No one knows the importance of sleep more than those that have gone without it. The new parents, the insomniacs, the worriers, and the work-a-holics. They understand.
When I started writing this blog I thought it would be easy to find research on the amazing healing properties of sleep. Turns out, it wasn't. The trouble with sleep is that there are so many varieties of it that it's actually quite difficult to isolate one type for investigation.
But by looking at the side effects of not getting enough sleep we can glean just how important it is. We know that it makes you at a higher risk of diabetes, and cardiovascular disease as it increases weight gain and insulin levels. It also has a bad effect on cognitive function and" emotionality". I assume when they say emotionality they mean a lack of sleep can make you prone to crying like a baby when you miss your train, for instance.
Sleep is governed by the pineal gland which lives behind the eyes. It responds to darkness by making melatonin which makes us sleep. Whereas, light inhibits this hormone. It doesn't have to be natural light, the same happens with artificial light too. As a side note, people who can't pick up light waves in their eyes (some blind people) usually have poor sleep quality.
Let's look at things you should be doing to get an good night's sleep.
- Dim the lights two hours before bed. This cues your pineal gland to make melatonin. We have natural circadian rhythms which give us our 24 hour pattern of sleep and wakefulness. Although this is something we carry internally it does change depending on external factors such as the seasons. Animals which live in places where there is only daylight for 24hours in the Summer season cease to have a circadian rhythm during that time. Equally interestingly, humans can throw their circadian rhythm out with artificial lighting too.
- No screens an hour before bed. Now that you've dimmed the house lights it's important you don't sit with your face stuck on a screen for the last hour before bed. The light from the screen will inhibit your pineal gland from making the melatonin you need to sleep.
- Block out light. In the summer months it's especially important to use a black-out curtain so that you are not woken up at an uncomfortably early hour in the morning. You can buy a temporary one from the early learing centre in the UK.
- Avoid stimulants four hours before bed. Caffeine and Sugar are the most frequently consumed stimulants. Although the effects of caffeine are often felt for 4-6 hours it takes the body 8 to 14 hours to completely process it out the body. I've recommended a four hour break from stimulants as a minimum. Ideally you wouldn't consume any stimulants after mid-day. Your mornings will need a lot less caffeine once you've improved your sleep quality with these tips, trust me.
- Set the scene. Aside from changing the lighting it's good to use other sensory cues to train your mind and body that it's time for bed. Just as you did as a child, bed-time routines are good to have. I'd recommend getting an oil diffuser which uses water and has a sensory so switches it off in night if it runs out. You can put essential oils which help relaxation and sleep like Lavender, Geranium, and/or Clary sage. I also like to use sounds to help me sleep. Some people like to listen to natural sounds, I personally like sleep soundtracks on spotify. I recently discovered a podcast aimed at sleeping called Sleep with Me. This is a brilliant podcast filled with dulcit tones and boring stories, enough to bore anyone into a sweet slumber.