Sleep is a basic biological necessity. Its impact is so vital to human health and brain function that sleep deprivation was regularly used as a form of torture for many years. And up until 2009, it was also used as a common form of interrogation by the US military.
Ok, so you might not be at the ‘I’m so exhausted I feel like I’m being interrogated’ stage just yet. But the fact is, with ever-increasing work commitments, expanding after-school activity schedules and endless nights worrying how the heck you’re going to cope when the Ayi leaves for holiday, many of us these days are well and truly sleep deprived.
When it comes to getting good ZZZs it’s not just about the quantity of sleep, but more importantly the quality of it. Lifestyle and sleep come hand in hand, one automatically affects the other. How you function during the day is greatly affected by how well you sleep at night. If you suffer from daytime fatigue or nighttime sleeping difficulties the cause will most likely be found somewhere in your daily routine. Bedtime habits, electronics, food, stress and general lifestyle can all have an enormous impact on the quality of our sleep.
When the body lacks proper sleep it goes into shutdown mode. The immune system weakens, making you more susceptible to illness. The need for instant energy increases the cravings for high carbohydrates and sugary foods, which over time increases your risk of obesity and diabetes. Changes in metabolism affect the way that prescription or over-the-counter medications work and any changes in mood caused by exhaustion can bring on a series of depression and anxiety.
The amount of sleep one needs varies from person to person but anything from six to nine hours is considered normal. There are many ways one can improve sleep, from acupuncture and lavender scented pillowcases to the good old fashioned counting of imaginary sheep.
Here are a few tried and tested methods that should have you nodding-off in no time:
1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day
Sticking to a sleep schedule helps regulate the body’s internal clock. Choose a time when you normally feel tired so that you don’t toss and turn. If you’re getting enough sleep then over time you should be waking up naturally without the need of an alarm. If after several weeks you’re still in need an alarm clock to wake up, try going to bed a little earlier. Keep to within an hour of these sleeping times even during the weekends as any changes can throw your body’s clock back out of whack.
2. Avoid bright lights for one hour before going to sleep
Any artificial light at bedtime can interfere with the body’s natural sleeping rhythm. Blue light emitted by electronics is especially disruptive, just as much as their content is stimulating. Turning off the TV, switching your mobile to flight mode, dimming the lights in favor of candles and reading from a good old fashioned paperback instead of your beloved tablet will not only help you to relax but the darkness also indicates to the body that it’s time to sleep.
3. Exercise Regularly
Studies show that regular exercisers sleep better and feel less sleepy during the day. Exercising regularly increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep, so the more vigorously you exercise the more powerful the sleep benefits will be. But even light exercises such as walking will make a difference. Working out early in the day wakes the body up, but doing so too close to bedtime is energizing and you may then find it harder to drift off.
4. It’s not just what’s going on inside your head
What’s in your stomach while you sleep is just as important! Sleeping on a full stomach may seem like a nice idea but it’s a recipe for digestion issues, heartburn and stomach reflux. Wine may be known as a relaxant, but too much of it actually has the opposite effect. Alcohol might send you off to sleep initially, but the quality of sleep you have will be poor, increasing the likelihood of waking up in the middle of the night and feeling sluggish in the morning.
5. Cut out the caffeine
You might be surprised to know that caffeine can still have an effect on the body for as long as 12 hours after consumption. Consider swapping your normal caffeinated drink for herbal teas in the afternoon and avoid it at all cost in the evening. You may have been drinking a cup of English tea every night before bed since you were young, but you'd be amazed at the difference in quality of sleep once you stop!
6. Leave your day behind
Process your thoughts about the day before getting into bed. Leave your to-do list behind and take some time to focus on your breathing. Switching off from your day and getting in tune with your body helps the mind to wind down. Instead of thinking about all the stuff you’ve got to do tomorrow, think about all the things that you are grateful for that happened today.
7. If all else fails, get out of bed
Continuing to lie there only makes matters worse. Take your mind off trying to sleep with something that’s relaxing and doesn't involve bright lights for a while, then climb back into bed when you finally feel tired.