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Having trouble sleeping? You’re most likely not alone. Here’s why sleep hygiene is so important and how to apply it.
words Bea Taylor
Are your dreams more vivid at the moment? Don’t be surprised. Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and author of The Committee of Sleep, suggests vivid-dream recall could be a unpleasant side effect of the slower-paced lifestyle we are now leading. “Changing one’s routine dramatically often leads to more dream recall.” In times of confusion and fear, anxious thoughts are normally the first to make their way to the surface, and if it’s not your dreams that have been affected, then it might be your sleep in general.
We’re well aware that sleep deprivation is a terrible, terrible thing. It can cause weight gain, weaken our immune system, cause higher-blood pressure, depression and fertility problems, as well as having a strong impact on our cognitive and memory abilities. Eight is the magic number when it comes to the hours of sleep but specialists say, even though we should be focusing on how much sleep we’re getting, the quality of that sleep is even more important.
Don’t lie awake
Lying awake in bed, especially if you’re feeling anxious, isn’t going to do anything positive for your mental or physical wellbeing. It’s better to get up — but only for 15. Spend this time focusing on calming your mind, either through meditation or by writing down your thoughts and worries. Whatever you do, don’t head to the nearest screen for a social media scroll.
Reduce blue-light exposure in the evening
Blue light tricks your brain into thinking it’s still daytime and reduces the hormone melatonin, which helps you relax and settle into a deep sleep. Computers and devices emit large amounts of blue light but there are apps that can block it on your devices. You could also stop watching TV and turn off bright lights two hours before heading to bed.
Increase bright light exposure during the day
Your body has a circadian rhythm, it’s a natural clock. Allowing yourself to enjoy some daytime rays helps to keep your rhythm healthy, which will not only improve your energy during the day, but also improve your sleep quality and duration at night.
Despite the lure of a toasty bed, cool bodies sleep better. An increased body or room temp can decrease sleep quality and increase wakefulness. Having a hot shower before bed will help, as it will raise your body heat which will be followed by cooling. Twenty degrees (celcius) is a comfortable temperature to drift off in.
No late-night snacking
If your body’s working on digesting food just as you’re trying to sleep, you’re not going to get the rest you need because it’s busy doing that instead. Protein, in particular, is one unsuspecting food that could be keeping you up at night. It takes a considerable amount of energy for the body to digest it but don’t avoid it altogether — just be sure you give it a couple of hours before hitting the hay.
Work on a sleep schedule
It doesn’t need to be stringent, even a loose sleep schedule will help you get the proper amount of Zs. This means going to bed and getting up at similar times every day, even on the weekend.
Make your bedroom a place for relaxation
More than ever, your bedroom needs to be the place where you relax and unwind. Remove work items, exercise equipment and devices, and introduce soft bedding, calming colours and indoor plants.
Avoid anything too stimulating in the evening, as this could trigger a cortisol or stress-hormone response which will wake you up. But exercise during the day is highly recommended and those who do so regularly, fall asleep faster and deeper.
Magnesium has been found to assist sleep regulation. Studies show that 72 per cent of adults don’t receive the recommended daily intake of magnesium — a deficiency that can impact energy, sleep, muscle recovery, cardiovascular support and brain function. Magnesium-rich foods include dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale. Also seek out broccoli, banana, avocado, salmon and cabbage.
White noise is well-known for its aid in getting folk to relax and sleep. But studies have found that newcomer on the block, pink noise, might be a more effective sleep tool. Pink noise is a deeper, more restful noise which has a much lower frequency than white noise.