12 Jul 2021

The ultimate guide to a better night’s sleep

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Written by Georgia Hartmann Naturopath.  Image by I Love Linen

Poor quality sleep is a key driver in the development of many illnesses─be it anxiety and depression, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, hormonal imbalance, or infertility. And yet, many of us ignore the importance of sleep. Instead of prioritising sleep, we simply fit in whatever we can once all of the day’s tasks are complete. [1-6]

Though, how much sleep do you actually need to function optimally? According to the American National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18 to 64 need 7 to 9 hours of good quality sleep each night to be able to perform at their best. [7]

Sleeping too little (less than 7 hours per night) or too much (more than 9 hours per night) can result in excess fatigue and daytime sleepiness, poor concentration, as well as increased risk of the above-mentioned illnesses. [8]

If you are searching for the ultimate guide to a better night’s sleep, look no further. Here are my top tips.

1. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake at the same time each morning

Ensure you are going to sleep and waking at the same time each day as this helps to regulate your body’s circadian rhythm and sleep pattern. Commit to this for 4 weeks (including weekends) and watch your body’s sleep-wake cycle transform─You will notice yourself naturally tire at the same time each evening, and wake without your alarm of a morning. [9]

2. Exercise daily, preferably before midday

Regular exercise helps to improve all aspects of sleep including how long it takes you to fall asleep, total duration, as well as the number of wakings during the night. Sticking to an exercise routine for at least 12 weeks has been shown to have the most profound impact on sleep quality. [10,11]

3. Avoid caffeine after 10 am

Caffeine has a varying half-life of up to 10 hours. This means that after a single cup of coffee, the amount of caffeine in your system after 10 hours would only have decreased by 50%. It then takes potentially another 10 hours for the remainder of caffeine to be completely eliminated. If you are having two, three, four, or more, cups of coffee per day, this is where sleep becomes impacted, as it directly affects parts of the brain function responsible for arousal and cognition. For this reason, it is important that you limit yourself to 1 cup of coffee per day, in the morning. [12]

4. Cut the alcohol

Although many people use alcohol as a sleep-aid, it actually disturbs the quality of sleep in the second half of the night. Specifically, alcohol acts on wake-promoting neurons in the brain that ultimately do not allow you to stay in deep sleep and leave you feeling fatigued the following morning. [13]

Also, research out of the University of Nottingham shows that alcohol consumption directly affects sleep quality by increasing the risk of obstructive sleep apnea (a condition whereby reduced muscle tone forces the upper airway to collapse). The study found that those who consume alcohol are 25% more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. [14]

5. Ensure your bedroom is conducive to good quality sleep

Your bedroom is for sleeping (and love-making) only; not for working or watching TV. Exposure to artificial light before bed, whether that’s from your phone, laptop, TV, or room lights, decreases melatonin production. As melatonin is our sleep hormone, reduced levels will result in difficulty getting to and staying asleep.[15]

6. Phone down by 8 pm

For the above reason, it is important that you put all your devices down by 8 pm. Instead, enter your ‘calm space’ by enjoying a cup of chamomile tea; having a bath; meditating or laying with your legs up the wall for 10 minutes; reading a book; whatever it is you enjoy that will help you wind down.

7. Seek additional nutritional and herbal support

If you have implemented all of the above and are still finding it difficult to get good quality sleep, seek the support of a naturopath who can provide you with personalised nutritional and herbal supplementation. These have an amazingly nourishing and restorative effect on the body, which ultimately supports good quality sleep. [16-18]

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