Over the past few months I’ve written about a few wellness related topics. For optimal wellness they all go hand in hand, but it’s widely agreed that sleep trumps all. Sleep is the time to restore and power your body back to perfect. You release most of your growth hormone; fight inflammation, infection and trauma through the release of cytokines; and your sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight) gets a chance to relax, reducing cortisol levels (our stress hormone).
We’ve all felt sleep deprived and the feeling of absolute fatigue that can induce in us. Trying to go about daily life tired is just hard. So thinking about general wellness – eating well and getting some exercise done is nigh on impossible. If you’re well rested you can accomplish anything.
Here are my top tips to power up your sleep:
Create a bedroom environment that relaxes and nurtures you. Bedrooms should be cool, dark and have the best bed you can afford. Ideally banish pets from your room. Ear plugs and eye masks are a good idea for your sleep “kit”. I love a fan – both the white noise component and the fact that if your room is prone to mosquitos they’ll be banished too.
Build a bedtime rhythm. A relaxing ritual. Mine involves reading, but if I choose a book which is a little too interesting, it can delay my sleep. I need something not boring but definitely not suspenseful! I also use a drop of lavender and marjoram oil on my palms (relaxing and calming, which might be placebo – but is ritualistic too). This rhythm should mean also that you try to go to bed and wake at the same approximate time every day. Not doing so has coined the term “social jet lag”.
Turn off screens an hour before bed. If you have to use a screen – use the night function. If you have any worries on your mind, write them down before heading to bed. Putting your phone/devices “to bed” at around 7 or 8pm is a great plan too. Nothing can be gained from checking Facebook or your twitter feed, or the news for that matter, from then til morning.
Try to avoid food in the 2-3 hours before going to bed. Digestion can delay sleep and feeling really full doesn’t encourage optimal comfort. Brushing your teeth straight after dinner can help you to not back to the cupboards for more “comfort food,” because you’re probably not hungry. Avoid liquids 2 hours before bed to avoid toilet stops during the night, or as you are going off to sleep.
Avoid caffiene in the afternoons, or alcohol if you are struggling to sleep. This obviously includes tea and coffee, but don’t forget that dark chocolate has a little caffiene. And that sugar can act as a stimulant. Some people need to entirely cut out caffiene – it depends on how sensitive you are to it. Alcohol often helps you nod off into dream land but then tends to wake most people around 2am. If you’re waking in the morning still feeling tired that may be part of the problem.
Increase your exercise in the mornings and decrease it at night – hard exercise is stimulating. Mornings are best as the early sunlight ups your production of serotonin and dopamine – increasing your feelings of wakefulness, calm and focus. This helps to kick off the circadian rhythm cycle of the day, which dictates sleep/wake cycles. The pineal gland is triggered by the dark of night descending to release melatonin, which encourages sleep.
Some say don’t nap during the day, even if you’ve had a terrible nights sleep. Instead, go for a walk and maybe have a piece of chocolate to make you feel better. On the other hand, some say “sleep begets sleep,” especially true for young children; adults can benefit hugely from a 20-45 minute siesta as long as the timing is right and you work hard in the afternoon to tire yourself sufficiently to get back to sleep at night.
Learn to meditate to manage stress, and if you are having trouble getting to sleep (or waking up) you can use it easily as you will have practised to be able to use it as a sleep tool. I’ve recommended the Headspace app before – “Calm” (the app) is another similarly brilliant place to start with meditation.
Magnesium deficiency can contribute to poor sleep – and can cause cramping which wakes you. Supplementing or improving magnesium sources in your diet may help. Veggies are high in magnesium, as are nuts and seeds, salmon and tuna, avocado, raspberries, figs and bananas.
If you consistently put all of these tips into action and you still don’t sleep well, a trip to a sleep lab is probably the next box to tick. Lots of people have sleep apnoea and don’t realise – and it’s life changing for them to sort out.
“Sleep is the best Meditation.” Dalai Lama.