Sleep. We all know that it’s important, but how many of us are getting enough? Not many, if recent news reports are anything to go by.
There’s been various reports on our lack of sleep in the press recently. The BBC interviewed Shirley Cramer, chief executive of The Royal Society for Public Health, who warned that many of us are regularly getting too little sleep. It is calling on the government to intervene and issue guidance with a so-called ‘slumber number’ for the hours of shut-eye we should get every night. Apple have introduced a setting for the latest iPhone that stops the blue light that can interrupt our snoozing, and Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post has written a book calledThe Sleep Revolution. After once surviving on just 3 or 4 hours a night, Arianna realised that ‘Only by renewing our relationship with sleep can we take back control of our lives.’
Indeed, lack of sleep has a profound effect not only on our health, but also on our relationships, and our work. Our immune system can be compromised, and we are more likely to suffer from inflammation and weight gain. Our decision-making skills are affected, and our reflexes, meaning we are less likely to be safe whilst driving or operation machinery. This brilliant info-graphic from the BBC shows us the best and worst times for exercise, eating, and sleeping, based on if we’ve had a good night’s sleep.
Recent studies from the University of Rochester Medical Centre have shown that during the day, our brains build up toxins, and that the restorative nature of sleeping actually helps the brain to ‘wash’ itself, and flush those toxins out. Literally ‘clearing our heads’. Over time, by getting enough sleep, we can lower our risk of Alzhimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases and chronic illnesses, as well as being able to perform better in all aspects of our lives.
So what can we do in order to get a better night’s sleep? Here are 5 simple steps to take to help you sleep deeper for longer.
1. Reduce ‘blue light’ at night.
TV’s, laptops, tablets and smartphones all emit a glow that can interrupt our sleep pattern by suppressing melatonin, even if we leave them on standby. By switching off completely, or by removing devices from the bedroom, we can encourage less disturbance throughout the night.
2. Avoid caffeine and spicy foods after 2pm.
Both caffeine and spices are stimulants so we want to be avoiding these after 2pm, in order to let the body wind down and relax. It’s also a good idea to try not to eat a heavy meal after 6pm, so that the stomach isn’t trying to digest overnight.
3. Introduce a bedtime routine.
As babies and children we are usually kept to a strict bedtime routine, but as we get older and we have no one to enforce a routine, most of us don’t have any particular steps we take before going to bed. But sticking to the same routine each night can help train the mind into knowing it is bedtime, so rituals such as a warm bath, no TV or internet an hour before bed, meditation or yoga can help to reset our routine and get us ready for lights-out.
4. Use Lavender
Lavender oil, a natural relaxant, can be used in the bath, in an oil burner or directly on your pillow to help induce sleep. Look out for pre-blended oils specifically for night-time, some can be applied directly to the skin.
5. Make the bed a ‘sleep only’ zone
Try to avoid working on your laptop, eating or watching TV in your bed. By reserving that space for sleep only, you will find that it is easier to switch off once your head hits the pillow.