In 1993, Bon Jovi released a song which provides some atrocious health advice: “Until I’m six feet under / Baby, I don’t need a bed / Gonna live while I’m alive / I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Is it the worst piece of advice from a rock song? The Ramones’ Now I wanna sniff some glue would suggest maybe not. But either way, it speaks to a societal trend to burn the midnight oil in order to live your best, most fullest life. The only problem is that sleep plays a crucial role in living your best life. Mother nature (or God, however you view the world) wouldn’t have put us in a vulnerable state for eight hours a day if it wasn’t wildly beneficial for us somehow. I have outlined in a previous blog why you need to get enough sleep. Today, I am going to walk you through some methods to ensure you can get your recommended amount on any given day.
Even if you do decide to sleep while you’re alive, it isn’t always as simple as diving between the sheets and closing your eyes.
According to sleep experts, regularity is key here. If you’re the kind of person who wakes up at 6am and goes to bed at 9pm during the week, you can wildly disrupt your entire week by going ham on the weekend: waking up at the crack of noon, and pouring yourself into bed early in the morning.
There is some irony to the fact that I am writing this just before I go to bed, but the recommendation is that you should avoid screens in the hour before bedtime. The blue light that is emitted from your phone or laptop tells your body to stop producing melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm. It is almost like you are tricking your body into thinking it is seeing the cold light of day. Even using night mode which throws a yellow hue over the screen doesn’t rescue some late night screen time. Read a book. Chat to a loved one.
Now, this runs counter to your intuition. You tend to think that if you can blast your room with a heater and make it as cosy as possible, you will drift away happily. In actual fact, your brain needs to drop its temperature to fall asleep. That’s why sleeping naked tends to be such a pleasant experience. If this isn’t your thing, or your roommates aren’t trustworthy, sleep with light clothing, but wear socks or gloves: This will draw the blood away from your core and help you to fall asleep more quickly. You can also have a warm bath where a process called vasodilation takes place: essentially, you get rosy red cheeks and skin as the blood comes to the surface. When you get out of the bath, your temperature will drop and conditions are perfect for a good sleepy. Again, counter intuitive, but backed by science.
Consider when you’re eating
If your diet is high in sugar and low in fibre, you are battling against yourself. It becomes harder to go to sleep as your body converts all that sugar into energy, and the lack of fibre means you don’t stay as full for as long. That all combines into a perfect cocktail of ‘harder to fall asleep, and less continuous sleep once you do get there’. Not a nice combo. You also don’t want to be getting into bed feeling noticeably full. Your body will need to be doing some work to digest a large dinner and this keeps you awake. But by the same token, you don’t want to be too hungry, as this keeps your brain active. Eating 2-3 hours before you plan to go to sleep is a great rule of thumb, though it is going to differ somewhat depending on your metabolism.
Cut your chemicals
This might sound like terrible news, but if you have an afternoon coffee, you are disrupting your bodies natural rhythms. Anything after midday needs to be phased out ASAP. Similarly, nicotine and alcohol in the evening have a similar effect. Inevitably, someone pipes up here and claims that a glass of wine after dinner makes them incredibly sleepy. Well, that might be true, but it isn’t a good kind of sleepy. It isn’t the kind of sleepy which is setting you up for a long night of uninterrupted sleep. You’re just as likely to wake up several times in the night, disrupting the body’s sleep cycles. Scientifically, you aren’t doing yourself any favours.
There are several strong options that you might take to help you get some stable sleep.
Melatonin: This is a hormone which occurs naturally in your body that regulates your sleep patterns. There is a supplement that you can take to address short term sleep problems, such as insomnia or jet lag. It makes you fall asleep much quicker and you are far less likely to wake up. People tend to only take it for a few weeks at a time to address a specific sleep issue, as it can bring on nausea or headaches with prolonged use.
Restavit tablets: Restavit tablets are a slightly better choice if you are after something that you could take on a more long term basis. It is an antihistamine that causes the central nervous system to slow down which induces sleep. Best of all, Restavit tablets are not addictive so you don’t run into problems down the line of needing to get your fix. Restavit tablets can leave you feeling a little drowsy the next day, so it is important to only use as directed.
Well, it is about time for me to hit the hay. I am sure I will lie awake wracked with guilt that I spent an hour staring at a screen before bed. As my father used to say, “Do as I say, not as I do.”