It’s a key component of optimal health, but over 51% of Brits over the age of 18 aren’t getting enough sleep
image Sara Messinger
words Lotte Bowser
A lack of sleep can negatively impact the way we function in our day to day lives, as well as our long term mental and physical well-being. In his book “Why We Sleep”, sleep scientist Matthew Walker says that routinely sleeping less than seven hours a night ‘demolishes’ our immune system and increases our risk of developing diseases down the line. But how can we optimise our time spent between the sheets?
If sleep is eluding you, don’t fret - we’ve got you covered. We’ve pulled together some of the most effective sleep hacks to help you catch those precious forty winks. But first things first. You’ve probably heard of the term circadian rhythm in conversations about sleep, right? It refers to the 24-hour cycle, or our internal body clock, that regulates our bodily functions. It is heavily impacted by things like light, temperature, exercise, food, time zone changes and social activity. “The secret to good sleep is living in alignment with this internal rhythm,” says sleep psychotherapy consultant and author of The Science of Sleep, Heather Darwall-Smith.
Here’s how to do it:
Get to know your chronotype and create a consistent schedule
Your chronotype is your body’s natural inclination to fall asleep and wake up at a certain time. If you prefer going to bed and waking up later, then your chronotype is ‘eveningness’. If the opposite applies, then it's ‘morningness’. Put simply, you’re either a night owl or an early bird. Try to go to bed and wake up at times that are suitable for your chronotype, and be consistent. In a conversation with celebrity nutritionist and functional medicine practitioner Steve Grant, he tells me that his number one tip is “to wake up at the same time each day, no matter the day of the week or whether you had a late night. Work out the earliest time you need to get up and stay within 30 to 60 minutes of that every day of the week.” Get a consistent number of hours, including at the weekends where possible. The National Sleep Foundation recommends around eight hours per night for adults.
Seek out sunshine##
Exposing ourselves to daylight first thing triggers the production of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that keep us alert throughout the day. Our body also makes vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the sun. A study carried out in 2018 showed that higher vitamin D levels improved sleep quality and increased the amount of sleep amongst its participants, so get outside and soak up some rays. A better tan and better sleep? It’s a win win.
Move your body##
When we exercise, we release chemical messengers called neurotransmitters including dopamine which helps regulate our sleep cycle. Exercise also makes the ‘homeostatic sleep drive’ or the need to sleep stronger, which continues to build the longer we stay awake. Try to work out earlier in the day and avoid high intensity exercise close to bedtime, as it will increase your internal body temperature which needs to cool down in preparation for sleep.
Eat earlier in the evening##
An Australian study showed that hundreds of university students experienced increased sleep disruptions after eating close to bedtime. Our digestion kicks in and starts working on processing food, signalling to the body that it’s daytime which disrupts our circadian rhythm. Try to eat at least two hours before hitting the hay, or eat lighter meals if you can’t.
Ditch the tech##
The blue light from our devices interferes with our body's ability to prepare for sleep by suppressing the sleep-signalling hormone melatonin. Avoid using your phone, TV or computer at least an hour or two before bed. If you do use them, switch to the night shift setting, or wear a pair of blue light blocking glasses - admittedly it isn’t the sexiest look, but your body will thank you for it later.
Try to create a routine and environment that soothe your nervous system and help you decompress before bed. “Take the focus off sleep,” Darwall-Smith suggests. “Anything we focus our attention on grows in significance.” Try reading a book, relaxing in a hot bath, or listening to calming music. Opt for comfortable bedding, lavender essential oil, heavy curtains or an eye mask, and ear plugs. Check out Woo’s shopping list of tried and tested products here.
Darwall-Smith believes it’s all about creating methods to live by, but this doesn’t mean going cold turkey and abandoning all the fun we may have planned in the diary. After all, everything in moderation including moderation, as the saying goes. Right?