21 ways to sleep better tonight
Woke up this morning feeling more blah than sleeping beauty? If you struggle to catch enough quality zzzs every night, join the club. A 2013 survey by the Australian Sleep Health Foundation found that 20 per cent of us have difficulty falling asleep, with 35 per cent admitting they often wake up tired (not great considering a third of our lives are spent trying to get good shut-eye).
Every night we move through three stages: light sleep, deep sleep and dream sleep. Each stage takes about 90 to 110 minutes and adults need, on average, five complete cycles every night.
“You need good quality and good quantity,” says Dr Carmel Harrington, author of The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep (Macmillan, $29.99). “What you want is between seven to nine hours of good sleep so you wake up refreshed in the morning, ready to meet your day.”
So you already know you could be getting better shut-eye but where do you start? With these hacks, that are designed to get your sleep habits as fit as your bod.
Eat yourself sleepy: “We need particular nutrients for good sleep,” says Dr Harrington. “We have to produce the hormones melatonin and serotonin, so we need certain fundamental vitamins and minerals.” She’s talking about wholegrains, nuts and leafy green vegetables.
Keep your mattress a pet-free zone: A study by Mayo Clinic in the US found 63 per cent of pet owners who slept in the same bed as their pet more than four nights a week had poor sleep quality. Soz fluffy friends, we’re afraid it’s back to your kennel.
Sniff lavender: It’s nature’s sedative, say US researchers at Wesleyan University, who found that smelling lavender oil before bed resulted in a deeper, more restorative sleep.
Make your bed every day: Or you’ll have the US National Sleep Foundation on your back! Their research showed people who make their bed are 19 per cent more likely to sleep better. Sounds more snooze-worthy to take that extra minute to do it, but if science says…
Be friends with kiwifruit: This juicy fruit contains high levels of antioxidants and serotonin (just what you need, sleep-deprived folks). It’s probs why researchers at a Taiwan University reckon eating two kiwifruits an hour before hitting the hay improves your sleep time.
Steam it up in the shower: “We like to go to sleep on a decreasing temperature. When we get out of the shower our temperature starts to go down, which helps us to sleep better,” says Dr Harrington. Take a shower at least two hours before bed and make it hot.
Use magnesium: Whatever form you use it in – orally as a powder, topically by rubbing magnesium oil into your skin or soaking in an Epsom salt bath – this mineral is a natural muscle relaxant. It also helps to deactivate adrenaline making it easier to wind down.
Keep aloe vera in your room: In plant form, that is. An aloe vera plant emits oxygen at night time while taking in carbon dioxide, creating purer air, which means you’ll doze off easier.
Invest in a white noise machine: These babies create a special sound signal that drowns out background noise and helps to shut down your busy brain. If you can’t get your hands on one, try switching on a pedestal fan instead.
Power down: You know it, we know it, Dr Harrington is going to remind us of it: your device’s bright light hits your retina, which keeps you alert and tells your brain to stay awake. “Switch o from all your electronic devices one hour before your planned bedtime,” she says.
Stick your nose in a book: If you wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to fall back asleep, rather than staying in bed it’s better to get up and read a book until you feel tired again. Research shows reading helps calm the mind, which is especially helpful if your overworked brain is keeping you up.
Change your bedroom temp: During the course of your evening slumber, your body temperature slightly rises and falls. Maintain a room temp of between 18 and 25 degrees to prevent restlessness through the night.
Get some sun first thing: “Aim to get 10-15 minutes of direct sunlight or some form of exposure to natural light every morning,” suggests Nam Baldwin, director of Equalize Training Company. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the block. “This assists in maintaining healthy melatonin production and a balanced body clock for sleep/wake cycles.”
Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only: According to Dr Harrington, “If we go to bed with the idea of doing work, our brain starts to associate bed with work. What you want is the brain to associate the bed with fun or relaxation.” Ain’t nobody going to argue with that.
Plan your meals: Hydrate adequately throughout the day and have your last main meal at least 90 minutes before you go to bed, instructs Baldwin. “This is so your digestive system has enough time to digest your meal and your blood sugar levels are stabilised,” he explains. “You basically want to minimise any load on the body at the time you wish to ‘let go’ and fall asleep. If your body is still working on digesting a meal or if it is finding that other basic functions are more laborious due to dehydration, then you are not creating the ideal state for sleep.”
But don’t be going to bed hungry: ’Cause hunger pains keep the brain mentally alert and interfere with your precious snoozing time.
Start a worry diary: Take about 15 minutes to write down anything that happened during the day, what you haven’t had time to deal with and potential solutions. “So when you wake up at three in the morning you can think, ‘Okay, I don’t have to worry about that, it’s written down’,” says Dr Harrington.
Burn a candle: “When you see a candle it sends a very powerful message to your brain that this is time to relax and it produces relaxation hormones that get us ready for bed,” Dr Harrington says. But, er, don’t forget to blow it out before you drift off…
Hold the wine: Forget everything you (think you) know about alcohol’s ability to put you out of your insomnia misery. Although booze can give you an initial drowsy effect, Dr Harrington warns around five hours after your drink, your sleep can be quite disrupted.
Set a sleep alarm: The most regenerative rest occurs between 10pm-2am, so if you regularly miss these deep sleep hours, you’re likely to feel tired when you wake. “Be ready to go to sleep around 10pm,” says Baldwin. “This is said to be when melatonin secretion is at its highest and therefore the easiest time to fall asleep. Staying up past 11pm may stimulate cortisol, your stress hormone, and give a you a ‘second wind’.” He adds that being consistent with both the time you wake up and go to bed are a super supportive part of your sleep ritual.
Most importantly? Stay caaalm: “Light stretching coupled with rhythmic breathing is a fantastic way to calm the body and focus on the present moment, maybe with some calming music if that’s your thing,” says Baldwin. Once you’re actually lying down, he suggests doing a slow body scan from head to toe. “As you pass each area, purposefully let go of any tension in that part of your body as you breathe out, paying particular attention to your eyes, jaw, chest, abdomen, hips, legs and feet.” Sweet dreams.
This story appeared in the February issue of Women’s Fitness.