Do you know that we all need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep to allow our body to rest and repair? But that about 1/3 of us get less than 7 hours per night. Be honest, how much sleep do you get?
The statistics are grim. Today, we sleep 1 hour less than in the 1940's, 1/3 of adults suffers from insomnia and sleep deprivation cause many accidents every year.
Our modern world and busy lifestyles push us to stay up late, to reply to emails, watch our favourite series on Netflix or have dinner with friends after a long day at work.
Even if you consider yourself as a "night owl" (yes, this is actually a genetic chronotype), your optimal bedtime is probably 1 to 2.5 hours earlier than you think it is. Remember the last time you were on vacation (camping may be?) without any modern technology? You probably naturally went to bed and fell asleep much earlier than usual.
Sleep plays a major role in our physical and mental health. It is necessary to restore energy, repair tissues, grow muscles, process new information and consolidate memories. It even regulates blood sugar levels and helps burn body fat (who doesn't want that?). During deep sleep, unwanted waste is flushed out of the brain. This a key process that prevents plaque from accumulating, reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Sleep deprivation can cause many health issues: stress, fatigue, lowered mood and immune function, hunger and cravings... It increases the risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and depression and is even associated with a shorter lifespan. You have probably experienced that just one night of poor sleep is enough to impair your ability to think clearly and rationally, to focus, remember things and control your emotions.
But there is a lot you can do to sleep better. Here are my 10 best tips to improve your sleep. Ready?
Get outside for 15 minutes first thing in the morning to get some sunlight. If you can't, sit next to a window or turn all the lights on. This will help you wake up and reset your circadian rhythm.
Exercise a bit every day. Go for a walk, a jog or hit the gym. Outdoors is better than indoors to get sun exposure, and earlier in the day is better than after work. Going to the gym in the evening expose you to bright artificial light that blocks melatonin (the sleep hormone) and activates your sympathetic nervous system, causing a stress response in your body.
Do not consume caffeine after lunch. See my blog on coffee here.
Finish dinner by 8pm (earlier is better). Late meals spike your metabolism and elevate your body temperature, whereas you need a lower core body temperature to fall asleep.
Avoid alcohol a few hours before bedtime. Alcohol is a sedative and can help you fall asleep quicker but it will make your sleep more fragmented later in the night and overall less restoring.
Minimise artificial light and digital stimulation (telly, computer and smart phone) after sunset and at least 2 hours before bed time. They suppress melatonin, elevate cortisol (the stress hormone) and make it difficult to fall asleep. It only takes a few seconds of exposure to bright light to delay melatonin production. If you want to watch telly or use electronic devices in the evening, wear blue-light-blocking glasses. You can also download F.Lux or Iris on your PC, turn on Bedtime for iPhone or Twilight for Android to adjust the colour of the screen after sunset.
Avoid stressful activities - especially work - prior to bedtime. Relax, listen to music, read a book, take a hot bath, write down what you have on your mind. If you have trouble falling asleep, breathe slowly to activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) system. Try the 4/7/8 breathing technique: inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, exhale for 8 seconds and repeat 10 times. You can also use this technique if you wake up in the middle of the night and struggle to go back to sleep. It works better than counting sheep.
Go to bed and turn off the light by 10 pm to maximise deep sleep. It is better to synchronise your sleep as much as possible with the rise and fall of the sun and to keep the same sleep schedule all the time, even at the week-end or on vacation.
Sleep in a dark, cool and quiet room. Wear an eye mask and ear plugs if need be. Cover LEDs and digital clocks. Even tiny lights in the bedroom can disrupt your sleep.
Reduce electromagnetic fields ("EMF") by turning off electronic devices and keeping them out of the bedroom, on flight mode or a few metres away from you. Turn off the WiFi at night (you can use a timer). EMF can also block the release of melatonin and decrease sleep efficiency.
These tips are not woo-woo. They really work and have been scientifically tested (see references here). When your sleep quality is optimised, you should wake up naturally at sunrise and feel refreshed and energised. Is that your case?
If you want to be and stay healthy, you need to treat sleep as a priority. The next episode of Game of Throne can wait...