6 Ways to Sleep Well
By Erin Bourne
how to Heal Your Body with Rest
Have you ever been kept awake at night by stressing about the fact that you were still awake? Ridiculous isn’t it? You’re definitely not alone though. One in three Australians regularly struggle with sleep.
Why do we struggle with sleep? Some of it is that we under value sleep - that modern, busy person’s ‘sleep when I’m dead’ mentality. For some it’s shift work or children but often it’s other lifestyle factors that are completely fixable.
Here’s how to help yourself get to sleep, and stay asleep for long enough that your body repairs.
1. Remove sleep stress
I’m not talking life stress, although that will help, I’m talking about stress around sleep. Some sleep experts suggest that rather than aiming for eight uninterrupted hours of sleep per night, we should aim for 35 sleep cycles per week. A cycle is around 90 minutes and involves going from awake, to light sleep, to deep sleep (repairing), and then REM sleep (dreaming). If the eight hours can’t or didn’t happen one night, don’t stress - just catch up with a nap or a big sleep in on the weekend.
2. Kill the lights
Most of us have many bright lights and various screens on in the house up until we go to bed. We are overloaded with light and so the body doesn’t produce the hormone melatonin which signals the body to sleep. Actually, one hour of ipad reading before bed will delay melatonin release by three hours. Less is then released and REM sleep is decreased. Turn the screens off at least an hour before sleep time, and even dim the lights in the house. Since we no longer sleep when the sun goes down, turn off as many lights as you can to start signalling to the body that it’s wind down time.
3. Keep it cool
Our bodies and brains actually need the temperature to drop a little in order to sleep well. Set the temperature on your heater or air conditioning to drop in the middle of the night and slowly rise again towards waking time. Or don’t use them at all and let the natural temperature changes do their work.
4. Get your kit off
Many of us swear by this and now the science backs it up. You will sleep better at least semi-naked! The body is better able to regulate temperature, and you’re not getting tangled in fabric. Just have a bathrobe handy if you need to get up and out during the night.
5. Create a ritual
Having both a regular bed time and a routine or ritual around bed time not only signals the body and brain about sleep time, but it can also ease stress. Secure the house, have a hot bath, dim the lights or whatever will work for you - just be consistent.
6. Eat and drink
Being too full decreases the quality of sleep - the body is digesting instead of restoring. If we go to bed hungry though the body stays in a stress state and we don’t get the restorative benefits of sleep.
While sleep does dehydrate us, ideally we don’t want to get up for the bathroom through the night so ease up on the water an hour before bed. Ease up on the alcohol at the same time. We may feel like alcohol puts us to sleep but it’s actually sedating us - not the same thing and we miss out on REM sleep.
Just a few little tweaks to your evening, and the payoff is huge. Good sleep repairs and restores the body, improves mood and brain function, enhances athletic performance and even skill acquisition. To me that is well worth the effort. Make one change at a time and sleep well!
Words by Erin Bourne
Yoga Teacher and Writer