A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything.Old Irish Proverb
Whilst the quote above may not be entirely medically accurate, in principal I’m inclined to agree. You may, or may not, know that it is the Sleep Foundation‘s #SleepAwarenessWeek this week and so I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about the activity that we spend, on average, an entire third of our lives doing (crazy, right)!! I’ll (hopefully) impart some nuggets of knowledge and outline some practices that you could try to improve your sleep habits.
Quite recently, at least on my social media feeds, sleep starting getting more attention within the fitness/wellness/lifestyle sphere. Not long after, I discovered Professor Matthew Walker; a Professor of Neuroscience, who undertakes research in the impact of sleep on human health, brain function and disease – basically, he’s a sleep expert. He was interviewed on Joe Rogan’s podcast and, honestly, the science and stats he was sharing blew my mind. The episode is probably three times longer than any podcast I’ve listened to before, but I could have listened to that man talk about sleep ALL. DAMN. DAY. It was fascinating.
My favourite thing I learned from this episode was this: there is no ‘safety net’ for sleep deprivation. And by this, I mean that Humans are the only animals that intentionally deprive themselves of sleep. We do it on purpose. And Mother Nature has not evolved a system with which to deal with the detrimental impacts of this ludicrous decision we make. You can’t accrue ‘sleep credit’ or pay back ‘sleep debt’. You can’t out-sleep a bad sleep. The detrimental consequences of that sleep deprived night or two, or three, are already in place and cannot be reversed.
I could go on, but I’d much rather you all went and listened to the episode yourselves (if you haven’t done already) and have your own mind blow by his sleep science knowledge. Cancel all your weekend plans, and just listen.
Since listening to Joe Rogan’s episode, I’ve heard Matthew Walker speak on a number of different podcasts, and each time it serves to remind me of why I should not let sleep slip from the top of my priority list. Sleep is the single best rest and restorative practice for our brains and our bodies. And so I’ve made a conscious effort to implement some of the following practices and good habits, in an effort to better my sleep quality. I’ve never exactly been a ‘bad sleeper’, I’m naturally an ‘early to bed, early to rise’ kinda gal, but I recognised that my ‘sleep hygiene’ and routine, needed some work.
My top tips for a better nights sleep:
- Be sensible with your caffeine – Caffeine has a 12 hour quarter life. Which means that if you have a coffee at midday, a 1/4 of that coffee is still going to be floating around your system at midnight, when you’re trying to catch your zzz’s.
- Digital detox before bedtime – Screen time close to bed time disrupts the production of melatonin, the sleepy hormone. Taking the time to read a book or do some other non-screen-focused activity could shift your peak melatonin levels by a number of hours, making falling asleep quickly, much easier.
- Exercise in the morning – Stimulating your body and putting it through an intense workout in the evening serves only to counteract the body’s natural ‘wind-down’ processes happening at this time of day. The artificial light at the gym won’t do you any favours either! Exercising in the morning promotes longer and deeper sleep at night.
- Keep you bed sacred – Keep it a place for preparing to sleep, and sleeping. Try not to do work from your bed, watch TV from your bed or any other wakefulness activity. Your brain will associate that space with ‘awake time’ and you’ll struggle to switch off.
- Have a bubble bath – So I’ve stolen this one form Prof. Walker, but it’s a good’un. Your body prepares to sleep by naturally lowering your core body temperature. By having a bath (bubbles optional) it is not the heat of the bath that is ‘comforting and sleep-inducing’ but actually the lowering of your body temperature when you get out! #bodyhack
It’s really very simple; sleep should be your number one. It’s the most under-utilised wellbeing tool that everyone has access to. So I urge you, if you’re prone to scroll, scroll, scrolling in bed, or insisting to your yourself (and others) that you can ‘cope’ on only six hours sleep a night, just try some of the tips I’ve shared in this blog. Try them, and see if it makes a difference. The evidence is out there, we’ve all got to sleep better, to live better.
Until next time,
Joe Rogan’s interview with Prof. Matthew Walker – YouTube
Prof. Matthew Walker – @sleepdiplomat on Twitter