There are people whom many would be jealous, those fortunate ones who can just fall asleep anywhere and at a drop of a hat – on planes, in cars, at work even. On the other hand, there are those who rarely get a good night’s sleep and for whom tossing and turning are par for the course.
You just have to catch public transport or look around the office in the morning to see the effects that poor sleep has on people’s bodies: panda like dark circles under the eyes, infectious Yogi Bear-style yawning, near noxious smells that toxify the air, sallow skin and fine lines, and the long grumpy faces that pervade throughout the office. Then there are the well-documented effects on your health, ranging from forgetfulness, weight gain, and heart disease all the way up to increased risk of getting Alzheimer ’s disease.
Sleep is such an invaluable necessary part of our lives, yet it is so underrated, often neglected as a consequence of a culture that places work above it. Sleep is when the body repairs itself when it clears toxins from its system, and when cells build proteins to repair the damage. Sleep is when our digestive system gets to kick back, relax, and have some quieter moments. Sleep is also when we dream and enter the REM stage – not to be confused with the American rock band from Georgia – but rather a unique phase of sleep – only mammals do this – characterised by random movement of the eyes and vivid dreams.
Just some of the great benefits which we gain from a good night’s sleep are: it boosts our immunity, it can help us lose weight, it boosts mental wellbeing, it reduces our risk of type 2 diabetes, it increases our sex drive, and helps reduce our risk of heart disease.
Our modern hectic lifestyles have made it increasingly harder to get a good peaceful night’s sleep, so we have put together our top 5 tips for bidding farewell to poor and disrupted sleep.
It is good to be disconnected
Technology surrounds us in today’s world, but we don’t need it when we are in bed. In fact, the blue light or short-wavelength enriched light emitted from electronic devices like smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and some computers, interferes with melatonin production and our body’s natural circadian rhythms, which can disturb our sleep patterns robbing us of the essential Z’s we need. If you just can’t live without checking your status updates or a bit of late night browsing, download the F.Lux app or the Twilight app, both of which adapt the colour of your display to the time of day.
Stick to a schedule
We have set times throughout the majority of our lives, from school to work, yet we are often guilty of disregarding a schedule when it comes to something as important as sleep. Stick to set times for going to bed and waking up. Consistency reinforces the body’s sleep-wake cycle and will ensure you get a better night’s sleep. But don’t try to force yourself to go to sleep, if you find yourself wide awake staring at the ceiling, get up, do something relaxing, such as stretching, meditating, reading, or taking a warm bath. Then go back to bed when you are feeling tired.
It is not the time to worry
We all suffer from anxiety from time to time. Our brains racing, in overdrive, stuck on the troubles of the day, and consequently “quieting the mind” becomes an impossible task. But similar to sticking to a sleep schedule, there is a time and place for you to deal with what is making you anxious. Schedule a time each day – preferably before you go to bed – to simply write down what is troubling you. Systematically document what is worrying you to help quiet the mind and avoid fixating on them when you are trying to get to sleep.
Comfort is king
Fashion may always be said to be uncomfortable, but the environment we sleep in must be as comfortable as possible. Your room must be cool, dark and quiet. To ensure this, use earplugs, a sleep mask, and if it too hot, use a fan.
It is very subjective, but a good mattress and pillow is very important for getting a good night’s sleep. Ensure you are comfortable, and if you are sharing the bed, make sure there’s enough room for two.
Eat and workout to doze off
Say no to those late evening meals and snacks. Avoid heavy, rich foods two hours before bedtime. Fatty foods give your stomach too much work to do when it should be resting. This can keep you awake, especially if it then causes you stomach trouble or heartburn. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided before going to bed. Both will have a negative impact on your sleep.
Regular exercise has so many benefits, a study of Stanford athletes even found that extended sleep resulted in significant improvements in athletic functioning. Just 20–30 minutes of daily activity can help you get a better night’s sleep. But try to avoid exercising just before you go to bed as this could be counter-intuitive and keep you awake.
By N Bowles, published on blog.parkinn.com