Ten helpful ways for you to get a better night's rest
The quality of your sleep is just as important as quantity. Katie Byrne has a look at some helpful ways to make your shut-eye go further
You snooze, you lose, goes the expression. But getting very little sleep or experiencing disturbed sleep on a regular basis is just as much of a problem. Resetting your body clock won't happen overnight, but knowing more about what you can do for your mind and body before you resignedly head for bed could help break the cycle of poor sleep, leading to better health all round.
1. IT'S A NUMBERS GAME
The most restorative sleep takes place before midnight. The adrenal glands, which produce the "stress hormone" cortisol, recharge between the hours of 11pm and 1am, while peak melatonin and HGH (Human Growth Hormone) secretion takes place between 10pm to 2am. Melatonin regulates our sleep cycle, while the "youth hormone" HGH stimulates cell repair.
2. JOG YOUR MEMORY
Those studying for exams can optimise their sleep to enhance memory recall. Neuropsychologists at Saarland University, Germany, recently discovered that a 45 to 60-minute power nap can improve the retention of learned material fivefold. "A concentrated period of learning followed by a short relaxing sleep seems to be the winning formula for consolidating memories," concluded researchers.
3. EXERCISE OFTEN, SLEEP BETTER
Many studies have linked daily exercise with better sleeping patterns. However, results are not immediate and exercise sessions must take place earlier in the day. Exercising too late in the evening can cause over-stimulation and sleeplessness. Experts advise that exercise takes place at least six hours before bedtime. If you're training intensely, try sleeping with a few pillows stacked under your calves/feet. This will speed up the recovery process and prevent swelling.
4. SWEETER DREAMS
Meditation before bedtime doesn't just help you fall asleep easier, it helps you wake up more peacefully, too. There are plenty of guided meditations on YouTube that you can listen to as you drift off. We like the soothing voices of Bob Proctor - Abundance Meditation, and Kelly Howell - The Secret Universal Mind Meditation.
5. DON'T SWEAT IT
Night sweats aren't always temperature-related. They can be brought on by hormonal imbalances, obstructive sleep apnea and gastroesophageal reflux disease, to name just a few of the causes. However, The Sleep Doctor, Dr Michael J Breus (thesleepdoctor.com), reminds us that a cool bedroom promotes rejuvenating sleep. "The right temperature really is the temperature at which you can fall asleep comfortably and stay asleep without waking - or sweating. For most people, that's a temperature in the low to mid-60s Fahrenheit (between 18C and 21C)." He also suggests wearing light bedclothes - or no clothes at all. Breathable fabrics like cotton and linen are the best choices for clothing and bedding.
6. TAKE THE FLAX
Timothy Ferriss, the author of The 4-Hour Body, recommends taking one to two tablespoons of flaxseed oil before bed "to increase cell repair during sleep and thus decrease fatigue". He also recommends pinching your nose while consuming it - it doesn't taste great. Flaxseed has myriad benefits. It lowers cholesterol, improves digestive health and supports weight loss. It is also used as a bedtime supplement by those trying to build muscle. Note: Flaxseed oil can interfere with blood-thinning and blood sugar-lowering medications. In this case, talk to your GP before adding flaxseed to your diet.
7. KEEP TO A MINERAL
The Sleep Doctor, Dr Michael Breus, recommends the minerals calcium and magnesium for a deeper, sounder sleep. "Both of these essential minerals help maintain nervous-system health and actually reduce anxiety and promote calm." He suggests taking 600mg calcium and 400mg magnesium daily.
8. SLEEP ON IT
Sleeping can help us solve problems and generate ideas. Clinical psychologist Deirdre Barrett, a professor at Harvard Medical School, conducted a study in 1993, in which she asked 76 college students to pick an objective problem they already had to work on to try to solve in a dream. After one week, half of the students dreamt about their problem and about a quarter dreamt a solution. Dreaming can be a creative process for many artists. Indeed, the ideas for many works, including Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Stephen King's Misery and Paul McCartney's Yesterday, came to the creators in their dreams.
9. BURN THE MIDNIGHT OIL
Turn your bedroom space into a sanctuary by diffusing essential oils. Lavender and cedarwood will help you wind down in the evening.
10. SMOOTH AS SILK
Many skin and hair experts swear by the use of silk pillowcases. Unlike man-made fabrics, silk doesn't catch on hair, thus reducing breakage.