If someone told you that scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory and makes you more creative. It makes you look more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off cold and the flu. It lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Would you interested?
There’s a high chance your answer would be YES! This excerpt is taken from Why We Sleep, written by Neuroscientist and sleep guru Professor Matthew Walker and is in my opinion, the most compelling read on SLEEP.
While it’s no secret that a good night’s sleep makes you feel better. What was most compelling is the case he makes for it, by explaining what the brain gets up to when we sleep. Did you know that sleep is one of the three “active” brain states required for optimal brain function? Or even that both stages of deep sleep and REM / dream sleep are required for this brain function? This and many other research backed nuggets contribute towards making the case for why short changing our sleep has dire implications on our wellbeing – body and mind.
E.g. The brain has three working states to perform optimally:
- encoding (recording new information)
- recall (accessing memories) and
- consolidation (bringing it all together to create stable memories). This stage only happens when we sleep. While the body rests, the brain gets on with important work that affects our ability to learn and remember.
You’ve also probably heard of sleep cycles. What he also confirms is that both deep sleep and REM sleep are necessary for this consolidation work. Deep sleep is essential for cementing memories and information while REM (rapid eye movement)/dream sleep helps to form connections between recently learned information and our entire back catalog of memories. Therefore shortchanging sleep means you don’t hit both restorative stages which has dire implications on body and mind.
We don’t even scratch the surface here and can’t recommend the book highly enough and it’s user friendly. From what really happens during sleep to how caffeine and alcohol affect it, to why our sleep patterns change across a lifetime. It also covers other physical functions like muscle growth, protein synthesis, and tissue repair that happen when we sleep.
So now we understand the importance of getting enough quality time in the sack. Here are a few practical tips to ensure that we set ourselves up for the best possible night’s sleep.
Reduce the things in your life that disrupt your sleep…
- Reduce light. Darkness helps the body release melatonin which helps us sleep better. Blue light from electronics increases brain activity and softer, moodier lighting on the other hand, makes us feel sleepier, as our body associates darkness with time to start switching off. Trick your mind by gradually dimming lights around the house a few hours as you approach sleep time. If you are flying, why not try Blue light blocking glasses – to help beat that jet lag.
- Reduce stimulants. Ginseng, matcha, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine increase your energy and reduce the quality of sleep you get. Did you know that coffee has a half life of 5-6 hours, i.e. a quarterof the coffee consumed at noon may still be in your system at midnight. Read more here.
- Eat lighter and earlier. Rich, fatty foods before bed stimulate the digestive system too much and are harder for the body to break down. Experts suggest allowing at least two hours before sleep.
Increase the things that help you sleep…
- Regularity. Sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time each day. Seven to nine hours of sleep should be the gold standard even if not possible every night.
- Get regular exercise but avoid exercise close to bedtime. Experts recommend allowing at least three hours before bedtime. And if you must then try a warm bath / shower afterwards to help to reduce your body temperature and get a better nights sleep. The best sleeping temperature for most adults is 60 to 72°F (15 to 22°C) and for the elderly around 66 to 70°F (19-21°C).
- Take time to unwind before bed. Read a book, listen to a sleep story, we are fans of Calm and Sleepy (which is free). Natural remedies are an increasingly popular way help relax and induce sleep. We swear by aromatherapy, especially our Flight Mode. It’s blend a calming and other immune boosting essential oils in a nutrient rich base of Marula, Chia and Kahai that really help ease the mind. Simply roll onto to your pulse points, under your nostrils or even chest before bed and breathe in the calming benefits.
- Get a good bed. The National Bed Federation has a helpful guide on choosing the perfect mattress along with all the most popular sleep related questions. If you regularly travel and find that it negatively affects your sleep, the Ostrich Pillow is fantastic for the road, and thankfully now comes in more discrete styles.
And when you really can’t sleep…
There is nothing worse than lying awake in bed, willing sleep to come and experiencing a steady rise in anxiety. For those times, these tips might help.
- Walk it out. Sleep Expert Professor Matthew Walker, recommends getting out of bed if you’ve been lying awake for around 25mins. He suggests you exit the bedroom to do something relaxing e.g. read a book. Avoid blue / harsh lighting, and to only return to bed when you feel very sleepy. The reason for this approach is to help prevent the brain from associating the bedroom as a place for sleep anxiety.
- Journalling. Can help clear the mind and create that release.
- Meditation. Yoga Nidra (known as psychic sleep) is a specific practice to help induce sleep and there’s an array of free Yoga Nidra meditations that you can explore here.
- Tool up. Invest in a gadget to help you sleep, there is a list here. A good sleep tracker will also help you better understand your patterns and what adjustments to make.
We are all creatures of habit, repetition and routines are the only ways to make changes last. There’s no point in jumping in at the deep end and trying to do everything at once – one or two steps in the right direction and gradually work your way up over time. For the podcast fans, Dr Rangan Chatterjee dives into sleep with Professor Walker on his Feel Better, Live More podcast.
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