While seemingly effortless and utterly essential, sleep comes wrapped up in a thick duvet of complexity and contradictions. It’s completely free, yet at the same time priceless; constantly available, but for some achingly unattainable; deeply healing, yet a lack of it causes spiralling suffering.
In recent years, cracking the complex code to better sleep has become a status symbol. It’s almost cool to admit to going to bed early and getting 8 hours sleep every night. But for far too long sleep wasn’t given the kudos it deserved.
The ability to function on 3-4 hours a night was a badge of honour worn by the so-called “sleepless elite” – successful executives, political figures, and entertainers who claimed their rise to the top was all down to shunning sleep.
Part of the problem is that sleep wasn’t seen as a very profitable commodity. Diet and exercise have long been profitably marketed as the golden pillars of a healthy lifestyle – I mean, surely, if you’re juicing green veggies in a top of the line juicer and squeezing in four spin classes a week you’re doing alright?
Now we’ve woken up to the fact that the answer is yes, but only as long as your sleeping well too. Sleep is now positioned as an equally essential pillar of optimal health, and rightfully so, because getting good quality sleep is good for just about everything.
Stress, immune system, memory, concentration, recovery – whatever it is that’s ailing you, getting the recommended dose of shut-eye (7-8 hours for adults) can probably help.
So, what is the secret to better sleep? Even after decades of research, exactly why we sleep remains illusive, but experts have a pretty good idea. Read on for some of the most science-backed techniques recommended to get a good night’s sleep.
1. Stick to a Sleeping Pattern
Ensuring you get a good night’s sleep starts the minute you wake up. The number one tip to get better sleep is to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. This programmes the brain and internal body clock to get used to a set routine.
You should try to keep this same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends – limiting the difference to no more than about an hour if possible – as staying up late and sleeping in late on weekends can disrupt your body clock’s sleep–wake rhythm.
Set your bed time based on how many hours sleep you want to achieve, but there’s no point choosing a time when you’re not likely to feel tired and sleepy. We all know the feel of craving sleep on the days we’ve been up particularly early, but in technical terms this is called the homeostatic sleep drive.
So it makes sense to make sure you don’t lie in too long in the mornings and that you’re active throughout the day (lots of inspiration on Reformation’s class schedule for that) so you’re naturally tired come bed time.
2. Morning Light
Along with homeostatic sleep drive the other main biological process that impacts sleep quality is your circadian rhythm, part of your biological clock. Your exposure to light during the day and, importantly, when you get it impacts on these natural sleep cycles.
Researchers found that people who expose themselves greater amounts of light during the morning hours, between 8am and midday, fell asleep more quickly at night and had fewer sleep disturbances during the night compared to those exposed to low light in the morning.
Many of us miss out on mother nature’s natural sleep cues, dawn and dusk, as we work inside, leading to sleep problems. You should make an effort to get out in the bright morning light (which has lots of the famed ‘blue light’), and spend as much time outdoors as possible and or in rooms with lots of natural light during the day.
Sunlight is so essential to our mental health, during the autumn and winter months, when days become short and exposure to sunlight decreases, people can even suffer from a type of depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Artificial light therapy is an effective therapy for this. Simply sit or work near a device called a light therapy box and soon you’ll be laughing…
3. Detach from Tech
Our modern lives are propped up by the wonder of technology, but our human bodies haven’t evolved at the same rate. Just as exposure to light early in the morning pushes the sleep schedule earlier, light exposure in the evening pushes the sleep cycle later.
While sunlight is the main source of blue light, there are also many man-made, indoor sources of blue light. Display screens of computers, tablets, smartphones and other digital devices emit significant amounts of blue light, and unfortunately many of us spend the hours before bed staring directly into these.
One of the best things you can do is to limit your exposure to blue light before bed, and apparently even 37 minutes before closing your eyes can make a big impact. Blue light blocking glasses are also a scientifically-backed fashion statement to consider.
Having access to your phone in the evening will urge you to switch it on when you can’t drift off. Avoiding bringing your phone into your room can mute this temptation. Sleep guru Arianna Huffington has decided the concept of ‘putting your phone to bed’ an hour before you head to bed yourself. By avoiding bringing your phone into your bedroom you don’t just avoid the phone’s blue light, but you also avoid bringing all the work stress and to-do lists into your room too.
4. Establish a Caffeine Cut-Off Point
It’s well documented that caffeine (caffeinated soft drinks, coffee, and tea – including green tea- and even dark chocolate) is a stimulant that can wreak havoc on your sleeping patterns.
Even if you’re one of those people who claims not to feel a major ‘buzz’ after a coffee and who can continue to drink it even late at night, that doesn’t mean it is not going to affect the quality of your sleep. While some people can tolerate it better than others it’s an indisputable fact that the stimulating effects of caffeine affect everyone.
These effects can last as long as 8 hours, meaning a cup of coffee in the late afternoon can make it hard for you to fall asleep at night. If you go to bed at 10pm make 2pm your caffeine cut-off point and stick to de-caff after that. All the above also goes for nicotine, tobacco and e-cigs.
4. Establish a Caffeine Cut-Off Point
Setting up your bedroom with the optimal conditions for a good night’s sleep can go a long way. Keep your bedroom quiet, cool (apparently, 18.3°C is the ideal temperature), and dark – a dim night light is fine, if needed.
Your body and room temperature is a lot more important than you might think. If you are too hot in bed, then your core temperature will struggle to fall and you won’t trigger your “sleep mechanism”, according to the Sleep Council. So ditch wearing fluffy pyjamas under a heavy duvet, which will make you too hot.
At the same time you don’t want to get too cold. Keeping your feet warm is one of the biggest hacks to ensure this, as cold feet will send your core temperature plummeting. Rather than wearing bed socks, which get hotter by the hour, try a hot water bottle.
Having fresh bedding and a tidy room can also help to get your head in the right space for sleep and make sure you feel comfortable. Finally, experts recommend not using your bedroom for anything other than sleep and sex – well, if they insist.
5. Make a Dent in Your Reading List
When you put your phone ‘to bed’ an hour before you do this isn’t an excuse to snuggle up in front of the TV or laptop, these bright artificial lights will signal the brain that it’s time to be awake.
Instead do something you find relaxing.
This could be a warm bath, listening to chill music, or perhaps some gentle yoga or meditation to relax your mind and body. Keep an eye out on Reformation’s class schedule for Restorative and Yin yoga classes – the beauty of online classes is that you can float into bed straight from your mat – and we regularly run mediation courses too.
If yoga isn’t for you, studies have found that reading can help reduce stress in a swift six minutes, setting you up for a good night’s sleep. Reading also allows your muscles to relax and slows down your breathing, leaving you feeling calmer. Plus there’s that great sense of satisfaction when you finally start getting through your reading list.
For a smooth transition to Z town, be sure to check out our Sleep Ritual box (LINK here) filled with everything you need for a restful and restorative nights sleep.
6. Natural Smells & Supplements
If you require a little extra help to get a good night’s sleep, consider tapping into the power of natural sleep-promoting remedies.
Certain smells can affect your mood, and when it comes to inducing sleep lavender and germanium are naturally calming. In fact, several studies show that simply smelling lavender oil shortly before sleep may be enough to improve sleep quality.
Despite being the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies, Magnesium is often an overlooked sleep booster too. By maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep, magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep. In the evenings, try taking a magnesium supplement, available in powder and tablet form, or soaking in an epsom salt bath that’s packed full of the wonder mineral.
7. Get Out of Bed
If you’re doing all the above and still lying awake at night, get out of bed. If you cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes, experts advise that you get up, go to another part of your house, and do something you find relaxing (Note: this is not an excuse to start rewatching Schitt’s Creek anytime you have a restless night) until you feel sleepy again, then go back to bed.
What you don’t want to do is lie awake in bed too long as this can create an unhealthy mental connection between your bedroom and wakefulness. So skip counting sheep and instead skip out of bed into a cosy chair and grab a book.