How to get more sleep
Updated: Sep 13, 2020
When it comes to health, sleep sits above even diet and exercise in terms of importance, yet it often becomes the thing we prioritise the least. So why should we prioritize it and how can we get more?
A good place to start is by understanding how much sleep we need. Experts agree that 7 – 9 hours a night is absolutely non-negotiable for an adult and I hate to break it to you, but you can’t bank sleep! That is to say, sleeping in on the weekends won’t make up for burning the candle at both ends all week. If your job requires you to work night shifts, you need to be extra diligent about getting enough sleep, as staying awake all night can have adverse effects on overall health and wellbeing.
Sleep quality – and quantity – affects everything from our mental health, memory and ability to balance our emotions, to our physical strength, cognitive decision making, brain and heart health and even our immune system and weight. But rather than making sleep our number one health priority, most people view it as a luxury! It’s this state of mind which is causing a public health crisis.
According to sleep scientist and author of ‘Why We Sleep’, Matthew Walker, our learning ability and memory declines as we get older, and “Insufficient sleep across the lifespan is significantly predictive of your development of Alzheimer’s disease pathology in the brain.”
So, are you convinced you need more sleep now?!
You’ve probably heard the term, ‘circadian rhythm’. This refers to the 24-hour sleep/wake cycle that our body is cleverly built to follow. Our internal clock controls the ebb and flow of important hormones – in particular, cortisol, which spikes around 9am to get us up and about for the day, then slowly declines; and melatonin, which peaks at about 9pm to help us drop off to sleep in the evening. By supporting these hormones – and the rest of our body – we can set ourselves on the path to better sleep.
But how can we support these hormones, look after our body and get that all important kip every night? It might not be as hard as you think….
Get a routine
It sounds simple but often it goes right out the window, especially when we get busy in our lives. By going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – yes, even on the weekends! – you will anchor your sleep and improve the quantity and the quality of Zzzz’s you’re getting.
Keep it cool
A steady 18 degrees is the optimum temperature for your bedroom. Pile on an extra blanket if you need to, but keeping your room at this temperature will help get you a better night’s sleep.
Turn it off
Our laptops, iPads and phones emit a blue light which delays the release of melatonin, the hormone which helps us fall asleep. Not only that, but scrolling through the internet or your emails before bed can cause anxiety and stress – the enemies of sleep! Try to keep your phone out of your bedroom – or at least abstain from looking at it as soon as you wake up.
Reduce alcohol and caffeine
Both of these substances have a lot to answer for when it comes to sleep deprivation! To aid a better sleep in the evenings, have your last coffee before midday. Alcohol is a sedative (like a sleeping pill). It helps you lose consciousness but it actually fragments your sleep, causing you to feel far from fresh when you wake up.
Movement supports melatonin production, as little as 10 mins a day of aerobic activity can make a difference.
Have a hot shower
This drops your core body temperature and signals to your circadian clock that it’s time to sleep. Bliss!
Enjoy a milky drink
Many people shy away from milk, but it contains two very important ingredients: tryptophan and melatonin. A milky beverage, combined with the psychological effect of this comforting night time routine, may help induce sleep. In Ayurveda, a golden milk (turmeric latte) is recommended.
The best way to switch off the monkey mind that so often keeps us awake, is to form a regular meditation practice. It calms the mind and teaches you to let go of the stresses of the day.
I hope these tips help pave the way to better sleep for you and your loved ones.