How much good quality sleep do you get each night? This is one of the questions I always ask my clients because many people have problems getting enough of it and that can have all manner of negative effects on your life and health.
Sleep is one of the most important needs in life. Without it, we break down mentally and physically. Colds, depression, obesity, diabetes and heart disease are just a few of the health problems that can come with a lack of sleep.
When our sleep suffers, our quality of life when we are awake suffers too. The same is true the other way around. Yet few of us do anything to help improve our sleep. So if you’re not getting enough or not getting it right how can you make it better?
Get some quiet time
One of the key factors to a good night’s sleep lies in what you do before you hit the sack. I remember when I was a child my Mum insisted on what she called ‘quiet time’ before bed. No TV, no food and no drink were allowed. Instead we were encouraged to wind down before going to bed like a clockwork toy that slows before stopping. I remember going through the same ritual with my own daughter too. Toys went away, food and drink not allowed and she slowly relaxed before going to bed. I may have read to her but it was never anything thought provoking or dramatic. We always only did that once she was tucked up in her bed. If you have children I would imagine you have a similar routine in your house too.
Yet how many of us ‘wind down’ to sleep as adults? All the things we usually do before bed work to further stimulate our minds, bodies and digestive systems. It’s no wonder we can’t get to sleep. Our bodies are too busy processing stuff. Here are three other bed time rules you can follow to make sure you ‘wind down’ to sleep yourself.
If you have a snack before bedtime that may be what's keeping you awake. Here’s a few words on that topic from The Accumulator’s own nutritional therapist, Linda Perkins.
Nutrition can play a big part in helping to improve sleep quality. Cortisol is a hormone made in the adrenal glands which regulates a wide range of processes in the body. These include your metabolism and immune response. In a healthy person cortisol is high in the morning which provides us with energy to get up and start the day. In the evening cortisol should be lower so we can wind down and sleep through the night.
Increased evening cortisol can mean a decrease in blood sugar control along with a decrease in levels of leptin and a rise in levels of ghrelin. Leptin and ghrelin are two important hormones that shape appetite and hunger signals. Studies have shown that a lack of sleep can lead to poor diet choices. Therefore poor sleep and poor diet can become a vicious cycle.
Caffeine and alcohol will have an effect on blood sugar levels too and therefore your quality of sleep. Food intolerances or sensitivities can affect sleep too. Eating foods to which you are intolerant can affect metabolism and also may necessitate waking at night for a trip to the loo.
Many of us watch TV before hitting the sack and that’s fine. As long as you’re not watching something that will make you think as your head hits the pillow. Things like news, drama or even worse horror should all be no go areas. Watch something peaceful like a nature programme instead.
Your gadgets should be turned off too. I have made the habit of turning my phone off at 6pm each night. While I might check for messages at some point during the evening it’s never before going to bed. The last thing I should be doing before shut eye is thinking about work. Not should you.
I encourage my family to adopt this habit too. Anything that connects to the outside world is banned from the bedrooms. Not only is it further stimulation for your mind before you finally turn the lights off, it also becomes too easy to reach for if you wake up during the night. There has been lots of research to support claims that the electromagnetic, invisible wifi signals floating around our home can have a damaging effect on our health. They have been linked with things like headaches, chronic fatigue and have been proven to disrupt your sleep. So turn your gadgets off and better still, your internet router too.
Sleeping in the buff (if practical) has been proven to aid sleep. Research has found that not only is it comfortable, it regulates your skin temperature which can prevent you from waking in the middle of the night. Sleeping as nature intended also keeps bacteria that thrive in warm moist areas at bay. If you do it naked with your partner it boosts your immune system and can improve your relationship.
Our bodies are designed to lower in temperature during sleep. When you're naked in bed this temperature regulation is easier and therefore helps your body to determine when it's ready to fall asleep and when it is time to wake up.
If sleeping in the buff is impractical, make sure you’re wearing something loose fitting that allows your body to move and breathe as you sleep.
Our bodies need good quality sleep to function properly. A lack of sleep can also become stressful as it effects every corner of your life (read more about stress here). So if you’re not getting enough sleep that could mean the difference between failure and success.