The 21st-century’ Sleep Loss Endemic’ is in full flow. In an increasingly interconnected world, we are not only sleeping much less than ever, but the quality and deepness of our sleep is also on the decline. To sleep better is to rest, wake up and live better.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is the human reset button.
It allows for the mind to reset, the body to rest and one day to turn into another. If we were constantly switched on, our energy would deplete quicker and quicker since we wouldn’t have any time to rest. This holds true for almost anything. I only need to look at my declining iPhone battery life which is probably due to the fact it is never actually ‘switched off’.
A lack of sleep or at least a lack of quality of sleep is a major cause of a massive amount of ailments; from anxiety and depression to Type 2 diabetes to cancers and everything in between. Whenever people experience health or sleep problems, it is not uncommon to go searching for a magic pill rather than going back to asking the basic questions like am I getting enough sleep? Quick fixes and quick answers are hardly ever as sustainable or beneficial as long-term solutions like better sleep.
But everyone knows sleep is important and everyone loves to sleep, right? There are not many things better than hitting the pillow, falling asleep almost instantly and having a deep sleep in your cosy bed. Waking up feeling you went hard on that sleep and even having the wet saliva on your pillow as evidence.
The problem is that in that sequence of perfect events, almost everyone falls short on at least one point. I often have trouble actually getting to sleep, sometimes I struggle to find deep sleep and therefore wake up groggy and still tired in the morning.
My blog is generally focused on trying to optimise life while awake, but it doesn’t make sense to neglect sleep too when we spend around one-third of our lives doing it. It is not unreasonable to believe that many people my age will live to be at least 100 hundred years old. That’s around 33 years of your life asleep!
It’s kind of important to get it right.
How to Sleep Better – What the Experts Say
Sleep is a subject which is rightfully getting a lot more attention in the scientific world as we are slowly coming to re-realise its importance.
Dr Matthew Walker is one of the people leading this charge and he sets out some universal rules that can help anyone to sleep better. If you want to dive even deeper into the subject of sleep, then I’d also recommend his book which I have just recently picked up myself: Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2018: I finished this book over summer and it has radically changed my attitude toward sleep and its importance. You are going to be seeing a lot more sleep posts from me and I highly recommend that you give it a read for yourself.
Your ‘body clock’ is actually a real thing. It’s scientific name is circadian rhythm and it is extremely important that your rhythm is always following a constant beat rather than being all over the place. Melatonin is a natural hormone in your body that with increased levels, causes sleep onset. I like to think of it as the ‘sleepiness hormone’. Your levels of melatonin are influenced by the time of day. So if you are regularly going to bed and waking up at the same time, your body will naturally produce more melatonin when its nearly time for bed. Your body is cool like that and it keeps you in a healthy sleep cycle. Melatonin can also be supplemented to help fight things like jet lag but use it sparingly, not as a quick fix every time.
Staying away from artificial light before bed can drastically improve your sleep quality and how quick you sleep. Avoiding phone screens and computer screens that stimulate our eyes and brains will help massively, even dimming the lights in your house around an hour before bed will help. Melatonin levels rise in the dark and fall in the light. (This could be why you wake up earlier when you are exposed to the morning sun rather than a room of darkness, I’ve literally just thought of this now while writing but it kind of makes sense.)
Keep it cool
The brain needs to drop around a couple of degrees Fahrenheit from its baseline before it can get to sleep. Hyperactive brains actually mean hotter brains and core temperatures. This is also why it is harder to sleep when you are hot than when you are cool. Cooler temperatures when you sleep result in falling asleep faster and that awesome deep, restorative sleep that we all aim for. Check out one of these funky, highly rated cooling pillows that can assist with just that.
Sleep Better – What the ‘Expert’ Says
Ok, I’m not an expert, but I do like sleeping. I’ve also picked up a few tricks in my vast 21 years of experience of sleeping every day, often more than once.
Don’t worry with your eyes closed
This is sometimes unavoidable but a hyperactive brain isn’t going to help you out. Worrying or planning things for the next day or the future is a waste of time. Tackle it when you wake up and have the whole day ahead to take action on those things.
Try a sleep app or podcast
For me, this is a bit hit and miss but very useful if you find the sweet spot. Listening to piano or sounds of nature are fairly popular and effective but you should definitely check out the Sleep With Me podcast. The host Drew Ackerman tells intentionally boring stories about pointless things that go on all sorts of tangents and digressions. The concept and stories are quite intriguing to begin with but the novelty soon wears off and you’ll soon be off to sleep in record time. It’s quite a funny concept but works well with a lot of people. Think listening to a really boring university lecturer…
Take advantage of naps
Naps are fantastic day breaker-uppers and perfect for a mini reset. I’m not talking about a 3 hour afternoon nap after a 10-hour sleep the night before, that’s most likely procrastination or boredom. A 20-minute nap during the day with an alarm set is perfect for me but try different times to see what works best for you. I find I still manage to get a pretty deep sleep in those 20 minutes and wake up ready to go again.