Do you wake up in the mornings still feeling drained and brain-fogged? It’s becoming clearer and clearer that we don’t value our sleep as highly as we should.
In fact, new research even tells us that poor quality sleep could lead to brain shrinkage.
This new discovery is one more addition to the multitude of problems associated with sleep deprivation, including cardiovascular disease, weight gain, diabetes and mood problems.
No one is totally sure why we need to sleep but it is clear that sleep is essential for maintaining normal cognitive skills. In other words, sleep plays a significant role in brain development.
Significantly, the study shows it is not just about the number of hours you sleep, but the quality of the sleep.
How can you sleep restfully?
1. Discover your natural sleep cycle:
- Getting in sync with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle (your circadian rhythm) will make you feel far more refreshed than sleeping the same number of hours at different times.
- You can find your optimum sleep schedule by setting aside a few weeks (if possible) where you go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up naturally, without an alarm. Once you settle into a routine, you should have a better idea of how much sleep you need.
2. Develop a good bedtime routine
- A slightly cool room at around 18° C or 65° F is optimum.
- Melatonin, the hormone that helps you feel sleepy, is disrupted by bright light. To avoid affecting your sleep-wake cycle, try to increase your exposure to light during the day and limit it at night. Dim the lights closer to bedtime and avoid looking at bright screens. That means putting away your phone, shutting down your computer and turning off the TV. There's a reason why your parents made you read before bedtime!
- To start winding down it’s better to lower noise levels an hour or so before you sleep. If you are likely to be disturbed by background noise outside of your room, consider listening to white noise or something repetitive and constant.
3. Maintain your mattress
- You’ll know this is the problem if you’re sleeping better in another bed. In any case, mattresses should be replaced every 5-7 years, or when you can feel springs.
4. Be careful what you eat
- Avoid big meals and heavy, rich foods for at least two hours before bed. Because your body is working hard to digest the food, it can keep you awake. There might just be some truth to the belief that cheese gives you nightmares!
- Stay away from caffeine for as long as possible before bed. It can affect your wakefulness for up to 12 hours so it’s best to try and avoid coffee after lunch. Replace it with chamomile or herbal teas.
- You might think alcohol puts you to sleep, but it reduces sleep quality and is likely to make you wake up during the night.
- 20-30 minutes of daily activity can improve your sleep considerably.
- Having said that, vigorous exercise in the evenings can stimulate the body too much and keep you up. Try some gentle yoga or stretching instead.
6. Calm your overactive mind
- A big cause of insomnia and disrupted sleep is the inability to calm an overactive or anxious mind.
- Try writing a plan for the next day to avoid worrying about the tasks ahead. It’s better to do this as early as possible and get it out of your thoughts.
- Listen to some calming music and/or try some relaxation or meditation techniques. The Huffington Post's article on meditation for sleep is a good starting point.
- Certain smells might help too. There is evidence to suggest lavender and valerian root can help you sleep more restfully.
7. What if I wake up?
- Focus on bodily sensations to avoid stimulating the mind.
- Stay positive and think about relaxation, not sleep. Panicking that you can't get to sleep only becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
These tips should help most of us - that is if we manage to stick to them! If you find you have persistent sleep problems, however, it is important to see a doctor. Some studies suggest that sleep problems can be a sign of a developing mental illness, or perhaps even trigger mental illness.
How are you hacking your happiness?
Do you think you sleep enough? Have you tried any of the apps that claim to improve your sleep? We’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also subscribe to our newsletter here.