Sleep too little? You feel like cr*p. Too much? You feel like cr*p. Always sleeping? You’d miss out on life. Never sleeping? You’d die.
No two ways about it – when it comes to your health you’ve got to get your sleep right. Sleep is IT. If it’s bad, then it’s pretty hard to feel good – emotionally and physically.
Approximately 40% of Aussie adults and 27% of American adults struggle with sleep in some way. Some of us suffer from insomnia, others from children. And the number of people moving into shift work is increasing – which can cause chaos in the land of nod.
The reasons for poor sleep differ depending on who you’re talking to, but there are some things everyone can try in order to sleep better. Here are 5 right now.
1. You booze, you lose. We’d never tell you to skip the after-work wine. We’re not monsters. But alcohol and sleep? It’s complicated. Alcohol boosts ‘adenosine’: an important brain chemical involved in sleep. After a few drinks, this is what happens:
· Adenosine goes up
· The cells that promote wakefulness switch off
· You wind down super quick
Sounds good, right? It’s not. Because as we all know, alcohol wears off. And if you have some too close to bedtime, it starts to wear off and fragment your sleep right when you’re moving into the REM cycle. REM sleep is considered the most restorative type of sleep – so when it’s interrupted, you’re likely to wake up groggy and unfocused.
Alcohol also relaxes all the muscles in your body – including the ones in the back of your throat. This can aggravate breathing problems like snoring or sleep apnoea. AND it makes you pee more, so you’ll be getting up to go to the toilet more often. (Or changing the sheets, depending on how many you’ve had.)
Nightcap? More like NightMARE. Conclusion? Aim to stop drinking alcohol 2-3 hours before bed.
2. Light, light, baby. At night your brain secretes a hormone called melatonin, which promotes sleep. If your room is too bright, your brain will find it difficult to produce melatonin and this will increase the length of time it takes you to fall asleep. Get this: even when your eyes are closed, light can still travel through your eyelids and impair melatonin release.
So, make your room as dark as possible. Invest in heavy curtains, cover light-emitting sources like digital clocks, and stop using your devices 2 hours before bed. The blue light coming from your iPhone or iPad has been shown to suppress melatonin by about 22%.
When it’s time to wake up – the opposite is true – the more, the better! Being exposed to light as soon as you wake up and as much of it as possible during the day can:
· Increase your daytime energy
· Reduce the time it takes you to fall asleep at night
· Improve your sleep quality, efficiency and duration
· Optimise and perfect your melatonin production
Natural sunlight is best, but if this is not practical for you (e.g. if you’re a shift worker) then take advantage of artificial bright-light sources. Shift workers: you guys really have it tough. But try your best to manipulate your light exposure to suit your schedule and get better sleep.
3. Cool it. When you lie down, the heat in your body moves from your core to your periphery (hands, feet, arms, legs), and then exits your body through your skin. Four hours after you fall asleep, your body’s core temperature drops to its lowest level. This cools you down and increases the melatonin in your system, making you feel sleepy.
You can mimic this process by taking a warm bath 1-2 hours before bedtime. In the bath, your core temperature will rise, but as soon as you step out, it will abruptly drop, signalling to your body that you’re ready for sleep. Most scientists agree that setting the room temperature to 20°C works well. Anything over 23°C is considered too hot. (Don’t let this discourage you from getting steamy right before bed though – that’s still allowed. Encouraged, in fact )
4. Get out of bed. We mean it. If you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep within 10-20 minutes, then go into another room and…stay awake. Do something that occupies AND relaxes you, like reading, listening to soothing music or meditation. Go back to bed only when you feel tired again.
Basically, when you’re in bed, dose off, get off or get OUT.
5. Work it. Some say that regular exercise at any time of the day can help you sleep. Others say that exercising too close to bedtime is too stimulating and will increase your alertness. Timing aside, everyone agrees that regular exercise is one of the best things you can do for your sleep. Studies have shown that it has the potential to:
· Halve the amount of time it takes you to nod off
· Extend your sleep duration by up to 41 minutes or 18%
· Reduce total night wakefulness
Don’t let a fear of poor sleep stop you from exercising. Just listen to your body. If you find it hard to fall asleep after exercising at night, then try to work out in the morning or during your lunch-break.
It’s hard being human.
It’s hard to figure out what works best for you sometimes. It’s either a stab in the dark, or a long, tiring process of trial and error. But the HeadUp Labs app can help. We’ll look at what your data tells us about your sleep, figure out how it impacts other areas of your health, and help you improve it.