How to get better sleep and why you really, really should.
According to a recent survey on Home Tester Club that we conducted in July 2019, 50% of us Mums aren’t getting enough sleep and don’t feel refreshed when we wake up. Although this might not particularly surprise us, the now-proven consequence of a lack of proper sleep are downright alarming!
The scary side of too-little sleep
Prolonged poor sleep is associated with a suppressed immune system and increased risks of cardiac problems, strokes and diabetes. Emotionally, a lack of sleep causes a release of higher volumes of cortisol (the stress hormone), which means you’re more inclined to feel anxious and depressed.
Of the many good things that sleep does for brain health, one that’s only recently been brought to light, is its amazing detoxing benefits. In 2015, scientists discovered for the first time that our brains have a drainage system, the glymphatic system. It cleans out the toxic proteins that build up in our brains during the day. During sleep, this system is 60% more effective. Left with too little time to detox, these proteins build up and could possibly lead to Alzheimer’s (with studies showing a large deposit of these proteins present in Alzheimer’s patients’ brains).
Now for the good news!
Here are six of the most effective tips from sleep scientists to help you sleep deeper and fuller everyday. According to the experts, there are no overnight success stories – you have to consistently apply these hacks for 3 to 5 weeks before starting to see real results…
- Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed at the same time everyday, even on weekends. And wake up at the same time every morning. This strengthens your natural sleep-wake cycle, called the circadian rhythm. Regular sleeping times also improve sleep quality. On average, adults need between 7 – 9 hours of sleep a day. Find out what works for you, then stick with it.
- Try to take daily naps
Take a short nap or a snooze in the day if you can (between 1pm and 3pm is ideal). Giving your brain a brief rest increases its creativity, intuition, imagination and ability to solve problems. A nap also reduces stress and fatigue. A study by Allegheny College of Pennsylvania on 85 healthy college students showed those who took daily naps decreased their blood pressure and heart rates, and handled anxiety better. A NASA study of 747 pilots showed that those taking a 26-minute nap daily made 34% fewer errors at work and doubled their alertness levels.
Pro tip: Caffeine takes 20 minutes to get going, so downing an espresso immediately before a short nap will mean it kicks in as you’re waking up, making you extra alert.
- Avoid stimulants in the evening
Stop having tea, coffee, chocolate, sodas, nicotine or cigarette at least 4 hours before bedtime. The stimulant effect of caffeine takes up to six hours to wear off. Skip the late evening alcohol too. Alcohol initially makes you drowsy, as it’s a nervous system depressant. But as soon as your blood alcohol level drops, it activates your sympathetic system. This wakes you up from the deep and dream phases of your sleep and that’s why you’re groggy the next morning.
- Exercise daily
Exercise enhances the quality of your sleep while not exercising leads to poor sleep. So get into a daily habit of 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week. If this sounds unrealistic, try this for a start: Get up in the morning and go for a brisk 12-minute walk around the block if you can. A 2010 study found that those who exercised in the morning before eating, gained almost no weight and burnt more fat through the day than others.
- Good sleep starts way before your head hits that pillow
Most of us Mums know how valuable routine and sleep-time rituals are when it comes to getting little ones primed for bed, but we forget that the same applies to us. Here are some proven end-of-the-day habits to get you ready for a deep, restful sleep:
Eat a light dinner around 3 hours before bedtime, to give your digestive system enough time to work. Also, don’t go to bed on a hungry stomach; it won’t let you fall asleep easily.
Push off all heavy work or issues to the next day once you’ve finished dinner. Write down anything you don’t want to forget or make a list of what needs to get done tomorrow so that your brain can really let go.
Take a warm shower or bath about an hour before you plan on sleeping, and dim the lights an hour before bedtime. This stimulates your melatonin secretion,a hormone that helps you fall and stay asleep.
Switch off all digital devices 30 minutes before bedtime. Blue lights from digital screens depress the secretion of melatonin.
If you must work late, dim your phone screen as much as you can and use a program such as f.lux to get rid of that blue glow from your computer screen. You could even go as far as wearing amber-tinted glasses – they’ve been shown to improve sleep quality and mood.
Consider adding white noise to the mix. Even when you’re asleep, your brain is listening out for sounds that might mean danger. Research has shown that white noise or nature sounds (think waves crashing, water running or rain falling) can drown out annoying noises, like those from rowdy revelers or planes flying overhead.
If you’re lying awake in your bed for 20 minutes or more, therapists suggest you get out of bed and do something non-stimulating (like reading a book) until you start to feel drowsy. At that time, return to bed immediately.
How about you?
Depending on the age and stage of your kids and your own season of life, some of these tips will be more realistic than others. But in light of the fact that sleep is one of the ultimate forms of self-care, not to mention how it improves our ability to mother/partner/work/think/function during the rest of the hours of the day, let’s do all we can to get the shut-eye we need. Good luck Mums!!
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Written by: Julie Williams – Lifestyle Editor
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