Sleep is one of the simplest, most innate things we can do for our overall health. In theory, it should require such little effort that we can do it with our eyes closed. The things that happen while we’re dreaming away are really quite miraculous—our bodies literally rebuild themselves at a cellular level. It’s a vital function not only for welfare, but survival.
“A good night’s sleep is essential to our physical health and emotional wellbeing,” Shea Morrison and Danielle Knight, co-founders of sleep retreat and store The Goodnight Co., tell Really Well. “Some of the top benefits of sleep include fighting stress, reducing anxiety and depression, lowering blood pressure, helping to fight illness, and improving memory. The list really is endless though.”
The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night, says Dr. Carmel Harrington, a sleep expert and the managing director of the Sleep For Health organisation. “Sleep is the only time in our 24 hours that the body gets a chance to rest, restore, and repair. During our deep sleep our body secretes Human Growth Hormone. This hormone plays a key role in healing cells and tissues throughout your body, including skin. Not getting enough sleep cuts that crucial repair time short, which can wreak havoc,” she explains.
But as work-life boundaries continue to blur and things like work, family, relationships, domestic duties, and study compete for our time, many of us aren’t getting enough of it. With an increased focus on the field of sleep medicine and some fascinating research into the detrimental consequences of sleep deprivation, it’s become as clear as day that despite how busy we are, we can’t keep getting away with pushing sleep to the bottom of the priorities list.
Here are five simple tips for increasing the amount of ZZZ’s in your life.
1. Build a bedtime ritual
It’s ideal for our circadian rhythm, or internal body clock, to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. This isn’t always practical. Instead of trying to stick to regimented bedtimes, try to build a bedtime ritual—a series of things that you do prior to sleeping each night, regardless of the specific time. “Having a consistent routine before bed helps signal to your body and mind that it’s time to wind down and prepare for deep rest,” Morrison and Knight say. Find what works for you. Some thought-starters include taking a warm shower and covering your body in a luxurious oil; settling into bed with a sleep-inducing tea and book; and lighting a candle or stick of incense (we love Kuumba International).
2. Practice Viparita Karani
Don’t be intimidated by the name of this yoga pose. It’s colloquially known as Legs-Up-The-Wall and simply involves laying on your back on your bed or your floor and leaning your legs against the wall. Passive and restorative, this gentle inversion restores the parasympathetic nervous system, kind of like bio-hacking your body into deep relaxation. It’s also fantastic for digestion and helping to ease menstrual cramps. We recommend doing it for 20 minutes a night and can attest to its effectiveness.
3. Exercise during the day
If you work in a desk-bound or sedentary job, you’ll probably be familiar with the feeling of being mentally tired but physically awake. Engage in some form of exercise every day—whether it’s light walking or hardcore boxing—to ensure your body feels ready to rest.
4. Ban brightness
We all know we shouldn’t use screens before bed. The lights devices emit can both stimulate the adrenal gland (responsible for secreting the stress hormone cortisol) and, as Dr. Harrington explains, stops the body from producing sleep hormones. Put your phone onto flight mode an hour before bed and keep it out of sight, out of mind. Likewise, avoid turning on bright lights in your home at night and instead opt for candles or soft light from lamps to let your body know it’s time for bed.
5. Set up your space
Make your bed a place that you want to spend time in, and make sure you only use it for two things: sleep and sex. Dr. Harrington says your bedroom should be cool (18 degrees is ideal), dark, quiet, and comfortable. Try not to work or watch TV in bed, especially if you’re having trouble getting to sleep as this can create a negative mental association. Invest in some beautiful bedding (such as French flax linen, which has natural temperature-regulating properties) and minimise clutter to create a calming atmosphere.
Photography and words by Really Well.