Historically sleep was regarded as a simple suspension of activity, a passive state of unconsciousness. A lack of understanding of the importance of sleep is one of the reasons why our 24/7 lifestyle has developed such little regard for it. But is the tide starting to turn for the better? The pandemic has shone a light on sleep disorders fuelled by stress and anxiety, with researchers around the world taking on what’s been dubbed as “coronasomnia”.
There’s a collective feeling of sleep dissatisfaction, with this often-elusive wellbeing essential also topping the chart as the self-care priority for 2022 in our latest community survey.
With deeper sleep on all our agendas, this Sleep Awareness Month we’re taking a deep dive into how we can all get a little bit better in bed. From lifestyle tips to sleep-tracking gadgets, with just a little effort and intention you can reap massive benefits.
What’s The Big Deal About Sleep?
We know we need it, but what happens when we don’t get it? There’s barely a bodily function that sleep doesn’t have an impact on, which means a lack of it can have far-reaching consequences.
Ongoing sleep deprivation doesn’t allow your body to properly repair any damage done during the day and can mess with the immune system and your hormones, amongst many other things. In short, sleep has been proven to extend your life and help prevent disease.
With such a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing, how can we optimise sleep and get a restful night of shut-eye?
1. Decode Your Sleep Pattern To Understand How Much Sleep You Need.
We all have a master biological clock ticking away inside the brain, and dozens of smaller biological clocks throughout the body, called circadian rhythms. The ways these clocks work varies for each of us, which helps explain why some people feel like they’re a ‘morning person’ and others a ‘night owl’.
Not all people have the same rhythms at the same time. And all your hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, melatonin etc.) have their own circadian rhythms. If you know the timings of your hormones based on your ‘chronotype’, you can change your schedule and activities (what time to go to bed and wake up, when to workout, when to schedule your most focussed work for the day etc.) to fit your natural rhythms.
Which chronotype you fall into can also indicate how much sleep is right for you and how many sleep cycles (each one is approx. 90 minutes) you need. Dr Michael Breus Ph.D has researched into different sleep chronotypes and there’s a quick quiz to help you understand your biological programming so you can flow with it, rather than unknowingly work against it.
Understanding more about your own circadian pattern is the first step to optimising your sleep and may make all of your other efforts much more effective. We wrote about the science behind our sleep cycles in a recent blog story.
2. Eat And Drink Your Way To Some High Quality ZZZZ’s.
What you eat plays a massive role in how you feel and function and can also have a big impact on our quality of sleep.
In an ideal world, your last meal would be at least 3 hours before going to sleep, as late-night eating can elevate your metabolism and resting heart rate before bed. But life doesn’t always work to that schedule so if you feel the call of hunger nearer bedtime, don’t ignore it (as this will likely impair your sleep even more), just be more mindful about what snack you eat.
We hear a lot about the foods and drinks to avoid before bed (hello caffeine and sugary snacks), but there are also many micronutrients that are known to be more sleep-inducing. Bananas are rich in magnesium, while tart cherries are loaded with melatonin, the hormone our bodies naturally produce that's essential for sleep. The ideal bedtime snack, though, is thought to be about 70% carbs and 30% either fat or protein – think pitta and hummus, avocado on rice cake, peanut butter on oat cakes and you’re on the right track to hacking the hormones and neurotransmitters that help you sleep deeper.
Some experts also say a spoonful of honey 30 minutes before bed works wonders to stabilise blood sugar (spikes in blood sugar levels can wake us in the middle of night) and stimulate the production of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that can be converted to serotonin and melatonin to help induce relaxation and sleepiness. Drop a spoonful into a calming herbal tea like chamomile or Reishi Mushroom Cacao as part of your evening wind-down.
3. Upgrade Your Exercise Routine to Sleep Deeper.
Dave Asprey is best known as the founder of Bulletproof Coffee and now the Human Upgrade Podcast. As a biohacker, it’s unlikely there’s a rabbit hole he’s not been down when it comes to achieving deeper sleep. This is a welcome reminder from him that some of the age-old ‘hacks’ are still some of the best:
“Want to sleep better? Exercise can help. Getting on a regular workout routine improves your sleep quality by a lot. Exercise helps you fall asleep faster, stay asleep longer, wake up less during the night, and spend more time in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. Working out also relieves anxiety and stress, which are major causes of insomnia. If you find your mind racing at night, exercise can help quiet it down.”
Exercise is energising and raises your cortisol levels which can mess with your sleep so try and wrap up your more intense workouts at least two hours before bed and leave any bedtime moves for restorative yoga (Blok TV has some great on-demand recordings), or gentle stretching to ease out any tensions of the day.
4. Track Your Sleep.
Knowledge is power as they say and if you track your sleep performance, you’re able to make changes based on the data. There are different tracking devices on the market but one of our team favourites is the Oura Ring.
“Using Oura ring for over a year, I’ve been able to identify some patterns and get a better feel for what does and doesn’t work for my body when it comes to sleeping. For instance, I’ve noticed that alcohol absolutely smashes my HRV and resting heart rate, which has definitely made me more mindful of saying yes to a mid-week tipple. I value a quality night’s sleep more and having the data there to back it up makes me feel more empowered to say “thanks but no thanks” more often.
I can also see what’s making a positive impact, particularly on my restlessness, as waking in the night is my sleep weak spot. For me, gentle physical activity in the day, morning sunshine exposure (as little as 5-10 mins seems to help), not eating too close to bedtime, and being more consistent with taking my CBD drops daily makes the most difference. I still haven’t quite cracked a full month of high sleep quality yet (your calendar is marked with a crown in the app if you’ve nailed it) but I have had some excellent sleep scores in the 90s (out of 100) which is spurring me on to keep tracking and optimising.”
Other tracking devices worth a look if you want more support to improve sleep include Whoop, which includes a sleep coaching feature, and the Withings under-mattress sleep analyser, which uses sensors to capture lots of statistics that help you figure out where your sleep is going well and where it's struggling.
When you start tracking, a good tip is to change just one thing at a time so you can see what actually makes a difference for you.
5. Let Nature and Natural Sleep Aids Help You Sleep Better.
In today’s high-tech world, it’s easy to forget that nature has been helping us sleep better for centuries. There is an abundance of herbal remedies to call on for support, including lavender, chamomile, and valerian.
Some of nature’s other best gifts for getting a longer, deeper sleep include the following natural supplements (all of these snooze-inducing plant extracts can also be found in our unique LIGHTS OUT sleep drops formula):
Reishi - aka the calming mushroom – is a great addition to your sleep toolbox. This adaptogen helps calm the nervous system by reducing cortisol levels to bring on a state of chilled bliss. Dirtea’s Reishi Mushroom Cacao Super Blend is a nutrient-rich way to enjoy this wellness booster.
Cannabidiol. CBD can help fight stress and its numerous side-effects, including anxiety and insomnia, by interacting with the body's endocannabinoid system (ECS), which helps maintain balance in the body.
In our latest customer survey over two-thirds of our community say they take CBD primarily to help them with sleep. Neurologist Professor Mike Barnes adds:
"CBD has a very useful, positive benefit for sleep. It can improve not only getting off to sleep but also the duration and quality of the sleep. Many people will wake up much more refreshed”.
Lemon Balm. Studies show that there is a connection between lemon balm extract and sleep. It is thought that lemon balm may work by increasing gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain (low levels of GABA can lead to restlessness and anxiety). The plant is easy to grow at home if you fancy having the fresh leaves on hand for a calming herbal tea.
6. Optimise Your Sleep Environment.
According to sleep hygiene experts and studies, enhancing your space is one of the best ways to improve your sleep quality. The ideal bedroom environment is cool, dark, and quiet. Some quick tips:
- Set your bedroom temperature to a sleep-friendly 16-20 degrees Celsius – too hot or too cold will disturb your sleep.
- Open the window and circulate your bedroom with fresh air each day to get rid of any stale energy and help with temperature regulation.
- Turn down the lights for at least an hour before bed. The kind of light you’re exposed to on the wind-down to bed, can have a massive effect on your sleep as light suppresses the secretion of melatonin (even dim light can interfere with a person's circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion). Give fluorescent lighting a massive swerve, switch to night lights or candlelight after dark, and try not to succumb to the bright lights of your devices (dim them down all the way and try and get into the habit of a tech ‘curfew’ closer to bedtime. Pop on some blue-blocking glasses when you can’t resist a late-night scroll.)
- Invest in blackout curtains or blinds to keep any stray rays from shining into your room, especially with summer’s early sunrise that may not play well into the flow of your circadian flow.
- Add some weight. Research shows that weighted blankets have a positive effect on hormones governing the nervous system, affecting both mood and stress level.
- Use earplugs to help block out any disturbances. Even better, invest in sleep-enhancing headphones like Nightbuds from Kokoon that mould to your head, fade out audio as you drift off to sleep, and mask any outside noise (light-sleepers, where have these been all our life!).
- Switch up your mattress. It’s recommended that you change your mattress every 7-8 years, but if it’s sagging or not supporting you like it should, it’s time for a new one to help you sleep more soundly. Non-toxic and eco-friendly mattresses are becoming much more widely available – look out for GOLS and GOTS certification for a guarantee of quality.
7. Keep Tomorrow In Mind.
The ultimate goal of a good night’s sleep is to wake up feeling refreshed, focussed, and ready to take on the new day with ease. What we do each evening dictates that so try and give a thought to what you want to achieve the next day as part of your evening routine. Set some goals for the new day ahead, write out your morning to-do list, pick your outfit (even if it’s just another WFH day), plan your morning workout etc. – all of this can help can keep that brighter morning in sight and help prevent you from sabotaging your sleep / help keep your evening rituals on track.
8. What Else Can You Do To Improve Sleep Hygiene?
Preparation for a peaceful night’s sleep starts well before bedtime. Save at least the last hour of the day for winding down to allow you to switch off and settle any anxious thoughts.
A hot bath with calming bath salts can help you unplug and release any lingering tension.
If your mind is racing, try meditation, breathwork (try extending the exhale e.g., breathe in for 4, out for 6, to help soothe your nervous system), or journaling to clear your head. A simple affirmation can also be a comforting signal that it’s time to succumb to the slumber; “I did my best today, I am worthy of rest” is one for starters.
Overall, practicing consistency and maintaining a somewhat regular sleep schedule will help regulate your inner clock and ultimately help you optimise your sleep.
It All Adds Up to Better Sleep.
Everyone is different and the journey to a better night’s sleep is personal to you. When you start working on the foundations of your sleep routine and syncing up with your circadian rhythms, you can really experience the power and benefits of a deeper, more restorative sleep.
Improving sleep hygiene and incorporating herbs and botanicals can all add up to help us.
To support the body’s natural processes and relax into a more restful night, explore our award-winning SLEEP COLLECTION – designed with better days in mind.