Ah, enough sleep. So elusive to so many of us, yet so crucial to all of us. Even if Margaret Thatcher did manage to run the country on four hours sleep a night, that’s really not an ideal way to live life.
We should all be aiming for at least seven hours each night, preferably eight. Sleep is nourishing and it’s during sleep that the body repairs itself. If we don’t get enough, we run the risk of irritability and low productivity at best. Chronic sleep deprivation can lead to obesity, disease, a depleted immune system and a higher risk of being involved in an accident.
Also, if we’re sleep deprived, our diet is likely to take a tumble too. Instead of eating a healthy, balanced diet, we’ll reach for the processed, carb-fuelled lunches and sugary snacks. And coffee, lots of coffee. Which in a cruel twist of fate will keep us awake at night if we carry on drinking it late into the afternoon.
So how can we ensure we get enough? Especially when stress, being busy and having so much to do is such a huge part of modern life?
The Concept of Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is collection of steps and habits that leads to restful, uninterrupted, good quality sleep, and being alert and functional during the day.
The following can help achieve this:
- Go to bed and aim to rise at the same time each day, even at weekends. Getting into a pattern is good for your biological clock and will help to make you naturally tired and awake at the same points in the evening and morning respectively. Don’t forget, laying in on a Sunday morning will mean falling asleep later on Sunday night, and struggling to wake up to a 6am alarm on Monday!
- Don’t eat a heavy meal before bed, but equally don’t go to bed hungry. Both will keep you awake.
- Do relaxing things before going to bed. This could mean having a bubble bath, reading or meditating. Avoid anything that stresses you out, including thinking about your to do list for the next day or speaking to someone you know will make you tense.
- Avoid screen time in the half hour before bed. The blue light emitted from the screen will trick your eyes and brain into thinking its daytime.
- Make your bedroom a sleep haven – make sure it’s dark, not too warm, quiet and free from clutter.
- Don’t smoke, exercise vigorously or drink alcohol or caffeine in the hour before bed, they will all keep you awake.
- Try to develop a night time ‘ritual’. This can mean settling into bed, avoiding screen time, turning down the lights and reading, around the same time each evening. This sends signals to the body that it’s time for sleep.
- Try drinking sleepy chamomile tea before bed, or taking a supplement that naturally helps to promote sleep. L-tryptophan is an amino acid that supports healthy sleep patterns and L-theanine, another amino acid, can help relax and calm the mind. Valerian root is a herb that promotes tranquillity and sleep.
If nothing seems to work for you, then have a chat with your GP. They may be able to prescribe you some sleeping tablets that provide temporary relief and point you in the right direction for further help.
World Sleep Day is on 15th March this year. Will you spend it tired, or will you feel energised and invigorated?