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Hacks to get a good night’s sleep

Make no mistake, sleep is the key to good health. Studies have shown that a chronic lack of sleep significantly decreases productivity, performance and energy. It also leads to mood disorders, weight gain and increases our susceptibility to sickness and disease.

You can be doing everything right, but if your sleep is off you just won’t feel great. And don’t kid yourself that you can get by with the “hero sleep” of less than six hours a night. Unless you’re part of the 1% of the population that has a specific gene mutation, you’ll need at least seven to nine hours of sleep like the rest of us.

As I see it, one of the problems is that we don’t respect sleep enough. It’s often one of the first things we sacrifice, just so we can cram more into our 24 hrs. We all know how crap we feel if we don’t sleep well and how great we feel if we get a good night’s rest. But if we consistently have poor sleep we become habituated to that crap feeling and it becomes our new normal.  

So here are my seven tips to help you get a good night’s sleep:

1. Avoid the Blues

Our body is wired to respond to natural cycles of light and dark. In simple terms, light and a rise in temperature triggers the body to wake up by releasing chemicals and hormones like cortisol. On the other hand, darkness and a drop in temperature signals to the body to release melatonin (sleep hormone) which triggers the need to sleep.

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where our exposure to natural light is restricted and daylight waking hours are extended by artificial light. These changes have disrupted our natural cycles of light and dark (the circadian rhythm) and in turn our sleep. Blue light in particular has been shown to block melatonin and to interfere with our natural sleep cycles.

Where does blue light come from?  TV Screens, Computers, Smart Phones and Tablets. All those devices our eyeballs are glued to before we go to bed are wrecking our sleep. A recent clinical study concluded that the use of blue light smartphones was associated with significantly decreased sleepiness and that users of blue light smartphones experienced a longer time to reach dim light melatonin onset, meaning they were awake for longer.

So here’s what you need to do to avoid the blue:

  • Switch off the screens and dim the lighting 90 minutes before you go to bed. Your emails and social media feeds will still be there tomorrow.
  • If you must be on the screens or if you can’t stop watching Game of Thrones, try some blue light blocking glasses. These are just the orange protective eyewear that you can pick up in most hardware shops – they look a bit silly, but they work.
  • There are also programs that eliminate most of the blue light. ‘f.lux’ is free and can be downloaded onto your computer and scheduled to dim the lighting at certain times. IOS devices now have a function you can program to dim the lighting. While Android phones have the night shift app which will reduce blue light too.

2. Downtime

It’s important to prepare yourself for bed and send a signal to your body and brain that it’s time to switch off. Turn off the screens. Read a book. Listen to relaxing music. Engage in some relaxing breathing or meditation or have a soothing bath with magnesium. I personally try and get off the screens around 9:00pm.

3. Blackout

A bedroom is for sleeping. And for quality sleep, it needs to be dark (remember melatonin, the sleep hormone, needs darkness to work its magic). Remove all sources of light, including digital alarm clocks, and standby lights on electronic devices. If you have outside light coming in, invest in blackout curtains or use sleep masks. Hold your hand six inches in front of your face, if you can still see it, it’s not dark enough.

4. Timing of food and exercise

When it comes to food and exercise, the type and timing is important. The general rule is that you should finish eating and drinking at least 90 minutes before bed. Try and get your exercise in late afternoon before dinner, lunch time or early morning. Exercising late at night can be stimulating and produce cortisol, which will inhibit melatonin. A higher fat meal before bed seems to be more sleep promoting.

5. Relaxation

Stress and anxiety can interfere with normal sleep cycles, resulting in insomnia. Sometimes it’s hard to nod off because your head is still spinning away. During the day and before you go to bed, you need to make a conscious effort to switch off the chatter and dial down the stress. Herbal adaptogens like Ashwagandha are a great way to do this, as are relaxation techniques like breathing, meditation and journaling. Magnesium can also help relax the muscles and assist with promoting sleep.

6. Noise

Environmental noise is one of the major factors of disturbed sleep. If you sleep in a noisy environment, consider using ear plugs or listening to sleep promoting music or binaural beats. There are some great apps for this – ‘brain.fm’ and ‘sleep stream’ being the ones I enjoy.

7. Hacks if you don’t sleep well

Sometimes, there are things out of our control that will mess with our sleep. And sometimes, we just don’t sleep well. Our biology is very complex and sensitive, it doesn’t take much to upset our natural rhythms. So if you don’t sleep well, here are some tips to help you get on with your day:

  • Get bright light as soon as you get up. Sun is best but you can also get bright light boxes that will do the same thing. This will wake you up and stimulate the release of cortisol, our awake hormone. It will also help to reset our circadian rhythms which is particularly useful if you are travelling.
  • Drink coffee (but not too much). Caffeine is a stimulant. It is the messenger for cortisol and it blocks the tiredness chemical adenosine. However, unless you have the gene where you can metabolize coffee quickly you shouldn’t have caffeine for at least 10 hours before bedtime. When we sleep poorly, the temptation is to have more coffee than usual to keep the motor going. This will only disrupt your sleep the next night and you will get into the viscous cycle of coffee-disturbed sleep.
  • Take it easy. If you don’t sleep well, try and dial down the stress as much as possible. I know your work schedule may get in the way of this, but focus on the things you can control. No chronic cardio workout or intense CrossFit. Moderate exercise at best. Deep relaxing breathing to calm the internal system, meditation and getting an early night the next day.
  • Nap. If possible take a powernap for 15 -30 minutes during the morning. I generally only need around 15 minutes and I feel refreshed. The best time for a nap is no more than six hours after you wake up, any later might disrupt your sleep that night. If you can’t nap try some simple meditation exercises where you close your eyes and focus on breathing for 10 minutes. Headspace is a great app for this.

Sleep is life changing. Treat it with the respect it deserves. You will be all the better for it.  

Until then, be Powerful.

2 comments on Hacks to get a good night’s sleep

  1. Dianne says:

    Nice article to read..! Some parts are refreshers and others new ideas to consider. Thanks!

  2. Izzy Peskett says:

    Awesome to hear you enjoyed it. Hope these tips will help your next sleep 🙂

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