How to have the best sleep ever

Sleep

Sleep is one of the most democratic, freely available and effective forms of health insurance. Professor Matthew Walker.

Unfortunately modern Western society tends to view sleep as being, at best, something that is at the bottom of our never-ending list of priorities, and at worst, something that’s only for wimps!  Add to that an ongoing global pandemic of fear and anxiety – feeling like life as we knew it has left home and all that remains is stress, boredom and nothing to look forward to. Good sleep seems to be more elusive than ever.

And yet, it is SO important. Along with what we put into our bodies – namely food and water – good quality sleep is essential if we want to maintain our wellbeing and live long, healthy lives.

Our sleep quality has an impact on our ability to concentrate and make decisions. In turn this can then increase the risk of incidents and accidents and of course it can have a negative effect on all aspects of our lives – work, relationships, motivation to exercise and eat right.

Even worse are the effects of chronic sleep deprivation, which include increased incidence of depression and anxiety, as well as numerous other physical health conditions such as heart disease, weight gain, diabetes and infertility. Most worrying is the reduction in the effectiveness of the immune system caused by chronic lack of sleep. So not only is sleep deprivation not helping to improve your overall wellbeing, it is actively working to reduce it!

Evolution of Sleep

Human beings have evolved over more than 3.5 million years, to a point where we need to sleep for around one third of our lives.  When we do not get enough deep, slow wave sleep, our brains do not have enough time to clean themselves out each night.  When we are in deep sleep our brain waves slow down.  Deep sleep is not the sleep phase where we are dreaming, this is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep.  During deep, slow wave sleep phases our brains take a beautiful bath in cerebrospinal fluid to be cleaned and ready for all that they need to do the next day!  When our brains don’t get their bath at night, they start to function with the same level of impairment as having a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.05!  The reason it is illegal to drive with this kind of BAC is due to the impairment of your brain’s functionality.  I wonder just how much more wonderful, positive change humanity could achieve if only more people got enough sleep.

A reduced quantity of deep, slow wave sleep is a modern phenomenon, with average hours of sleep reducing by 20% over the last 60-70 years.  20% – that’s a fifth of our sleep, gone! In the 1940s most people got just under 8 hours sleep each night, currently the average is only 6.5 hours.  Let’s not forget that because this is an average figure it does mean that there are many, many people out there who get a lot less sleep than this – I really hope they take public transport because I certainly don’t want to be sharing the road with them!

Sleep expert Professor Matthew Walker calls this “the global sleep loss epidemic” and says that it is the biggest public health challenge being faced throughout the world.  Yep, even bigger than our friend Covid-19.

Not having enough sleep – what else is that doing to you?

Thousands of scientific studies have now shown that the quality and quantity of our sleep affects the function of the human brain, and in turn hormone levels, and therefore the way our genes express themselves, and most importantly, as a result, how long we live.  Read that again.  Not sleeping enough reduces your life expectancy.  Indeed Prof Walker describes not getting enough sleep as a slow form of euthanasia!  And if you do get lucky and live a reasonably long life, chronic lack of sleep greatly increases the risk of developing dementia.

Sleep, Food and Movement

Sleep also plays a big role in our relationships with Food and Movement (two of the other aspects of Evenstar 5 Star Wellbeing™).  This relationship is perfectly bi-directional.  When we sleep well, our brains function optimally and we have the motivation to eat the right foods and to prioritise moving our bodies.  If we don’t eat good food or move our bodies we tend not to sleep well!  See the energy cycle coming into play?

Delving deeper into the functions and processes of the brain, we now know that lack of sleep means that our cells hold onto fat – your body remains in fight or flight mode and doesn’t know when it might need fat to survive – making weight loss much more difficult.  Lack of sleep also reduces our motivation to move, again the brain is telling the body to conserve energy because it is tired and is being hypervigilant about impending dangers that you may need to escape from.  Then indeed if you do push yourself to do some exercise despite being tired, the efficiency of respiration is depleted so your work out is more difficult and less enjoyable, and not only that but you are much more likely to injure yourself!  Again, we go into a negative cycle!

Breathing during sleep

If you do give yourself ample opportunity to sleep ie. you’re in bed for at least 7.5 hours a night, but you still wake up in the morning tired there is something else going wrong.  There are two key possibilities.  One is that your gut microbiome is out of balance.  This can have a massive impact on your overall wellbeing.  For more information check out my Blog Gut-Brain Connection.  The second possibility is that you are not breathing properly during sleep.

When we inhale through the nose the nostrils release nitric oxide, which mixes with the oxygen we are breathing in and travels to the lungs, increasing blood flow throughout the body.  When you breathe through your mouth you do not get enough oxygen into your body.  Our nostrils also do a lot of filtering, reducing toxins.  When we breathe through our mouths this cannot occur and the air we breathe in is completely unfiltered.  The organ of the body that requires the most oxygen is, you guessed it, the brain!  If your brain is not getting enough oxygen during sleep then it will not cycle through all the stages of sleep effectively, and will not get the cleansing bath we spoke about earlier.

Modern dental practices often mean that many of us do not have properly developed jaws due to the removal of teeth, braces, etc and this can often result in lack of room in the airways when the muscles in your jaw relax during sleep. Pressure then builds up in your airways and your jaw gets pushed forward, opening the mouth. Sleep apnea (which means stopping breathing for 10-20 seconds repeatedly through the night) is very common, and often undetected.   If someone tells you you’re a noisy sleeper then you might want to request a sleep study from your doctor, or book an appointment with your local functional dental clinic.  (If you’re in Melbourne with me I highly recommend Olstein Lifetime Dental in Prahran – not affiliated, I just think they’re great!).

FoodFood

The key tip here is, the better you eat, the better you sleep, and vice versa! Feel free to check out my Blog, How to get more energy from Food, for some great information to start you on a wonderful practice of healthy eating.

However, there is another important topic to discuss here – caffeine.

Caffeine

Most people are aware that having too much caffeine is not recommended, and you are also no doubt aware that caffeine can affect sleep, although many people do not associate this fact with themselves.

Perhaps more important than how much caffeine you consume, is actually when you have it.  Caffeine remains in the body, affecting the brain, for many hours after you consume it.  Specifically caffeine has a half life of 6 hours, and a quarter life of 12 hours.  This means that 12 hours after you have finished your cup of coffee, 25% of the caffeine it contained remains in your system.  So even if you think that drinking a cappuccino after dinner has no effect on your sleep, science shows that it does!  Brain wave studies show that consuming caffeine reduces the rates of slow wave (deep) sleep by 20%. The problem is that when we then wake up feeling unrefreshed from this poor quality sleep, we typically reach for more caffeine!  So we go into another negative energy cycle!

What should you do, I hear you ask?  To quote Dr Rangan Chatterjee, “enjoy your caffeine, before midday”.  If you find yourself having a mid-afternoon slump go for a brisk walk, do some star jumps, have a strong peppermint tea (peppermint oil is very stimulating) or listen to your body and have a power nap (20 minutes max).

MovementMovement

Similar to the relationship between sleep and food, the more you move your body, the better you will sleep.  If you wants some tips and inspiration to improve your relationship with exercise, feel free to check out my Blog, The Magic of Movement.

Timing exercise to benefit sleep

Exercise is very stimulating so it’s actually not recommended to exercise too late in the evening.  The problem is that moving your body raises your core body temperature and this will prevent you from falling asleep.  If the evening is your only window to exercise then make sure you have a nice hot shower or bath before getting into bed, as this will pull the heat out of your core and into your extremities.  Now that’s a hot tip!

Surroundings

What is going on around you when you are trying to sleep?  Light is a key factor.  We are genetically programmed to be awake in daylight hours and sleep in the darkness.  The problem is that in the modern world we have brilliant electrical lighting everywhere and we stay up way past sunset utilizing this abundance of artificial light.  So the key tip here is to use light appropriately.  When you get up in the morning throw those blinds wide open and go out into your day without sunglasses.  In the evening turn the lights down, use minimal lighting.  This will help to balance out your body’s production of melatonin – the sleep hormone.

Sleeping with the Enemy!

So, you sleep with your phone/ tablet/ laptop (NB henceforth I will just use the word phone, but please insert whichever screen device applies to you!). What is wrong with that I hear you ask? The main problem is that it can have a major effect on your sleep – both physiologically and emotionally.

How does a phone interfere with your sleep?

There are two main reasons that your phone can interfere with your sleep. Firstly, if you are checking the latest Tweets or news headlines or emails just before you go to sleep, or even worse, when you wake up in the middle of the night, this can be very stimulating, just when you need to be winding down and relaxing.

Secondly, phones and other screen devices emit ‘blue light’ and this type of light affects the production of the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep patterns. So if you are looking at a phone in the middle of the night, your brain thinks that it is the middle of the day, and doesn’t produce the melatonin required to put you to sleep.

Why is your phone in the bedroom?

Usually the answer to this question is one of the following (1) it’s my clock/ alarm (2) someone might need me (3) I use it for music/ meditation/ relaxation to get to sleep or (4) I like to look at Facebook/ YouTube/ Email before I go to sleep and/ or first thing in the morning.

So how can you change this? Some of these things are easier than others. Let’s start with number (4) because hopefully after reading the previous paragraph as to why your phone interferes with your sleep you’re convinced to try to break that habit. There are so many other times of day when you can stay up to date with the outside world, and right before sleep it is simply not necessary. It will all still be there in the morning!

You need an Alarm Clock

Next in order of easiest things to deal with is that you use your phone for telling the time or waking you up in the morning. Go to your local op-shop and see if you can get yourself a good old fashioned alarm clock – this will do the job just perfectly! Even better is a Sunrise Clock, otherwise known as a Wake-up-light or Dawn simulator. These alarm clocks wake you up with a gradual brightening light – the sunrise effect – which is a natural cue for your body to reduce the production of melatonin and gradually increase the levels of cortisol and other hormones that help you get up and go. Sunrise clocks are so effective that they are classed as medical devices in Europe and they are used by people suffering insomnia, depression, fatigue and seasonal affective disorder.

Music or Meditation before Sleep

Did you know that it is ideal to meditate sitting up rather than lying down?  The goal of meditation should not be to put you to sleep – rather to put you in a deeply relaxed state where your mind is resting.  So do your meditation BEFORE you actually get into bed, and then when you’re done, leave the phone outside your bedroom.

Do you have an old iPod sitting in a drawer somewhere? Why not use this instead for listening to stuff before bed. That way you’re not tempted to check on anything else, because you can’t!!!

Someone Might Need You in the Middle of the Night

We all like to think that we’re indispensable and that whatever urgent problem that only we can fix could not possibly wait until the morning. But is that really true?

If you still have a landline telephone make sure that whomever may need to contact you has that number instead. If you don’t then try to have your phone as far away from you as possible – perhaps even outside the bedroom door – where you will hear it if there is a real life emergency but you won’t be tempted to pick it up and check Facebook when you wake in the middle of the night because your teenager is not home yet! If you have to be available via mobile phone then turn off all your other notifications overnight so that only the telephone app can disturb you.

Red Light District

If for any reason you do need to use your phone during the late evening or night then make sure you are using the Night Shift settings. This changes the background colouring of your screen to cut down the harmful blue light. If you don’t know how to change this on your phone then ask a child or Ecosia (but not late at night!) If your device does not have these settings, then download free software called f.lux that does the same thing – changing the colour of the display according to the time of day.

So folks, when it comes to bedtime (or for best practice, an hour before you want to be going to sleep) PUT THE PHONE DOWN AND BACK AWAY!!!

Essential oils

Essential oils are volatile aromatic plant compounds that have been used for thousands of years and have physical, mental, emotional and spiritual actions. For this reason they can be amazingly effective in assisting with improving the quality and quantity of sleep.

Different people react to the multiple properties of essential oils in various ways, which is why I am recommending three (3) oils here and if you don’t find one particularly helpful, or you just don’t like its aroma then try one of the others.

How to use essential oils to improve sleep

In order to use essential oils to improve sleep you can apply them in a couple of different ways:

  • Aromatically: diffuse the oils beside your bed, or somewhere in your bedroom. It is best to put the diffuser on 15 minutes or so before you want to get to sleep. The bubbling brook sound effect of a diffuser can also be very relaxing! Oil burners are not recommended, firstly from a safety perspective that it is not a good idea to be burning candles of any kind whilst you are asleep, and secondly, oil burners to not allow for the aromatic compounds to be released nearly as widely and consistently as diffusers.
  • Topically: put the oil (i) on your temples, (ii) the back of your neck – right up high, close to your skull and brain stem, (iii) on the bottoms of your feet – this is really great because there are large pores on the bottoms of your feet (hence the fact that feet are so sweaty!) and this allows the oils to be quickly absorbed into your system. The added benefit of foot application is that you can use an oil whose aroma you’re not particularly fond of because you then don’t smell it under the covers! If you don’t want to use essential oil topically you can also put it directly on your pillow or a tissue under your pillow.  NB if you have sensitive skin always dilute an essential oil with a carrier oil – coconut, almond, jojoba or even simple olive oil.  A drop or two in a teaspoon of carrier oil.

Which essential oils to use to improve sleep

 Lavender

Soothing and calming to body and mind, this is a beautiful sweet floral oil. Lavender is a very gentle oil and can be used neat on most people and is therefore also a great one to use in the bath. Lavender is also known to promote increased feelings of love, peace and wellbeing, as well as creativity – so you’ll be sure to have fabulous dreams!

Cedarwood

Rich and woody, cedarwood has a warm aroma that is very calming. It is often used in yoga practice. Cedarwood is recommended to be diluted when being used topically on sensitive skin (including children). Please note that Cedarwood is NOT recommended to be used during pregnancy.

Vetiver

Earthy and smoky, vetiver is so calming that it is also recommended to use for ADHD and recovery from shock. Vetiver is a really viscous oil and you only need a very small amount of it. It is very gentle and can be applied neat. Vetiver should only be used during pregnancy with caution.

BeingBeing

To get good sleep you want your brain to associate your bed with sleep.  Sounds obvious doesn’t it!  But, if you do things such as work in bed, watch tv in bed or eat in bed your brain starts to get confused about what it should be doing in there.  Easily solved, only use your bed for sleep!  Ok, maybe one other thing! And yes, sex can certainly help with falling asleep too, in fact the male physiology is designed to induce sleep after orgasm – not telling you anything you didn’t already know, right?!

Meditation is one of the key aspects of Being that I recommend to clients.  Meditation rests your mind and body.  Many scientific studies have shown that regular meditation improves the quality and quantity of sleep.  So, don’t just sit there, meditate!

Reiki and other types of energy healing are wonderful for improving the quality and quantity of sleep because they brings about balance in all your energies – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual – thus taking your system to a place where it can heal itself, especially through delicious sleep.  Have a fabulous night’s sleep after a session is one of the most common bits of feedback that I receive from clients! Book NOW!