“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together." - Thomas Dekker
Sleep, it’s a love-hate relationship.
When we get enough, we feel focused, determined & full of energy. When we don’t, life seems to be a struggle.
The benefits of a good nights sleep have been well publicised over the years, from improving your lifespan, reducing body fat, improving memory, decreasing the risk of heart attacks and reducing inflammation to name a few.
Sleep is arguably as important as what we put in our mouth.
So why do so many people struggle with it?
Well, there's a number of reasons and a lot of those are to do with the lifestyles we live today.
First off, we don’t tend to stick to what we call our circadian rhythm (waking at sunrise & sleeping at sunset).
Second, technology has become somewhat of a disrupter around bedtime which has been proven to elicit hormonal responses not conducive to sleep.
Lastly, our diets can most definitely wreak havoc with how our body feels when it comes time to rest our weary head.
If that's not enough, we live stressful lifestyles trying to juggle long work hours with family & friends. Sometimes it can be hard to switch off!
With all that said, how much sleep do we need and what are some ways we can dramatically improve sleep quality today?
The jury still seems to be out about an ‘optimal’ sleep time needed per day. What we do know is for the most part, humans tend to do well on approximately seven and a half hours. There are nuances to this.
Some individuals do better on less, some do better on more. This is one of those times where you really need to listen to your body and see what works best for you.
As a guide, 7.5 hours is a good place to start.
As you may be aware, lying in bed for 7.5 hours is a lot different to sleeping for 7.5 hours, so the quality seems to be as important as the length.
If you currently have trouble with sleep, here are some proven methods for optimising your sleep patterns to create a more focused, alert & healthy you.
1. Black Out The Room
Too much light in your room can keep you from sleeping.
If you have light coming through windows, look to invest in some blackout curtains (these are curtains that can velcro to the wall stopping all light coming in).
Going as far as covering up alarm clocks & any other light emitting sources can work wonders too. Be aware, that your brain can sense light through your eyelids when you're sleeping, so even if you can sleep well in a lit room, it’s not the best choice.
2. Supplement With Magnesium
Sleep deprivation can deplete the bodies Magnesium stores.
When you’re going through patches of poor sleep, your body produces extra Catecholamine hormones which help you stay alert to get through the day. Unfortunately, this drains the body of Magnesium at the same time.
Aim to supplement with about 500mg of Magnesium per day through food sources or a good quality Magnesium like Glycinate, Citrate or Chelate.
3. Eat Carbs At Dinner
Despite conventional wisdom, eating carbohydrates before bed can have vast improvements in your sleep.
When we eat carbs, our body tends to produce more of the neurotransmitter Serotonin, which is known for calming you down & making you feel sleepy (think of all those times you’ve eaten pizza & pasta).
The other added benefit to carbohydrate is they can actually help you to relax by lowering the stress hormone Cortisol (stress for a lot of people is the reason they have issues with sleep).
Now, does this mean you can go out & eat any form of carbohydrate you like? Pizza? Pasta? Bread? Chocolate? Biscuits? NO!
You need to aim for good carbs coming through whole food sources like sweet potato, otherwise, these bad choices are more than likely going to keep you up with the nasty additives they contain.
4. Avoid Caffeine After 12.00PM
Don’t think I need to explain this one too much. Caffeine is a stimulant. Some people are more sensitive than others. Avoid all caffeine after 12PM.
Did you know Tea also contains caffeine? (In smaller doses than coffee, however).
5. Set A Bedtime Alarm
We always have wake up alarms, why not set a bedtime alarm?
Thanks to most smartphones, you now have the option to set a bedtime alarm now too (check in your clock app).
Good sleep is as much about a good routine, so setting a time that you have your head on the pillow no matter what is a fantastic idea.
6. Avoid Blue Light
Blue light coming from technology decreases the production of the hormone Melatonin, the sleep hormone.
Try and dim lights where possible or change the bulbs to amber lighting. If I use my phone or laptop at night I have an app installed called f.lux which will mimic the sunset and dim your backlight accordingly (also has an amber feature).
7. Supplement With Vitamin D
Studies has shown that having adequate levels of Vitamin D can reduce insomnia & improve sleep.
Vitamin D is vital in sleep as the part of the brain responsible for controlling sleep has a lot of Vitamin D3 receptors.
If you don’t get at least 15-minutes of direct sunlight daily, chances are, you’re deficient in Vitamin D & need to supplement (not to mention Vitamin D deficiency can be linked to every disease known to mankind).
Given how cheap Vitamin D3 tablets are, I recommend you be supplementing with 2000iu-4000iu every other day.
Exercise helps with sleep. Really? Yes, it does…
Exercise morning, day or night, it doesn’t matter but it sure does work. Exercise is one of those activities that will give you energy when you don’t have it and vice versa.
Hundreds, possibly even thousands of studies have been done on the benefits of exercise and how that carries over to a good sleep. If you’re not doing it, start. Get in a routine. Walk one day. Bike the next. Try Yoga. Lift some weights. The possibilities are endless.
Over one-third of your life will be taken up by sleep, so its probably worth putting in some time to making sure you’re doing it right, not only for your own sanity but for your health & longevity too.