way of life and adopt some ‘Hygge’ practices – light some candles and get some soft, snuggly blankets to create a cozy cocoon guaranteed to help you feel more relaxed. Open a window to keep the room between 16-18C and keep a steady flow of fresh air to avoid feeling congested through the night.
4. Do 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day
Exposing your retina to the natural sunlight on a brisk morning walk outside as soon as you wake up sends a signal to your brain. Your body knows that 14-16 hours later, melatonin, the sleep hormone, needs to be activated for sleep mode. Doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise each day not only helps you doze off faster, and increases the quality of your sleep but it boosts your mood and general health too! “This is an exercise that is robust enough to make you feel slightly out of breath and sweaty. Brisk walking, jogging, or cycling are good options,” suggests Dr. Lee. If you’re working out in the evening, relax with a calm-inducing protein shake.
5. Avoid alcohol altogether & coffee after 12 pm
If you need your caffeine fix, this could be a reason you're struggling to get that all-important shut-eye. We hate to break it to you but coffee can stay in your system for up to ten hours. Try switching to decaf or swapping your latte’s for antioxidant-rich green tea. To cozy up in the evening, try a smooth turmeric or cacao latte blend for a snuggle in a mug.
While lots claim it helps them to feel drowsy, alcohol is the ultimate sleep disruptor. It actually prevents you from getting the deep sleep your body needs to fully restore and recharge. Holistic health expert, Dr. Zachary Okhah, M.D., health expert and surgeon, explains why your night cap might be causing disruptive sleep. “Alcohol acts as a depressant to the central nervous system. This sedative effect causes the brain to slow down, relax. However, when too much alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream, it takes longer for the enzymes in the liver to metabolize it, causing the excess alcohol to circulate through the body longer.”
6. Eat your final meal 2-3 hours before bedtime
Your body needs the energy to rest too. Some of your body’s most important functions happen while you’re sleeping (including crucial digestion) so make sure you’re not going to bed starving or having just eaten. Eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion, cramping, and weight gain because you haven’t given your body a chance to digest the food before it prepares for sleep. It can also cause your blood sugar levels to spike making it difficult to relax for sleep. Eat a light, healthy meal containing low-GI foods 3 hours before bed and avoid late-night snacks.
7. Stay hydrated
“As you sleep, your heart is beating, and your metabolism is still building up and breaking down tissues and energy stores to help fuel your bodily functions. Since there is no fluid intake during the night, drinking water throughout your day is one way to help improve digestion, rid your body of toxins, improve circulation, and alleviate cramping during the night, giving you a better night's rest,” says Dr. Okhah.
8. Use aromatherapy
Certain aromas can have a calming effect and encourage the sleep hormone, melatonin, to kick in helping us to catch some z’s. Lavender calms the nervous system to promote feelings of relaxation. Other sleep-enhancing scents include bergamot, chamomile, cedarwood, and clary sage oil. Dab some essential oil, light a scented candle, incense, or spritz sleep spray nearby for a quick hit of calm.
9. Try sleep-boosting supplements
If you’ve tried all the natural sleep aids, sleep-boosting supplements might be your next port of call to increase feelings of relaxation to give your sleep hormone the nudge it needs. A couple of drops of CBD sleep tincture can help you to relax and drift off. Other common sleep-boosters include magnesium, which can also help to ease anxiety – ideal for the overthinker, and B vitamins (found naturally in dark, leafy greens, legumes, and dairy products) which help to maintain levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that produces melatonin (the sleep hormone). L-theanine, found in green tea, can also help you nod off thanks its calming effect on the brain.
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Healthy eating, a calming environment, and a wind-down routine can all help you drift off to dreamland in no time. See you on the other side!