Get some sleep
One third of our life is spent sleeping – or should be. Increasing numbers of people are finding that this percentage is seriously slipping, with less time spent asleep, and the sleep that we do get proving unsatisfying.
Sleep is designed to restore us to full function after a period (usually a day) of wearing ourselves out. During the night tissues are repaired, organs rest or finish cycles such as flushing out toxins, and the brain filters the events of the day. This is why you can sometimes wake up with the answer to a problem that seemed insolvable the evening before.
The problem comes when sleep is elusive as our bodies miss out on crucial time to repair and restore. As a result, the brain can struggle to cope, memory slips, concentration becomes less efficient, the muscles feel fatigued, and the eyes and skin suffer too. Parents with new babies know how divorced from reality they feel after a few weeks of severely interrupted sleep and torturers from Roman times onwards have used sleep deprivation to unpick prisoner’s brains.
So, a good solid few hours of sleep will do wonders for everything from your skin to your soul.
When getting a good night’s sleep starts to become challenging it can have some seriously negative consequences for your health, as we’ve just discussed. According to research even an hour less a night can have an impact so what can you do to support your sleep patterns? As it turns out, quite a bit as I shall explore below.
Caffeine can stimulate the nervous system and put it on red alert which makes it difficult to unwind and drift into a natural sleep. It also doesn’t help that most people don’t seem aware of how long caffeine can linger in their systems for. It take around 4-6 hours for just half of the caffeine you’ve consumed to leave your system and this figure can even vary depending on the medication you are taking.1 Scary!
Remember that chocolate and fizzy drinks all contain caffeine, plus the usual suspects like tea and coffee. If you simply can’t do without your morning cuppa, I recommend you keep all caffeine consumption limited to before noon. You could also try natural, caffeine-free alternatives such as our Bambu Coffee Substitute which has a rich, coffee-like flavour but without any of the drawbacks!
Spend some time outdoors
Your sleep cycle is regulated by two hormones; melatonin, the sleep hormone, and cortisol, a stress hormone. The secretion of these hormones can sometimes depend on your exposure to sunlight so, during the day, try to spend some time outdoors. Not only will this help to maintain a healthy sleep cycle, it may even give your mood a boost too! Sunlight is also your body’s primary way of manufacturing vitamin D which could be very important considering what recent studies have discovered about the correlations between vitamin D deficiency and poor sleep quality.
Clear your mental agenda before you go to bed
You could make a list of things to do the next day or of issues that you need to consider, and then put them aside for the night. It might even be worth keeping a diary as sometimes outlining your thoughts in pen and paper can help to relieve any lingering feelings of stress or anxiety.
Spare some time to unwind
If you find that you’re tossing and turning restlessly in bed, it might help to set aside some time in the hours leading up to your bedtime to unwind and relax. Have a warm bath or read a pleasant book, but don’t watch the nerve-wracking news or try to finish an essay just before bed. These activities might just trigger your ‘fight or flight’ reflexes, definitely delaying any hopes of getting a good night’s sleep.
Reserve your bed for sleep
Keeping your bedroom as an area of sleep and not a work station will ensure that your body will not associate being in bed with being alert and on edge. Having your bedroom packed with a television, computer and stacks of work makes it difficult for the brain to switch off so instead make sure your bedroom is a welcoming and comforting environment.
Practice deep breathing techniques
If you struggle with stress, practicing some deep breathing techniques can help you to relax and combat any tense or upsetting emotions. I talk a little bit more about this in my blog, ‘Simple breathing techniques for a better night’s sleep.’
Take a herbal remedy
A combination of Valerian and Hops can be taken just before bed and will allow you to slip easily into a restful sleep, without any groggy hangover-type effects in the morning. These herbs are non-addictive and can be taken alongside other medication, except sleeping medication or tranquillisers.
Originally published 29 September 2013 (updated on 11 October 2018)