How well have you slept over the past couple of nights? What about in the last week? The past month? Most people we speak with about their sleep rarely report it being perfect. Some might be getting the hours in, but it’s rarely of the quality that will have them jumping out of bed feeling refreshed, revitalised and ready for the day. That kind of restorative sleep is a possibility; read on, and it will become clear.
Why Sleep is Important
The effects of sleep are tightly linked to all of our body systems; as a result, a good night’s sleep will impact everything, from blood sugar and immune regulation to memory and concentration. The risk of developing chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease increase with sleep deprivation.
Sleep is fundamental for your body to recover and function every day. The longer we are awake, the greater the pressure to sleep. This sleep pressure results from rising levels of chemicals like the neurotransmitter adenosine, making us feel drowsy and tired by hindering neurons in the brain. Humans produce higher adenosine levels following an active day, and after a good night’s sleep, that sleep pressure is reduced.
Quality over Quantity
You’ve probably heard that the average adult needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night, and there is a tendency to focus on hitting those magic numbers. That laser focus on the quantity of sleep fails to consider sleep quality. But here’s the thing: our sleep quality matters as much as, and probably even more than the quantity. A restless night’s sleep where you spend more time awake than asleep will mean that you’re not getting the kind of quality sleep that your body needs. Quality sleep occurs when our body cycles through all four stages of sleep at least five times. The four stages are:
Non-REM Stage 1 – the transition between wakefulness and sleep
Non-REM Stage 2– light sleep marked by a drop in body temperature and slower heart rate
Non-REM Stage 3 -deepest sleep occurs in this stage
REM sleep – dreams happen in this stage, and the body becomes immobilised
Ensuring that the body can move through each stage entirely is critical for a restful night’s sleep.
Humans repair the most between 10 pm and 2 am. In the early hours of the night, the body spends more time in non-REM sleep, the deepest stage of sleep when the body restores and recovers as we progress through the night, the length of non-REM sleep decreases and REM sleep increases. So it stands to reason that the later you go to sleep, the more the body is focused on less restful, lighter REM sleep.
How to have a great night’s sleep
You can do several things to get a great night’s sleep, and by experimenting with the following tips, you can improve your sleep quality and health.
OPTIMISING YOUR SLEEP SCHEDULE
Remember, you’ll want to make sure that you are cycling through all four of the stages of sleep at least five times; this is equivalent to five 90 minute sleep cycles or seven and a half hours of sleep.
Set a fixed wake-up time and count backwards eight and a half hours to accommodate the 90-minute cycles and give you an hour to wind down before falling asleep. So if you need to wake up at 6:30 am, you’ll need to start your wind down for bed by 10 pm to ensure you are asleep by 11 pm.
Where possible, try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even on weekends or when you are travelling. Adjust your schedule gradually to avoid significant changes that could throw off your sleep schedule.
Sleep can be almost impossible when you have several thoughts whirring around in your head. So it’s essential to shut off your brain, wind down and relax. There are several ways to do this, and you’ll need to find the one that works best for you. But here are a few suggestions:
MAKE A LIST
If your thoughts or your never-ending to-do list keep you awake at night, get them down on paper. Make a list of all the things you need to do tomorrow or over the next few days. If you’ve had any thoughts or brilliant ideas, get them down too, there’s nothing worse than having a great idea and forgetting it. This way, it’s out of your head, and you can work on it tomorrow. Mentally offloading in this way before bed helps to free your mind and sleep soundly.
A WARM BATH WITH LAVENDER ESSENTIAL OILS
Essential oils have numerous benefits, from boosting our mood and reducing anxiety and pain to improving sleep and relieving pain. Lavender has been shown to have a calming effect and increases non-REM stage 3 sleep allowing participants to feel more energised the next day.
Restorative exercises like hatha yoga incorporate gentle body postures and breathing techniques and Nidra yoga, which is completed while lying down also focuses on breathing or perception of certain parts of the body. Yoga poses like supta baddha konasana or uttanasana encourage the body to relax and sleep and are most beneficial to support good quality sleep.
REDUCE YOUR INTAKE OF CAFFEINE
Getting a good night’s sleep starts during the day, and reducing your caffeine intake will help with this. Caffeine mimics the neurotransmitter adenosine that builds up throughout the day and causes tiredness by inhibiting neurons in the brain. The caffeine molecule can bind to the receptors in the brain, keeping the body from realising that it’s tired. It takes about five hours for half of the caffeine consumed in coffee and soft drinks to be metabolised by the body; this is caffeine’s half-life. The elimination half-life of a substance is the length of time required for the drug concentration to decrease by half of its starting dose in the body; caffeine’s elimination half-life is between 1.5 and 9.5 hours, depending on the quantity and your metabolism. So it’s probably best to avoid caffeinated products after midday to ensure that it doesn’t affect your sleep.
CREATE A SLEEP SANCTUARY
Now that you addressed some key human areas that could lead to a wakeful night, it’s time to move on to your environment. Sleep comes in the right environment, and your bedroom should support a good night’s sleep. To achieve this, clear your bedroom of any clutter; turning it into an oasis of peace and calm will only enhance the quality of your sleep. It should go without saying that electronic devices should be turned off two hours before bed if they are in your room, but ideally, these shouldn’t be in your room.
Ensure you have a good quality mattress that isn’t full of toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, polyurethane foam and flame retardants. Keep the temperature of your room cool around 19 degrees celsius (60-65 degrees Fahrenheit). Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
We spend a third of our lives asleep for a reason; it’s critical to keeping us healthy and well. Good quality sleep sets the stage for every aspect of our health. If you’ve tried these suggestions and are still struggling to sleep, you may need some more specific support. At The Thrive Practice, we support clients to optimise their sleep and teach them ways to help their bodies relax so they can jump out of bed feeling refreshed, revitalised and ready for the day. Discover how we can help you today.