The Alchemy of Sleep - why it's so important and how to sleep better.
Most of us realise that we function better with a good night's sleep, and recent research is indicating that lack of sleep is a significant risk factor for developing life-threatening diseases and early death. The real problem comes when a pattern of disturbed sleep becomes established; it can seem an impossible cycle to escape. However, there are things that you can do before bed that will prepare your body for a restful night and help you sleep better.
Here are a few of our tips:
Exercise is one of your best defences against insomnia – just don’t do it immediately before bed time. Anything from a brisk walk to a full work out 4-6 hours before bed time will benefit sleep. If the morning suits you better then, no problem, it will still set you up well for rest at the other end of the day.
The old saying is “breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper”. Eating too close to bed time forces the body to work when it should be resting. A light meal at least 3 hours before bed time is ideal to help you sleep better.
Don’t! Late night snacks raise blood sugar levels which in turn affect hormone levels. This fluctuation of hormone levels can be a contributing factor to waking up in the middle of the night.
If you spend all evening drinking tea or anything else then you will quite likely need one of even several trips to the bathroom during the night, so limit the amount you drink in the four hours before bed.
Don’t take your phone to bed and start running through work e-mails. This is guaranteed to get your brain racing. Put the phone away and make your space a calming one. Keep your environment quiet. Use earplugs if you like silence or calming, gentle music or even the radio. The shipping forecast does it for me every time! If you need to look at a TV or screen, use an amber filter which blocks out the blue 'daylight' that keeps your brain alert and will help you sleep better.
A key factor in how our sleep is regulated is exposure to light and darkness. Exposure to light will signal the part of the brain that can control how sleepy or awake we feel which is why most of us find it easier to get up in the summer. It also means having a dark room is essential to stimulate melatonin levels and promote sleep. In an age of increased light pollution many bedrooms never get properly dark so blackout blinds or curtains are a worthwhile investment.
It may sound obvious, but you need to be comfortable in bed. A saggy mattress will stress the back and result in a night spent tossing and turning. Make sure what you are lying on suits your shape and weight. The pillows too, can make a difference. Often, we keep pillows far beyond their natural life so be sure that your head and neck are well supported and if you are getting up with a sore neck every morning them it is probably time to change them.
Being too hot or too cold will affect sleep so regulate the room temperature appropriately and have some good ventilation. Natural, breathable fabrics will ensure that you do not wake up in a pool of sweat every morning. A quality down duvet will respond to your natural body temperature keeping it constant, the down working just as it would on a bird. Do not be tempted to layer blankets or bedspreads over the duvet on a cold night as this will prevent the down trapping warm air and could leave you even colder than before.
The olfactory system is directly linked to the emotional centre in the brain. The right scent will encourage the body to release feel-good, relaxing chemicals that can set the stage for great sleep. Lavender is probably the best known for its sleep enhancing properties but there are others, and once you have found the right one for you bring it into the bedroom. A scented candle or room diffuser will fragrance the room. For a more direct hit you could try a sleep pillow or drop some essential oil on to a hankie and put it under the pillows as a natural way to help you sleep better.
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