Repeat after me. We love sleep. We love sleep. We love sleep.
I don't mean to say that in this longing, 'lack-of' kinda way, but I understand if you are. Most of us aren't getting enough of it. What I mean by that mantra is - we love it, we prioritise it, we take responsibility for it, we release frustration around it, and we HONOUR it as a process our body needs.
Evolution has done a pretty great job at evolving what we need to survive and thrive. And yet our society and culture glamorises the grind, the stress, the lack of sleep like some sort of badge of honour. You might be sitting there thinking things like 'but caffeine/the TV/my phone/alcohol doesn't affect me, or helps me sleep' or 'I get by just fine with 5 hours thank you very much'. If so, what I say to you is - YOU ARE NOT A FREAK OF NATURE THAT MEANS THE RULES OF SCIENCE DO NOT APPLY TO YOU.
So yes, you need sleep.
You need 7-9 hours of it, in fact.
And getting by on 5 hours might feel ok whilst you're doing it, but it is not, I repeat not, supporting the health of your body or your mind AT ALL.
It is time to get serious about sleep and proclaim to our culture, our friends, our employers, and family that WE RECLAIM SLEEP. We need it, we're not willing to compromise on it, and it is one of the highest priorities factors in looking after our health.
If we want our health, life expectancy, safety, productivity, energy, food choices, education of our children and mood to be great - then SLEEP my friends.
Sleep is controlled by two chemicals - adenosine, that builds up throughout the day and causes sleep pressure - the urge to go to sleep. Secondly, melatonin, which acts kind of like a message saying to the body 'it's dark!', without actually instigating sleep itself.
Here's what we gotta do folks:
1. Give yourself an unconditional 8 hour sleep window, with a set sleep schedule.
If you do any one of these things, this is the MOST important. It's one a lot of us resist, it feels childish somehow, and then we're moaning about our poor sleep as though there's nothing we could have done about it. Yes there is! Take responsibility. Go to bed at a set time and get up at a set time every single morning. Set a reminder on your phone about when it's time to get ready for bed. And if you're not sleeping enough at the moment, start with making your bedtime just 5-10 minutes earlier. Your body responds well to the routine and set patterns.
2. Employ the 3-2-1 routine
I love this, it's so helpful. It means - no food 3 hours before bed, no work 2 hours before bed ad no screens 1 hour before bed. A heavy meal can disturb sleep, your body needs time to relax and unwind from the day, and blue light REALLY impedes how well your body prepares for sleep (it affects melatonin). Maybe it's too ambitious to go for this right off the block, but apply one principle and then work up to the others. I have blue-light blocking glasses (you may have seen them on my social media stories) that help with the blue light thing - go for the un-coolest looking ones, they block blue light the best!
Exercise can really improve the quality & duration of your sleep - although not too late in the day! The after exercise endorphins and cortisol can hang around for up to 4 hours after your workout, so an evening workout could impact the quality of your sleep. Getting that exercise outside in the daytime is another way to support sleep - having the sunlight exposure when your body knows it to be day, can help control melatonin and feeling the need to sleep at a helpful time later in the day.
4. Avoid alcohol & caffeine
Caffeine reduces deep sleep and it blocks the effect of adenosine. Adenosine keeps building even when caffeine is present, so as caffeine breaks down, you're hit with the sleep pressure, causing you to crash. There is another big problem with caffeine - it has a long half life, and depending on the person sticks around for 12-14 hours after intake. You wouldn't expect to sleep overly well if you'd downed half a shot of coffee before bed, and yet many of us are failing to make the links between the poor night's sleep and the caffeine intake of the day before. You are human, caffeine does affect you - acknowledge this and figure out what you're doing to do about it. Personally, I am done by caffeine by 10am as a priority (can make for some funny rushed coffee scenarios if I'm running out of time!). And if that sounds preposterous, then work the time back by half an hour each week. If you're serious about sleep, it's time to get serious about caffeine intake.
Alcohol, despite being a sedative, has a devastating effect on sleep. It is one of the most powerful REM sleep suppressors down to man - and one of the reasons why it is SUCH a bad idea to drink during pregnancy as this is when a huge quantity of REM sleep is happening for the foetus. Alcohol can also impair breathing in sleep (compounding the issue of sleep apnea caused by excessive weight and breathing through the mouth), raises your heart rate (counter-intuitive I know, given it's a sedative, but your body has to work hard to process that toxin). I'm not saying don't drink - I'm saying be mindful of when, how much and how often.
5. Get yourself a dark, cool, gadget-free sleeping environment.
If you're sleeping amongst a chaotic mess of a bedroom, yeah, that's not going to help. Get your room as dark as possible and ONLY sleep in there. The bedroom is for sleeping and sexy time (yep I just called it that) - not work, being on your phone or watching TV. It should be a place where your body feels safe to relax. In addition to having a cool bedroom, having a hot bath before bed can help lower your body temperature which is necessary for you to sleep.
6. Don't lie in bed awake
If you're struggling to sleep, you could try breathing techniques or meditation and this might help you drop off quicker. But if you're awake for longer than about twenty minutes and/or you're starting to feel stressed or anxious about not sleeping, then get up. See point 5 - your bedroom should be a place which your body associates only with sleep. Get up and do something relaxing (not screen time) until you feel sleepy again. Studies on insomniacs actually showed great results just from this!
I hoped these sleep tips have helped - let's reclaim sleep and make 2021 our year of the best sleep ever. What are some of the things that have helped you sleep better?