Happy world sleep day 2020! Arguably my favourite day of the year - a whole day for me to wax-lyrical about the worlds most interesting subject: sleep.
This year, I wanted to focus on simple sleep tips and quick fixes that you can apply to improve your sleep. I recognise that a lot of sleep tips can seem totally unachievable or inaccessible to many. Changing your lifestyle isn’t easy, even if the pay off is beneficial.
The truth is that achieving good sleep is about intention, not perfection. It’s about small, incremental changes.
With that in mind, I’ve put together my top tips and quick fixes that you can take to help you start getting more sleep - pronto.
1. Accept that sleep is a necessity, not an option.
The human body is incredible. It carries us through life, absorbing the effects of illness, disease, trauma, and the general battering that life gives it, and somehow it keeps going. When it comes to sleep, we can survive on minimal amounts for a long, long time and feel generally fine. But on a deeper cellular level, you’re not getting off so lightly.
Studies have shown that chronic sleep loss - this means less than 7 hours a night for an extended period of time - has a wide-ranging impact on every system in our bodies increasing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, depression, obesity and dementia. So although you might feel ‘fine’ on the six hours a night you’re managing, the reality is that you aren’t and it’s important you make a change now to avoid health problems. Just because you feel ‘fine’ doesn’t mean you are.
2. Spend enough time in bed - but not too much
The first step of achieving adequate sleep is making sure you have enough time in bed. It sounds simple but stay with me on this.
Although studies have shown some people are genetically tuned to manage on only four hours sleep, the vast majority of us need between 7 to 9 hours a night. Most adults will wake up two to three times a night, average up to 60 minutes wake time. That means to achieve 7 to 9 hours of sleep, you need to be in bed for 8 to 10 hours. Count backwards from the time you need to wake up and make sure you’re allowing enough time.
Now, remember I said not too much time? The longer you spend in your bed /awake/ the more difficulty you will have falling asleep at night. If you are the kind of person who likes to eat, read, watch TV and just about everything else in bed - that has to stop. Bed should only be exclusively for sleep and sex.
3. Drowsy vs Tired
One critical element of correcting sleep issues and achieving good sleep, is understanding the different between drowsy and tired. Tiredness is the feeling or fatigue or exhaustion. Sleepy or drowsy is the phase just before sleep when your eyelids are heavy and you can’t stay awake, even if you want to.
You should only go to bed when you are drowsy, not just tired. That means you are less likely to lie awake in bed for an extended period of time. If you aren’t asleep within 30 minutes, you need to get out of bed. Go to the sofa and do a quiet activity, like reading, in dim light. If you have mobility problems, then even just a comfy chair in your bedroom is fine. Only go back to bed when you are drowsy again. Repeat this process and eventually your brain will associate bed with sleep.
4. Bedtime Ritual
Sleep hygiene - also known as a sleep ritual - is a word for the habits and exercises that are required to achieve deeply restorative sleep. Good sleep hygiene lays the foundations for phenomenal sleep. The kind of sleep that helps your feel alert all day long and ready to climb mountains.
A sleep ritual should feel rich, indulgent, decadent - like a reward to your mind and body for another day on this crazy planet. A little magic to melt away the day and prepare you for rest.
- Choose aromas and fabrics that indulge your senses. If lavender lights your fire, then run with it. If ylike ylike ylang ylang, then use it.
- Treat your ritual like a date: Dim the lights, set the mood with candle or diffuser, and never stand yourself up.
- Your bedroom should be a sanctuary for calm sleep. Make it an enjoyable space to relax in by putting on clean sheets, tidying and removing any clutter on surfaces.
- And most importantly: never, ever use the products outside of your bedtime routine - they should be sacred!
It seems odd because your eyes will be asleep for most of it but your surroundings during sleep are an important factor. You’ll want to create your own personal bat cave: Dark, cool and quiet.
- The ideal temperature for sleep is slightly cooler than you would naturally want, between 15C and 19C. The
- If you have a street light outside your bedroom or your bedroom is particularly light in the mornings, consider black out blinds and/or a sleep mask.
- Turn your bedroom into a sanctuary for sleep. Clear all the surfaces, change your bedsheets, get a candle or aromatherapy diffuser. Make it a pleasurable place to wind down and sleep in.
- Remove any clocks that are easily visible from your room. Clock-watching, whether before bed or in the middle or the night, is the enemy of good sleep. Hide clocks and avoid looking at them until your alarm goes off.
6. You are what you eat (and drink)
The caffeine problem is a bit chicken and egg. You need more caffeine because you aren’t sleeping enough, but you aren’t sleeping enough because you’re having too much caffeine. The key is to avoid any caffeine - including hidden caffeine like chocolate and painkillers - within 8 hours of bedtime. Ideally, switch decaf from midday but you can build up to this. As you begin to achieve more restorative sleep, you won’t be need that caffeine buzz any longer.
Now we know to avoid caffeine just before bed but did you know you should also avoid eating large meals within 2 hours of bedtime? Eating too near bedtime increases the risk of acid reflux, also known as heartburn. Additionally, going to sleep with a full stomach can reduce the amount of deep sleep than length of sleep you achieve.
7. Have a schedule and stick to it at least a few nights a week
Like I mentioned above, good sleep is about Intention not perfection. You don’t have to become a nun, bathed and in bath by 9pm every single night. But aim to have a few nights each week where you commit to make space for sleep. Go to bed in good time, follow your bedtime ritual and look forward to a night of delicious, restorative sleep!
Good sleep improves mood and memory, boosts your immune system, helps you maintain a healthy weight, diverts you away from serious health conditions like diabetes and heart disease - the list goes on! With the worry of Corona virus (Covid-19) on the horizon for most of us, I think now seems like the perfect time to stay indoors and get your sleep on track!