If you don't snooze - you lose: Here are 15 ways to optimise your sleep
The quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity. We outline some helpful ways to make your shut-eye go further
Getting very little sleep or experiencing disturbed sleep on a regular basis has become a big problem.
Resetting your body clock won't happen overnight but knowing more about what you can do for your mind and body before you resignedly head for bed could help break the cycle of poor sleep, leading to better health all round.
1 IT'S A NUMBERS GAME
The most restorative sleep takes place before midnight. The adrenal glands, which produce the 'stress hormone' cortisol, recharge between the hours of 11pm and 1am, while peak melatonin and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) secretion takes place between 10pm to 2am. Melatonin regulates our sleep cycle while the 'youth hormone' HGH stimulates cell repair. The early bird really does catch the worm...
2 SUNRISE, SUNSET
The circadian clock that controls our sleep cycle is governed by our exposure to light and dark. Artificial light tricks the body into thinking it needs to stay awake, which is why it is good practice to remove all light-emitting devices, including laptops, from a sleeping space in the period before bedtime. Those who struggle to wake up refreshed during the dark mornings could try a sunrise alarm clock.
The device gradually increases its brightness approximately 30 minutes before the alarm time. If you don't want to invest in a stand-alone gadget, there are a number of free sunrise alarm-clock apps, including Sunrise Simulator, Awake and Morning Sun available on iOS. The natural approach is best, however.
A study by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that spending one week exposed only to natural light during a camping trip in the Rocky Mountains synced the circadian clocks of the study participants with the timing of the sunrise and sunset, regardless of whether they were larks, hummingbirds or owls in their normal lives.
3 JOG YOUR MEMORY
Those studying for exams can optimise their sleep to enhance memory recall. Neuropsychologists at Saarland University, Germany, recently discovered that a 45 to 60-minute power nap can improve the retention of learned material fivefold. "A concentrated period of learning followed by a short relaxing sleep seems to be the winning formula for consolidating memories," concluded researchers.
4 EXERCISE OFTEN, SLEEP BETTER
Many studies have linked daily exercise with better sleeping patterns. However, results are not immediate and exercise sessions must take place earlier in the day. Exercising too late in the evening can cause over-stimulation and sleeplessness. Experts advise that exercise takes place at least six hours before bedtime. If you're training intensely, try sleeping with a few pillows stacked under your calves/feet. This will speed up the recovery process and prevent swelling.
5 SWEETER DREAMS
Meditation before bedtime doesn't just help you fall asleep easier, it helps you wake up more peacefully too. There are plenty of guided meditations on YouTube that you can listen to as you drift off. We like the soothing voices of Bob Proctor, Abundance Meditation, and Kelly Howell, The Secret Universal Mind Meditation.
6 DON'T SWEAT IT
Night sweats aren't always temperature-related. They can be brought on by hormonal imbalances, obstructive sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux disease to name just a few of the causes. However, The Sleep Doctor, Dr Michael J Breus (thesleepdoctor.com), reminds us that a cool bedroom promotes rejuvenating sleep.
"The right temperature really is the temperature at which you can fall asleep comfortably and stay asleep without waking - or sweating. For most people, that's a temperature in the low to mid-60s Fahrenheit (between 18ºC and 21ºC)."
He also suggests wearing light bedclothes - or no clothes at all. Breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are the best choices for clothing and bedding.
Other sleep experts recommend leaving a bedroom window slightly ajar at night to invigorate the senses and boost the metabolism.
7 TAKE THE FLAX
Timothy Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Body recommends taking one to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil before bed "to increase cell repair during sleep and thus decrease fatigue". He also recommends pinching your nose while consuming it - it doesn't taste great.
Flaxseed has myriad benefits. It lowers cholesterol, improves digestive health and supports weight loss. It is also used as a bedtime supplement by those trying to build muscle. Note: Flaxseed oil can interfere with blood-thinning and blood sugar-lowering medications. In this case, talk to your GP before adding flaxseed to your diet.
8 BEAUTY SLEEP
Take multitasking to a new level by using one of the many overnight beauty products that get to work while you sleep. Our favourites include Drops of Youth Bouncy Sleeping Mask by The Body Shop; Wake Wonderful Night-Time Facial by REN and Kérastase Noctogenist Voile Nuit Overnight Revitalizing Hair Treatment Renewing Effect.
9 KEEP TO A MINERAL
The Sleep Doctor, Dr Michael Breus, recommends the minerals calcium and magnesium for a deeper, sounder sleep. "Both of these essential minerals help maintain nervous-system health and actually reduce anxiety and promote calm." He suggests taking 600mg calcium and 400mg magnesium daily.
10 SLEEP ON IT
Sleeping can help us solve problems and generate ideas. Clinical psychologist Deirdre Barrett, a professor at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study in 1993 in which she asked 76 college students to pick an objective problem they already had to work on to try to solve in a dream. After one week, half of the students dreamt about their problem and about a quarter dreamt a solution.
Dreaming can be a creative process for many artists. Indeed, the ideas for many works, including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Stephen King's Misery and Paul McCartney's Yesterday came to the creators in their dreams. Moral of the story: always keep a notebook on your bedside table.
11 BURN THE MIDNIGHT OIL
Turn your bedroom space into a sanctuary by diffusing essential oils. Lavender and cedarwood will help you wind down in the evening, while citrus oils like lemongrass and orange promote a sense of get up and go in the morning.
Alternatively, add a few drops of your favourite oil to a spray bottle and fill with distilled water. Shake and spritz over bedsheets in the morning/evening.
12 SMOOTH AS SILK
Want to enhance your beauty sleep? Many skin and hair experts swear by the use of silk pillowcases. Unlike man-made fabrics, silk doesn't catch on hair, thus reducing breakage. Plus, the temperature-regulating natural fabric prevents moisture-loss and reduces friction against skin.
13 COUNTING CALORIES? COUNT SHEEP
Sleep loss is proven to add to weight gain, so if you're trying to lose a few pounds, make sure to get some more shut-eye too.
Extra sleep also stops late-night snacking and promotes the production of the hormone leptin, which signals to the brain when you are full.
14 STRIKE IT OFF
Wake up in a calmer state of mind by completing the following day's to-do list at least half an hour before you doze off. This simple lifestyle change will help you start the following day with a sense of purpose and poise.
15 TRY THE MICRO-NAP
Many artists and inventors throughout history used the micro-napping method, which only allowed them to enter the sleep stage for a matter of mere seconds.
Salvador Dali held a key between his thumb and forefinger as he drifted off. As soon as he was about to cross the threshold into a deeper state of sleep, the key would drop to the ground, reverberating against a plate that he had strategically placed there. Isaac Newton used a similar strategy.
Health & Living