Are you one of those people who just doesn’t have time for sleep? I am definitely in the club! I can always find a few more things that just have to be done before I hit the pillow – starting from washing up the remaining few pots to watering the plants to finishing one more chapter in the book I just can’t put down…
We easily forget how important sleep is to our health, however.
Leading sleep scientist professor Matthew Walker states that we heading towards “catastrophic sleep-loss epidemic”. In his book Why We Sleep, Walker explains why sleep is so vital for our health and gives a ready prescription for good Zzzs. It took him over four years to write the book and more than 20 years of analyzing the subject so he is definitely the one to listen to!
But – first the basics! What exactly happens when you sleep?
There are two main stages of sleep – non-REM and REM.
Non-REM faze is divided into three stages:
- First 5-10 minutes – your eyes are closed but you can be waken up quite easily.
- Body is preparing for deep sleep – heart rate slows down and body temperature drops.
- Deep sleep – one of the most vital parts of the cycle when your body regenerates and rejuvenates (most importantly the brain and the heart but also bones, muscles, immune system, hormones, etc).
REM stands for rapid eye movement and it is the time when the brain is the most active (processing and supporting daytime performance). The first REM stage happens 90 minutes after falling asleep and reoccurs in 90-minute intervals. This is also the time when we dream! Eyes move quickly from side to side when we watch the imaginations created by our brain, whilst all other muscles are switched off and relaxed.
According to NHS UK, one in three people suffer from insufficient sleep which leads to lower performance at work, school and poor health outcomes. Poor sleep is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression and inflammation. You become more grumpy, angry, and antisocial; plus, we’re more likely to choose unhealthy sugary snacks and drinks.
We need 7-9 hours of undisturbed night sleep to be able to perform well the next day (have good energy levels and a sharp mind). This will ensure your weight is optimal (you don’t eat when you sleep 😉 ) and that your immune system is fully functioning.
Sounds good? Here are my 5 simple tips for an optimal night sleep.
1. Start in the morning!
Did you know that our internal clock (called circadian rhythm) is set to a 24-hour-11-minute period, not the 24-hour one that we are forced to live? Our internal clock will naturally re-synchronize with environmental cues. Circadian rhythm makes us tired in the evening, when is time for bed, and fresh and awake in the morning, when it is time to start the day.
Circadian rhythm is regulated mostly by two hormones–cortisol and melatonin–which work in opposition to each other. Cortisol wakes you up (and is higher in the morning) and melatonin makes you sleepy and ready for bed (its levels are low in the morning and high towards the evening).
One easy way to set your internal clock is to spend a minimum of 20 minutes outside (even if it’s gloomy) before noon. The natural morning light will help set your sleep-wake cycle.
2. Quit caffeine after 2 p.m.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. It increases the blood pressure, breathing, attention and muscle tension. This is connected with increased levels of cortisol (see above); therefore your body switches more towards morning cycle (wakefulness).
If you want your cup of coffee, I advise to enjoy it in the first part of the day. Go for herbal teas later during the day, particularly calming lavender, chamomile and lemon balm in the evening.
3. Choose tryptophan-rich foods towards the afternoon.
Tryptophan is an amino acid (a building block of proteins), which is essential in making serotonin – a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you happy and content. It is also essential for good quality sleep and relaxation.
You can find it in tofu and other soy products, pumpkin and sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds and oats.
So why not go for few slices of apple with peanut or almond butter or some oatcakes?
4. Create a bedtime routine.
Your body loves routine! Routine regulates the body’s most important functions such as digestion, sleep and toxin elimination. This is all connected with our internal clock mentioned earlier.
- Slow down–at least two hours before going to bed.
- Turn away from screens (laptop, mobile phone, computer, tablet) as they all emit the blue light which your brain perceives as a daylight (and stops you from being sleepy).
- Relax–play some chill music and dim the lights. I also like to take a relaxing bath or shower. Put your favorite pajamas on and try some breathing exercises or meditation. This will signal your body that it is time to be calm, unwind and go to sleep.
- Try essential oils.
I will never fail to recommend the essential oils! I find them so helpful for various ailments and problems! They are also extremely easy to use.
4 oz amber glass spray bottle
20 drops of alcohol (might be vodka or rubbing alcohol)
12 drops of lavender oil
4 drops of Roman chamomile oil
4 drops of Ylang ylang or Valerian oil
Add alcohol and essential oils to the bottle and shake well. Fill the remaining space with water (almost to the top). Cap the bottle and shake again.
Apply 3-4 sprays onto your pillow or spray before going to sleep.
Do you struggle to follow a healthy sleep schedule? Have you tried any of these tips?
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P.S. If you want to listen to Prof. Matthew Walker talking about “Why we sleep’”click here.