Never underestimate the power of good sleep. Not only does it help to maintain your physical and mental health, it also boosts brain function and prevents weight gain. Yet not all of us are so blessed with the ability to simply switch off for a restful night. It’s hard to quell those racing thoughts, particularly in such anxiety-driven times, but these following factors will pave the way to better sleep with time and discipline.
Before we get to it, here’s a crash course on understanding sleep. In short, sleep is regulated by two internal biological mechanisms: The circadian rhythm and homeostasis. Your body’s biological clock controls your circadian rhythms, which governs sleepiness and alertness in response to light changes in your environment. Homeostasis, on the other hand, tracks your need for sleep, reminding your body to rest.
The science of sleep
Your body goes through waves of activity as you sleep. There are five stages of sleep. The first two are fairly light, where the brain moves from somewhat alert to where eye movements and brain waves slow down, and the body temperature drops.
In the third and fourth stage, sleep deepens and you arrive at a point where it’s most difficult to wake. Finally, at stage five, you enter REM sleep, where you go through intense dreaming, and brain activity. This typically occurs towards morning. Here, arm and leg muscles become temporarily paralysed. A full sleep cycle takes about 90 to 110 minutes to complete, with the exception of the first, and the last.
Work on your sleep schedule
Repetition is the key to a solid sleep schedule. Pick a bedtime, and a wake-up time, and stick to this consistently. We recommend looking up an online sleep calculator. Key in your ideal time to wake up, and you’ll find out the best times for you to turn in. Consider downloading a sleep app as these monitor your sleep patterns, with daily graphs gleaned from information you’ve monitored, and a handy alarm clock function that wakes you at your lightest sleep phase, ensuring you don’t wake up groggy and feeling unrested, even though you have technically had a full night’s sleep.
Then, establish a routine, where you’re consciously preparing for bed an hour or two beforehand, with wind down steps like reading and switching lights.
Put your phone down and turn Netflix off
It’s a no brainer by now that screens emit blue light, which affects your body’s production of the sleep hormone called melatonin. Melatonin levels play a huge part in your circadian rhythms. Once disrupted, your sleep cycles will be thrown off-balance. As you’re getting ready for bed, switch to night mode, or better yet, put that phone away entirely. Any news, or updates from your favourite brands, influencers, and friends can wait. Netflix and sleep also don’t mix. The addictive, autoplay function easily has you binge-watching and procrastinating going to bed.
Pay attention to daytime eating habits
Limit caffeine in the afternoon and evening as it can stay in your bloodstream for up to six hours. Smoking close to bedtime is a no-no as well, as it works as stimulant. You might want to put that nightcap away too. While a lovely glass of wine or a glass of whisky sounds like a good idea, that alcohol can interrupt your circadian rhythm, which in turns affect your REM sleep. With less REM sleep, you’re likely to wake up unfocused and feeling unrested. Moral of the story? Have that drink, but not too close to bedtime.
Other things to avoid is excessive sugar. While it can boost energy levels, you can crash quite quickly once it wears off, resulting in you looking for more stimulants to stay awake at work. Also, avoid heavy meals or fattening foods before sleep to avoid indigestion before sleep. And of course, we can’t move on the point without mentioning the drinking enough water.
Learn to relax
There’s a reason why breathwork is so emphasised when it comes to spiritual wellbeing. Numerous studies have shown that better breathing patterns restores balance to your stress response systems, calms anxious minds, and sharpens the mind. There are many breathing exercises out there, but we’d recommend the 4-7-8 technique. After exhaling completely with a breathy ‘whoosh’ sound, silently inhale through your nose for four seconds, before you hold your breath to a count of seven seconds, then exhaling once more for eight seconds with the same ‘whoosh’ sound. Repeat four times, eventually working your way to eight repetitions.
Few things are more frustrating than a racing mind before bedtime. To help calm your thoughts, try meditation. Mindful meditation works for many, as it involves paying close attention to your body and observing your thoughts without judgement. Other types of meditation may work better for others, and that includes concentrated attention on a mantra or object to quieten the mind, as well as guided meditation that’s led by an instructor.
Maximise your sleep environment
Your bedroom should be your sanctuary, and that means paying attention to sight and sound. Keep your room uncluttered and clean, and ensure that the colours of your walls and linens are soothing as well as keep it low lit. Be strategic about your lighting — some bulbs are even blue-light free — and consider investing in motion sensor night lights. Also keep your room as dark as possible with blackout curtains, blinds, or use a sleep mask that blocks light.
Also consider noise pollution. There is a vast array of earplugs in the market but it’s worth noting that one with a noise reduction rating of 32 decibels is ideal to block out environmental noise yet lets you pick up on pressing sounds like alarms and infant cries. Sound machines is also a popular device, as it lulls you to sleep with white noise, or soothing sounds of nature.
And then there’s temperature. Keep your room’s temperature cool but not too cold. For optimal sleep. 15 to 23 degrees Celcius is the recommended range by experts.
And finally, prioritise your bed. Finding the right mattress and pillows takes time, but it’s all worth it as they keep your body and head in proper alignment, and supports your pressure points to prevent any aches and pains.
Many studies have proven that essential oils can calm anxiety, relieve stress, and foster better sleep. Lavender is most popular for its soothing effect, cedarwood is known to be sedative, while bergamot is said to boost sleep quality.