Sleep, contrary to what people think isn’t a time our body logs off; rather, it’s a period of processing, rejuvenation, and replenishing.
A good pattern of sleep replenishes your body and soul, boosts your immune system, builds muscle, keeps you alert; and provides some vital health benefits such as lowering the risk of cancer, heart problems, and obesity. Having consistent quality sleep is arguably more effective than following a strict diet and exercising.
On the contrary, when you don’t get quality sleep, it could be dangerous. Matthew Walker, in his bestseller ‘Why We Sleep’, compares the danger of depriving yourself of a night’s sleep with that of being drunk to the legal limit, as one or two seconds of lack of concentration could result in a fatal accident. Asides this, you run a risk of temporary memory loss, a heart condition, obesity, and even cancer.
7-9 hours of sleep daily is ideal for an adult, while 8-10 and 11-14 hours daily is ideal for teenagers and infants respectively. If you have been struggling with your sleep, I’ll share with you top tips to get the much needed, restorative sleep to live better and be more productive.
#1. ALIGN YOURSELF TO CIRCADIAN CYCLES
Our body has an internal process called the circadian rhythm or cycle that regulates our sleep-wake cycle daily. It’s our body’s clock. The process repeats itself every 24 hours, circling between alertness and sleepiness. This ‘body clock’ is responsible for regulating alertness, sleepiness, hunger, and certain hormones in the body.
At night, the circadian rhythm senses reduced light and sends a signal to the brain to secrete the melatonin hormone to cause the body to sleep. The opposite occurs during the day. where the body secretes serotonin. Since the hormones are intrinsically linked, it’s about looking at your habits from the moment you wake up until you go to sleep.
If you find yourself dozing off at meetings or unable to sleep at night, your circadian cycle could be out of sync. In his book, ‘The Promise of Sleep’, Dr William Dement explains more about how the 24/7 activities of our modern world can mess with our inner clock, and how we can reclaim it.
Maintaining a constant sleep schedule, by consciously waking up and going to bed at the same time each day, can help to set a pattern of behaviour to align with your body’s natural circadian cycles, resulting in better sleep.
#2. SET THE SCENE
Your bedroom needs to be designed to help you sleep, it should not be an extension of your living space.
If you want to get quality sleep, you need to set up the right environment for it. Clear out the clutter, ditch your electronics, make your bed comfortable, and keep your room dark and quiet.
A clean, dark, and quiet room makes it easier for the body to release melatonin, a hormone that tells your body when to sleep.
#3. USE LIGHT TO HELP YOUR CIRCADIAN CYCLES
Your circadian cycle is your body’s ticking clock that regulates your sleeping pattern. Through the retina, it detects light and sends a signal to your brain to either perform or stop the release of melatonin that causes you to sleep.
By consciously exposing yourself to enough light during the day, it helps your circadian cycle know it’s daytime and to maintain your alertness, and by exposing yourself to little or no light at bedtime, your circadian cycle will trigger the body to release the hormone melatonin that causes you to sleep.
Blue light, contained in iPads, phones, and TVs, is detrimental to sleep before bed, as it’s stimulating natural processes disrupting melatonin production. Therefore a dark room with no electronic devices, sets the right tone for a good deep sleep.
#4. LIE IN FOETAL POSITION ON YOUR NON-DOMINANT SIDE
Sleeping on your side is the position that is recommended by all sleep experts. And it’s due to a couple of reasons: it is better for your spine, it reduces the strain on other parts of your body, reduces constipation, and reduces the risk or heartburn.
If you want to make yourself even more comfortable, then it’s advisable to sleep on your non-dominant side in a foetal position. What this means is that if you are left-handed then sleep on your right side, and if you are right-handed then sleep on your left side. This practice will make you less likely to wake up.
#5. Buy the right mattress
Getting a good night slumber boils down to a couple of factors, and one of the main starters is getting the right kind of mattress. Choosing the right mattress helps you avoid the early morning aches and pains a bad mattress brings.
A comfortable mattress is important to quality sleep, and choosing the right one can make all the difference.
A good mattress is the one in which you feel no pressure at all, almost as though you are floating on air. It shouldn’t be too soft or too hard.
If you are a couple, bigger is better. You can test if the mattress is right for you if you lie in a foetal position and your head should rest horizontally on your bed, without the need for a pillow.
#6. Get a good weekly average sleep
If you were unable to catch enough sleep at night, don’t worry too much about it, rather, focus on getting a good weekly average sleep. In his bestseller titled ‘Sleep’, the author, Nick Littlehales, an elite sports coach has helped many of the world’s greatest athletes achieve maximum productivity, challenged existing held preconceptions, such as the need for eight hours of sleep and the need to sleep in one continuous block of time.
Nick said that for you to get quality sleep, you should look at it as a 90-minute cycle, explaining that a person that sleeps for 6 hours (four complete cycles), will feel more replenished than a person that sleeps for 8 hours with incomplete cycles and broken sleep.
The more ‘complete cycles’ of sleep you can catch averagely in a week, the better you will feel.
#7. Try daily naps
If you belong to the school of thought that ‘taking short naps makes you lazy’, you might be getting it wrong. As a matter of fact, it might be a good thing after all.
Taking brief snoozes between 2-3 and 5-7 helps you achieve a better sleep pattern, asides that, it’ll restore your alertness, rejuvenate you, and repair the damaged tissues from exercise, the trick is to nap the right amount.
An ideal ‘power nap’ lasts for about 20-30 minutes. If you nap for longer, it’ll take you into a deep state of sleep, after which you wake up with a feeling of grogginess and potentially disrupting your night time sleep.
#8. Ask for help
If you have tried all these tips and you are still struggling with sleep, then you should visit your doctor, as it might be as a result of an underlying condition or hormonal imbalances.
There are various sleep therapy services that can help you induce sleep if you are at your wits end. They can also guide you in restoring your natural sleep pattern. So, if you feel seriously deprived of sleep and need urgent help, paying them a visit might not be a bad idea.