There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep and nothing worse than a terrible one. As much as I joke that sleep is a waste of time, or point out that it would be great if we could work in our sleep, it’s a vital part of being a human. If you live until you’re 75 it’s estimated that the average person will spend 25 years asleep, so, saying it’s important is probably the understatement of the year! I have a complicated relationship with catching those Zzz’s, which is why in February, as part of my year of wellness challenge, I’ve been focusing on it. In a bid to discover how to get a good night’s sleep, I’ve been learning about, and putting scientifically proven sleep hacks on trial.
I’ll sleep when I’m dead
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the average adult needs eight hours of sleep per night, but according to studies by the National Sleep Foundation this could actually be anywhere between 6 and 10 hours. If you keep googling you’ll find conflicting advice on the amount of sleep everywhere. I guess the important thing to remember is that these are averages and you may not be an average person, so the amount of time you actually need to sleep for could vary. There’s a difference between what you need and what you’re allowing yourself too.
I’m sure you could argue the semantics of ‘how long should I be sleeping for’ all day. But, the important thing is that you’re getting it. WHO studies have linked sleep deprivation to heart disease and strokes. Rather ironically stress is one of the major factors in not sleeping. So how on earth does one go about getting a good nights sleep?
The types of sleep
Before we take a deep dive into the murky waters of sleep hacks, I decided to educate myself a little. There are two types of sleep – REM (rapid eye movement) and
Stage one is where you close your eyes and begin to drift off. It’s really easy to be woken up from this stage. Muscle spasms and the sensation of falling are common as our brains begin to slow down and our body relaxes. Stage two is light sleep, your body temperature begins to drop and your heart rate slows down. It’s harder to be woken from this stage. Stage three is the final stage of NREM, this is actually the stage where sleep walking and sleep talking occurs. It’s almost impossible to wake up from this stage if you do you’ll be left feeling really disorientated. It’s in this stage where the body begins to repair itself, too.
Stage four is REM, so your eyes will be moving rapidly and there will be lots of brain activity as you dream. It is normally reached 90 minutes after stage one, it last for around 10 minutes to begin with, increasing with each sleep cycle. It’s easy to be woken during this stage. If you’ve ever woken up feeling really groggy, you’ll probably have been woken mid-REM.
In an ideal world, you’ll wake up during stage one. In fact there are apps and calculators that work out when you should go to sleep ensuring that you wake up stage one NREM.
The golden rules of sleep
After taking a deep dive into reliable internet sources, it appears that the key things that you can do to help with sleep is to establish a routine and have a good sleeping environment. In an ideal world we would all go to bed at the same time each night and are up at the same time each morning, even at the weekends.
Having somewhere that’s comfortable, with fresh air and no distractions
The latter is the easier for me. I’m lucky with the layout of my flat that my bedroom can only function as a bedroom. I can’t really fit anything else other than a bed, wardrobe and bedside tables in there. So all I do in there is sleep.
The former is near on impossible and really doesn’t account for anyone having a varied life. If all I did was work and go home, I’m sure it would be easy to be in bed at 10pm ever night. But, sometimes I’m getting in a 10pm or even later and I’m the kind of person that snags a couple of hours extra sleep at the weekend too.
Sleep tips on trial
There were a number of other sleep tips I found that seemed legit. Not eating past 8pm seemed to make sense – you want to be sleeping and not feeling full, trying to digest large dinner. Equally not going to bed hungry is always a good idea too! Not having alcohol before bed makes sense too. Your quality of sleep is said to be worse when there’s drink involved. It may help to knock you out, but it interrupts later sleep cycles.
Those tips aside I found five that piqued my interest and put four of them on trial. Here’s how I got on.
Week 1 – No tech half an hour before bed
The blue light emitted from electronic devices can affect sleep. There’s a lot of guidance saying that you shouldn’t use technology right before bed. With that in mind, I put myself on a phone, TV and laptop ban for half an hour before bed. Instead of watching Netflix I decided to read for half an hour, before painting my nail with CND Rescue RX, applying hand cream and sleeping.
On quiet nights where I had no plans, this worked really well. I ended up having a really good night’s sleep and awoke feeling refreshed. On night where I crawled in at, or past bedtime, this went out the window and I hopped straight into bed and flaked out.
Overall, I really liked this new sleep routine and it’s something that I’ll be sticking to.
Week 2 – Pillow spray
It was another very long and exhausting week! This week I tried to avoid screen for half an hour before bed and I used a NEOM and a This Works Pillow Spray. The latter has a more subtle scent, but I do love them both. They are essentially both lavender based mists that have a calming scent designed to help you sleep.
They work on the principle that the scent given off by the blend of essential oils trigger the limbic system (the part of the brain that deals with emotion). So certain blends of oils will remind you of certain things and evoke an emotional response which is attached to the memory. Some studies have shown that lavender can reduce cortisol, too. Which could help soothe the mind and send you to sleep, as stress is a big factor in not sleeping.
For most of the week these sprays seemed to help. There were a couple of nights where I sprayed too much and it meant that I could breathe – so I tried to use them sparingly! Overall, I felt like I fell asleep faster and was sleeping deeper. I often found myself waking up feeling a little groggy, so I’m assuming I was waking up during deep sleep.
Whilst I did like them, I wouldn’t say they are a necessity, they’re
Week 3 – Bedtime Yoga
It’s a well-known fact that yoga can be deeply calming and restorative, so I decided to try and follow a short bedtime yoga video by Yoga with Adrienne, every night that week. It did mean that I’d be looking at a screen right before bed, so I made sure I’d switched my phone to night mode, where a yellower light is used. This is supposed to be better for you.
Whilst I really enjoyed this little addition to my routine, I did discover that yoga seems to give me unlimited amounts of energy. After two nights of not sleeping for hours, I decided to knock this one on the head and save yoga for early mornings and evenings.
Week 4 – Calm App Sleep Stories
This meditation, sleep and relaxation app seems to be in vogue at the moment, so I thought I’d hop on the bandwagon and give their sleep stories a go. Most of the content is paid for, so I was pretty limited on the free version. Their range of bedtime stories are designed to help you unwind, switch off and fall asleep. The stories are read by people with really calming voices and most contain ‘hidden’ breathing techniques designed to help you relax.
I ended up trying this for two nights before deciding it wasn’t for me at all. I found the woman’s voice really irritating and the stories tended to keep me awake. I’d be lulled into a deeply relaxing state but as the story ended my brain would go into overdrive and keep me awake. I’m someone who needs silence to fall asleep so in hindsight, this really wasn’t a good idea!
The hack that I knew wasn’t for me – baths
Having a bath before bed is said to mimic the temperature drop signalling to your brain that you are real to sleep. However, I’m someone who associates showering with waking up and I can’t function without one in the morning. I decided that bathing in the evening and showering first thing was way too excessive. As were nightly baths (just think of the water bill!)
What I’ve learnt.
Over the last month, I’ve really grown attached to my little sleep routine. I love hopping into bed to read a good book for half an hour or so. After I put my book down I paint CND’s Rescue RX on my nails. I find this really soothing and my nails have never looked better. I then apply my hand cream, spritz a pillow spray (if I have any) and switch out the light. I’ve found that I’m much calmer and happier before I go to sleep, in fact, I’ve started looking forward to an early night!
I’ve also reminded myself that we don’t live in an ideal world. Whilst having a routine is important if there one night you can’t follow it, it’s not the end of the world. So as February ends I’ll be leaving the month well rested and with a little more energy.
March’s challenge is a nice follow on to this
How do you get a good night’s sleep?
If you like this post, you may also enjoy the rest of my #AYearofWellness series.