We all know that sleep is important for our bodies and minds. So important in fact, that we spend almost a third of our life doing it. But when life gets busy, sleep often gets placed on the backburner, and many of us turn to ‘pick me ups’- coffees, energy drinks, and sugar to avoid feeling like zombies.
So why should we prioritise sleep?
Sleep is universal and essential for health and longevity. But how does it work? Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, a molecular biologist, won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her work on a protein structure called the ‘telomere’. Telomeres cap the end of our chromosomes, protecting our DNA from erosion. They are comparable to the plastic tip on the end of a shoelace- when it gets damaged, the shoelace frays and unravels. The published literature points to a link between our lifestyle choices (including getting adequate sleep) and telomere length . The length of our telomeres has been linked to the onset of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease , diabetes , cancer  and Alzheimer’s disease .
Sleep Hygiene: what can we do to improve our sleep?
To improve our sleep, health, and longevity, we need to look towards changing our habits and environment. Good sleep hygiene is about putting ourselves in a position which allows us to get the best sleep each night.
Here are 10 tips to improve your sleep naturally:
- Create a sleep schedule.Circadian rhythm is an internal ‘body clock’ which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Our ‘body clock’ can be trained, so that we wake up and fall asleep at the same time each day. It is important that we keep these times consistent to reinforce them . If you need to change your schedule, plan changes gradually (no more than 1-2 hours change every 24 hours) to allow your body to properly adapt .
- Avoid napping.Due to homeostasis, the body doesn’t forget when it has missed sleep and will try to catch up where it can. While it may be tempting to nap, long naps can throw your sleep schedule out-of-whack. If you really need to, try to take short naps (around 20 minutes).
- Don’t do other activities (other than sleep) in your bed.Create a separate space to work, watch television and sleep to reprogram your mind to associate your bed with sleep.
- Follow a night-time routine.Whether it be showering, putting on your pyjamas, brushing your teeth… completing the same steps each time can reinforce to your body and mind that you are preparing for sleep .
- Wind-down before bed.Dimming the lights and putting away the screens helps to increase the production of a hormone called melatonin, which is responsible for inducing sleep. Experimenting with relaxation techniques such as meditation, listening to calming music, deep breathing or guided muscle relaxation can help to quieten your mind, reduce anxiety, worry, and stress which can get in the way of getting to sleep.
- Can’t sleep? Do something.Nothing too extreme and keep the lights to a minimum. Due to circadian rhythm, you may occasionally ‘miss’ your first sleep cycle (we have around 4-6 per night), meaning you will have to wait for the next one to feel tired again. Take the time to relax or read a book until you start to feel sleepy.
- Exercise regularly.Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise is thought to improve sleep through mechanisms such as regulation of the endocrine system, autonomic nervous system, circadian rhythm, its influence on mood and systemic inflammation . Exercise is a recommended treatment for insomnia, and in a study by Passos et al., moderate intensity aerobic exercise led to a 55% reduction in sleep onset time, 30% reduction in wake after sleep onset, 18% improvement in total sleep time and 13% improvement in sleep efficiency .
- Ensure adequate sunlight exposure during the day.Sunlight plays an important role in regulating circadian rhythm, as it helps to control the production of melatonin . Sun exposure therefore has a large role in determining when we go to sleep [10, 11].
- No caffeine late in the afternoon. Caffeine can make it harder to go to sleep, cause you to sleep lighter and wake up more often . Try to cut out or at least limit the consumption of coffees, chocolate, or energy drinks in the afternoon.
- Boost your magnesium. In the body, magnesium blocks the action of NMDA (an excitatory chemical in the brain) and enhances the action of GABA (an inhibitory or calming chemical in the brain), facilitating sleep . Magnesium supplementation (500mg) has been associated with improvements in insomnia severity, sleep time, quality, onset latency and well as reduced stress hormones (cortisol and renin) and increased melatonin .
Small changes can have BIG impacts. Sleep is essential to ensuring a long and happy life. Get quality sleep for a healthier, happier, and better you!
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Disclaimer: This site does not provide medical advice. The author of this blog is not a medical professional. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. By providing the information contained herein we are not diagnosing, treating, curing, mitigating, or preventing any type of disease of medical condition. Patients should not use the information contained in this blog to self-diagnose or self-treat any health-related condition. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read in this blog. Before beginning any type of natural, integrative, or conventional treatment regimen, it is advisable to seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional. Information is gathered and shared from reputable sources; however, Abundant Natural Health is not responsible for errors or omissions in reporting or explanation.
- Tempaku, M. (2015). Telomere length as a marker of sleep loss and sleep disturbances: a potential link between sleep and cellular senescence. Sleep Medicine, 16(5), 559–563. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sleep.2015.02.519. Google Scholar
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