This post has been a long time coming, as put simply, I really loved staying up late. Like most of us, I knew about the importance of a “good night’s sleep” but it never stopped my habit of coming alive at night, or my desire to squeeze a few more hours out of the day. After a firm chat with a good friend just over a year ago the verdict was in: I was balanced in all major areas except sleep – where I was majorly out of sync! So, it took a lot of motivation, but I decided to start researching and experimenting with my beloved late night sleep pattern.
For the past year or so I’ve played with the time of night I went to bed, how long I slept for, various rituals pre- and post-bedtime, and took note of the possible effects of various foods, drinks and supplements consumed that day in order to find the most affective approach to sleep. As my inner night-owl had feared, the number one most effective factor has been getting to bed early – i.e. before 11pm, every night. Not only did an early bedtime provide top quality sleep, but on waking I felt well-rested and clear-headed, which was followed by my most productive, energy-filled days. Two other factors which beautifully complement this are early morning meditations and avoiding caffeine post 1pm.
So I’m most happy to report I now LOVE getting to bed early as the way I feel when I do so just feels SO good – I promise you it really does all turn out well in the end!
THE BACKGROUND INFO
Once again we are inextricably connected to nature:
We have evolved with the rhythms and patterns of day and night – we take our cues of when to wake and when to sleep by the rising and falling of the sun. These built-in self sustained patterns, or circadian rhythms are inextricably linked to our local environment.
In the morning when the light enters our eyes it signals to the brain that it’s time to wake up and to start preparing the body for action. Our brain then makes sure certain hormones and neurochemicals (such as cortisol) are produced so we have the energy, correct temperature and brain function to wake up and go about our days effectively and efficiently.
As the sun begins to drop and night closes in, our eyes register the low light which signals that we swap our wakeful chemistry for our restorative, sleep-inducing mix (such as melatonin). Around 9pm our pineal gland switches on and if the light continues to stay low melatonin leaks into our bloodstream inviting us to slow down and a prepare for sleep.
So why is sleep so important?
- It is the only time when the brain is cleaned – during sleep spinal fluid is pumped around the brain acting like a dishwasher flushing out waste products
- It helps us sync with nature’s cycles and biological rhythms
- It keeps our own healing cycle pulses in check
- It keeps us producing the correct repair hormones and regenerative chemicals that provide overall physical, mental and emotional health and well-being
- It regulates DNA repair
- It builds healthy muscle and connective tissue
- It stabilises moods and emotions
- It helps maintain a healthy weight
- It balances blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipid levels
THE BEST SLEEP IS ALL ABOUT QUALITY NOT QUANTITY
The most effective sleep occurs when you are deeply relaxed – five hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep is far more healthful than 8 hours of wakeful, disturbed sleep.
If you can manage good quality sleep then you really only need 6.5 hours per night. However, if your sleep quality isn’t optimal then between 7 and 8 hours is preferred.
Unless you are convalescing or healing from an operation you should have no more than 8 hours – any more and the effects can be as detrimental as going with only 3 hours.
HOW TO GET QUALITY SLEEP
- Make sleep a priority and make a routine of it – get to bed before 11pm and sleep for 6.5 – 8 hours every day. Dave Aspery talks here about the importance of not missing the window between 10:45 and 11pm when you get tired: “… if you miss it, you get a cortisol-driven ‘second wind’ that lets you be productive until 2am, or keeps you awake until then”.
- Get moving outdoors and soak up the daylight – tips here! Make sure each day you walk around outdoors for at least 30 minutes. Avoid sitting down for long durations whenever you can – a standing work station is ideal.
- No vigorous exercise after dinner or close to bedtime – this will only excite your system when you’re meant to be winding down. Slow gentle stretches are a better option if you’re wanting to so something before bed.
- Avoid alcohol before bed – or at the least stop drinking two hours before bed – despite all the old wives tales, alcohol may help you fall to sleep but it absolutely disrupts the quality of your sleep throughout the night.
- Avoid caffeine after 1pm – drink coffee this way if you do like to have a cuppa
- Avoid prescription sleeping pills – after long-term use these become even more of a problem in resuming a healthy sleep pattern
- Let dinner be your biggest meal – eat protein, fats and vegetables. Avoid sugars and grains. Protein helps prepare your body to enter the sleep-cycle; fats help your body manufacture sleep hormones; and vegetables assist hormone production and removal of toxins that can impede sleep. Finish eating at least 2 hours before bed. Dinner ideas here.
- Finish drinking any liquids 1 hour before bed – make your last drink a warm one
- Have a bath or shower before bed – this not only helps to “wash the day away” but also raises your core temperature which triggers those sleepy and regenerative chemicals.
- Stop using your computer, phone or watching TV 1 hour before bed and turn your lights down low – avoid LED lights, screens and bright lights to help tune in with the dark night light that is preparing you for sleep
- Sleep in darkness – pull your curtains tightly closed, cover any night lights or clock radio screens
- Sleep in a cool room – better to be too cool than hot in bed if you can!
- Trouble drifting off? Try these sleep-inducing products before bed – organic grass-fed beef gelatin; coconut oil; fermented cod liver oil; Chamomile tea; Melatonin; Magnesium spray
Create a luscious bed-time ritual: bed is a sacred place you want to be!
- Talk over your day with a partner/friend or write a journal – acknowledge and release any aspects of your day that upset you. Know you can rest peacefully after this as things will resolve as they should
- Brew your favourite calming herbal tea while reading a good book/magazine, or listening to your favourite chilled out music
- Take a bath with epsom/magnesium salts, or your favourite pure essential oils – lavender is a popular calming oil (avoid if you’re pregnant however)
- Book in a massage or simply massage your own tense spots – rub your feet, massage your shoulders and neck. Here are some good upper back and neck stretches
- Meditate or practise mindfulness or some calm breathing exercises
Changing your sleeping patterns may seem daunting or even impossible, but I assure you that with a bit of initial discipline it quickly starts to feel natural, easy, and in fact quite exciting! Getting to bed earlier means rising earlier, allowing you quality time to slowly ease into each day physically, mentally and emotionally. I highly recommend an morning meditation which invites an even clearer, calmer, energised you who is less likely to reach for outside stimulants in excess (caffeine, sugar). I’ve also found that after an early start you feel so virtuous that those green smoothies and juices and exercise classes are all the more welcoming – the addictive healthy cycle has begun!
The better you take care of yourself the more you will be able to help yourself and others around you. After a good sleep you are more in tune with your true self and therefore have the capacity to hold more and receive more.
If you are still struggling with your sleep after following all of the above tips then I highly recommend finding an EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) practitioner to help release any emotional holding patterns that may be hindering your ability to heal and balance. Other successful natural techniques are acupuncture, reflexology and cranial osteopathy. As always I whole heartedly endorse natural treatments that work with your body to heal the root cause rather than act to plaster over.
THE END. SLEEP WELL!