Getting a deep and restful sleep each night can be like an elusive dream for many folks. In fact according to the Australian Medical Journal, it is estimated that 13%–33% of the Australian adults regularly experience difficulty either getting to sleep, or staying asleep. Prolonged sleep deprivation culminates into what is referred to as a “sleep debt” which has been scientifically proven to have a major impact on your health and wellbeing, even shrink your brain and shorten your lifespan! Research published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, suggests that people with chronic sleep disturbances may develop Alzheimer’s disease sooner than those who sleep well. So it may come as no surprise to learn that getting enough restful and uninterrupted sleep each night, is essential if you want to function at your best each day, AND reduce your risk for illness and disease.
People are now averaging one to two hours less sleep each night, compared to 60 years ago. One of the major explanations is the drastic increase in our exposure to stress and the use of electronic devices. These are not only enabling us to work (and play) later than ever before, but the constant connectivity to computers, mobile phones and tablets, is causing us to be continuously ‘switched on’, leading to an epidemic of addictive behaviors and tendencies, even an increase in anxiety and social disorders, especially in teenagers.
Just one bad night’s sleep (four to six hours), can impact your ability to think clearly the next day, whilst adding just one hour of sleep a night can drastically boost your health and cognitive performance.
There are many reasons why people experience sleep disturbances whether it’s difficulty getting to sleep or waking during the night, but following are my top tips for ensuring you can get the best night’s sleep possible:
Avoid caffeine, or at least after midday – caffeine containing food and beverages act as a stimulant, elevating cortisol levels - your body's natural stress hormone. Many people who suffer with insomnia or disturbed sleep, rely on coffee during the day to give them an energy boost and keep them mentally alert, but this only adds to the vicious cycle.
Consider eliminating the top food allergens - underlying food sensitivities caused by gluten, cow's dairy, soy and corn, can have a direct affect on your ability to get a good night's sleep. For a full rundown on how to avoid the top 8 food allergens, grab a copy of my e-book Eat Yourself Healthy
Avoid the use of modern technology within an hour of going to bed – including phones, computers and television. These devices emit what’s known as ‘blue light’, which over stimulates the brain and inhibit its ability to switch off and release adequate levels of the sleep hormone – melatonin – in preparation for sleep. (Melatonin levels naturally rise in response to darkness, which helps you to feel sleepy.
Get enough exposure to natural daylight during the day, and ensure your bedroom is dark at night – failure to get sufficient amounts of natural daylight during the day and spending too much time exposed to artificial light, affects the production of your sleep hormone melatonin. Be sure to get outside and expose yourself to bright sunlight, to help synchronize your hormones like melatonin and cortisol
Avoid eating within three hours of going to bed – eating too close to bedtime will place excess stress on your digestion, impairing your ability to get a restful to sleep, as well as increases your risk of reflux or heartburn and excess insulin production. Elevated insulin can significantly increase your risk of excess weight gain, diabetes and stroke and heart attack.
Reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in your bedroom. – these disrupt the function of your pineal gland and melatonin production. Ensure devices such as electric clock radios and phones are at least three feet away from your bed, or better still switch them off altogether, along with your wireless router when you go to bed.
Sleep in a dark room – just a small amount of light in your bedroom can disrupt your internal body clock and melatonin production. Ensure all windows are covered with decent curtains or blackout shades to block out light from street lamps or other buildings. If you have an electric clock radio consider covering it with a pillow, or swap it for an old fashioned battery operated alarm clock.
Sleep O' Natural – sleeping in your birthday suit, on a low chemical mattress, covered in bed linen made from natural fibres, will prevent you from overheating in bed. Try to keep your room temperature ideally below 20C whenever possible, with a good flow of fresh air.
Try some natural sedatives – herbs such as chamomile, passion flower, valerian and skullcap, along with minerals like magnesium, can be highly effective in helping to lull you into a deep and peaceful sleep. You can look for these in a herbal complex, or drink them as a tea before bed. Applying a few drops of lavender essential oil to your pillow can also have a soothing and calming affect. But it’s important to remember that these natural remedies don’t act like pharmaceutical sleep medications and are best taken at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
Never go to bed angry – many couples fall into the trap of having ‘D&M’ discussions around bedtime, often because it’s the only time they can find in the day to catch up. But more often than not, having a serious or emotional discussion before bed can lead to arguments and mounting tension - making it near impossible to fall asleep easily. Going to bed stressed will elevate the hormone cortisol, which should be winding down at night in preparation for going to sleep.
Of course there are other factors that can play a part in getting a goods slumber, ranging from chronic pain to hormonal imbalances and mental illness, but you will be giving yourself a good head start by implementing these tips and learning meditation, or even the tapping technique to reduce pain, anxiety and addictive behaviour.