A good night’s sleep is crucial to your health and is just as important as eating healthy and exercising. Here’s your complete guide to falling – and staying – asleep every single night.
We all know that we probably need to get more sleep – and the many benefits that come with achieving a consistent eight hours a night. However, the negative effects of missing out on precious shut eye make getting enough sleep every night a necessity, not a luxury.
Research revealed that an estimated 15 million Australians aged 20 years and over have sleep disorders, which in turn can lead to serious health issues such as cardiovascular disease.
So, in order to take charge of your sleep – and overall health – here’s your complete guide to everything you need to know – and try – to get decent shut-eye every night.
Dr Justin Hundloe from GenesisCare Australia says that increasingly busy Aussies need to look at their sleep environment as a key factor contributing to a good or bad night’s sleep.
Here are Hundloe’s 13 ways that can improve your sleep patterns:
1. Go to sleep at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning
Sounds simple, but we all know how hard it can suddenly be to keep a consistent bedtime when your social calendar starts filling out and quick dinners turn into long evenings catching up with old friends.
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2. Refrain from taking naps during the day
Avoid napping during the day if you want to ensure the best possible night’s sleep. However, if you absolutely must shut your eyes during the day, a ‘power nap’ of around 20 minutes is ideal, says sleep consultant Dr David Cunnington, co-founder of Sleep Hub.
3. Go to bed only when you are drowsy
Winding down at the end of the day is key to getting ready for a good night’s sleep.
4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol within six hours of bedtime
We all know that consuming caffeine in the evening is a no-go if you want to drift off easily, but a series of experiments conducted at the University of Missouri-Colombia showed that a single night of drinking alcohol can also disturb the gene that regulates our sleep.
5. Avoid the use of nicotine close to bedtime or during the night
Just like alcohol and caffeine, nicotine is also going to mess with your sleep pattern and effect the quality of your shut-eye.
6. Obtain regular exercise, but avoid strenuous exercise four hours before bedtime
Studies show that exercising releases the feel-good hormone, dopamine, which often feels like a surge of energy through the body -the last thing you need to be feeling just when you’re trying to relax before bed.
7. Avoid eating a heavy meal late in the day
Thanks to our circadian rhythm, our metabolism and hormones are programmed to do their work in the day when humans are active, and then store, build and recover at night when we rest, sleep and regenerate. This means ideally we should try and consume our last meal of the day by 8pm at the latest.
8. Minimise light, noise and extreme temperatures in the bedroom
Previous research revealed that four in 10 people can’t get to sleep unless the room is completely dark, and a quarter can’t drop off unless there’s a total absence of noise.
9. Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep. Read a book, listen to music, or take a bath
Netflix is a no-go, so close your laptops and avoid those screens people.
10. Avoid using your bed for anything other than sleep or sex
This means that you will relate getting into bed with relaxation, keeping it as a space for rest.
11. Try making a to-do list before you go to bed
Dr Justin Hundloe says that this will prevent losing precious hours when you could be sleeping on “worry time”.
12. Avoid clock watching
Counting sheep may help you drift off, but counting the minutes ticking by will not – so don’t keep checking your phone if you’re struggling to sleep.
13. Seek professional medical advice
If you’re having ongoing sleep issues, head to a medical professional who will be able to give you the best advice.
There’s nothing worse than waking up in the morning and feeling more fatigued than you were the night before. If your night’s sleep is interrupted, not long enough or of poor quality, it’s pretty obvious why you’re feeling so fatigued, but what if you believe you’re getting enough sleep, and yet, your body says otherwise?
Some signs of exhaustion are easy to spot: dark circles under eyes, excessive yawning, and finding it difficult to wake up in the morning. But there are also some more subtle signs that the human body exhibits when it’s not getting enough rest. How many of these are you experiencing regularly?
Even one hour less of sleep a night than you normally need can cause temporary forgetfulness. Sleep is vital for the production of new memories and knowledge. Research shows that on average, people who sleep less than five hours a night are 25 per cent more forgetful than those who sleep longer. Deep slow wave sleep – which takes place during non-REM sleep – is associated with restoring memory. It’s thought that memory loss as we age, is linked to sleep deteriorating and our bodies not getting enough of this slow wave sleep.
Even just partial sleep deprivation has a significant impact on mood. People who sleep less than they need to are also more likely to react negatively when things go badly. This is because not sleeping leads to a rise in amygdala activity in the brain – which is part of the limbic system involved with the creation of emotions – and also causes a disconnect between it and other areas that regulate its function.
3. Hunger and weight gain
Sleep and appetite are closely linked and when we’re tired, often the first thing we reach for is sugary, carb-heavy foods. Ghrelin stimulates the appetite while leptin suppresses it, and these hormones are released continuously in the bodies to regulate normal hunger levels. If we don’t get enough sleep, ghrelin and leptin levels are altered. The way our bodies respond to glucose and release insulin is also altered, and this causes the build up of visceral fats – the dangerous kind – around our middles that puts us at risk of type 2 diabetes. Scientist have found that shortening sleep by as little as 120 minutes can cause changes.
Lack of sleep impairs cognition, attention and decision making, so it’s perhaps no surprise that it can also affect impulse control. Scientists who studied the behaviour of a group of sleep deprived subjects found that no matter how hard the participants tried to make good choices, sleeplessness created a kind of short-circuit in their brains that stopped them from following through on these choices. Impulse control in children and adolescents seems particularly affected by lack of sleep.
If you find you’re always getting coughs and colds, then not getting enough sleep could be the culprit. Bodies need sleep to fight infectious disease. During sleep, proteins called cytokines are produced by our immune systems and used to fight infection and inflammation or when we’re under stress. But if we don’t have enough sleep, we don’t produce enough of them to fight back. More seriously, prolonged lack of sleep is also linked to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, mental illness and other serious illnesses.
So what next? Make sure you’re getting enough sleep: for adults between 18-64 years, seven to nine hours; for 65 years and over, seven to eight hours. Remember that a sleep debt can’t be paid off with a few lie-ins on the weekend, and that quality sleep is as important as quantity of sleep.
Many women experience sleep issues like feeling fatigued during the day or restless at night during the days before and/or the first few days of their period.
Before ovulation, you may feel less sleepy because oestrogen levels are high. Conversely, after ovulation you may find you ‘need’ more sleep because your progesterone levels are spiking.
“There aren’t different ways to support sleep depending on which part of the cycle you’re in,” says sleep specialist Dr Kat Lederle. Instead, she advises you “take time to listen to what your body really needs”, throughout your cycle.
How to get a good month’s sleep
Here are Dr Lederle’s best tips for better sleep at any stage in your cycle…
1. Keep a diary
This will help you work out how your cycle is affecting your sleep patterns. “Knowing in advance at what part during your cycle you’ll need more or less sleep can help you plan around this — like scheduling meetings for late morning or saying no to late nights.”
2. Go outside
The sun is a great mood lifter and as the double whammy of poor sleep and PMS can negatively affect your mood, make sure you get enough sunlight during the day — especially during self-isolation.
3. Stay cool
Night sweats keeping you up? “Wear pyjamas that wick away the excess moisture quickly.”
4. Cut down on coffee
“Be mindful of when and how much caffeine you consume. A cup in the late morning is fine,” says Dr Lederle, but try to cut out your afternoon fix.
5. Eat well
The relationship between diet and food is a complex one, but common-sense rules apply. “Make sure you [eat a balanced diet], don’t eat too late and be mindful of sugary foods and alcohol.”
There are a myriad of products to help you fall asleep these days, from weighted eye masks to pre-bed powder supplements, and even a choice of sleep podcasts to lull you into the land of nod.
But the answer may be a lot simpler than you think.
Yes, it involves counting but it doesn’t have anything to do with sheep.
Fans of the 4-7-8 method claim it works in less than a minute. It’s as easy as settling in for the night and altering the way you breathe.
Inhale through your nose for a count of four, hold that breath for seven seconds and take another eight seconds to slowly exhale from your mouth. Repeat until you enter dreamland.
According to Dr Andrew Weil, who specialises in integrative medicine at the University of Arizona, this breathing exercise comes from Indian yogis who use it as part of their meditation practice.
“It’s the single best method that I’ve found for dealing with getting back to sleep if you wake up in the middle of the night,” he said.
This breathing exercise is used to help yogis enter a state of relaxation and in the real world, it can help over-stressed minds to calm down.
By mindfully putting the brakes on your breathing, you force your heartbeat to slow, which in turn has an effect on the rest of your body.
“The theory is that by imposing certain rhythms on the breath with your voluntary system, gradually these are induced into the involuntary nervous system,” Dr Weil said.
“And that comes with time. So it’s the regularity of doing this over a period of weeks, months, years that produces the changes that you want.”
So the next time you’re up tossing and turning, try to slow down your breath to calm your mind.
If you struggle getting to sleep, the answer might be music. Stream your way to a more restful night, with the best Spotify’s best audio tracks.
It says something when 2019’s number one, most streamed podcast in Spotify’s health and fitness category is designed to put you to sleep. Otis Gray’s Sleepy outranks even most popular running or yoga workout playlist, which says a lot about our collective love of, and desire for, a good night’s sleep.
There are plenty of sleep aids out there (trust us, we’ve tried them all), but audio streams, playlists or podcasts are easier and cheaper than most to access. Plus, they work. The American National Sleep Foundation suggests that music helps our parasympathetic nervous system to relax – as well slowing our heart rates and breathing, helping muscles to relax and lowering blood pressure too. The NSF also suggests that listening to something relaxing before bed can increase the quality of your sleep, citing that “older adults who listen to 45 minutes of relaxing music before bed fall asleep faster, sleep longer, wake up less during the night, and rate their nights as more restful than when they don’t listen to music.”
With that in mind, we’ve trawled Spotify for six of the best sleep-inducing podcasts and playlists that we think will help you get you happily off to the land of nod. Sweet dreams, indeed.
This sleep podcast is one of the most streamed on Spotify, where Otis Gray reads classic stories to the listener to help you conk out. It’s the most popular podcast in the health and fitness category. Oh, to dream the world of The Wind and the Willows!
This sleep stream playlist from Spotify has a current following of around three and a half million users that provides gentle ambient piano tracks to help you drift off to sleep.
Spotify’s next most popular sleep playlist carries a following of just over a million, who enjoy listening to the sounds of an acoustic guitar as they doze off. Spotify suggests to get cozy as sounds of the evening unfolds.
Sleep Cove is a sleep podcast sharing a range of relaxing spoken sleep hypnosis accompanied with guided sleep stories and meditations.
Love the rain on a tin roof? This sleep playlist comprises of 119 tracks full of rain sounds in the night. The title of these songs depict a type of rain which helps the imaginative state and relaxation. Imagine the sound rain would make near an open window, or earthy rain with rolling thunder under a tree.
Speaking of calming music before bedtime, this sleep podcast provides guided sleep meditations to listen to before going to sleep. Be sure you’re in a comfortable spot before tuning in.
It’s the common answer that many of us answer to the innocuous question: “How are you?” Wiped out. Exhausted. Bone tired. There’s even an acronym for it (presumably for those so tired they can’t get their words out), TATT — tired all the time.
According to Britain’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, one in five people report feeling unusually fatigued, with one in 10 suffering from prolonged tiredness. In fact, about 1.5 million Australians a year visit their GPs complaining of fatigue.
“Tiredness is a common reason that clients come to see me,” confirms nutrition consultant Sara Khan. If you’ve ruled out the obvious — staying up late binge-watching Stan, or insomnia — there may be some underlying medical reasons why you’re feeling so exhausted.
It’s easy to self-diagnose: the internet is full of ‘helpful’ advice about what you may be deficient in. But despite the supplement industry booming, Khan says: “It’s important to get tested first, to see if you really do need supplements. They have their place for a short period of time to get some people back to normal levels, but you should aim to get everything you need from your diet.”
So, if you’ve been feeling really flat, do an audit of your nutritional intake. You may be lacking in any of the following…
“If someone has less than adequate magnesium, common symptoms include low mood and low energy levels,” Khan says. “Magnesium is one of the most important elements in the body and is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions. It is essential for musculoskeletal health, the nervous system and energy production.”
Many people are low in magnesium because they don’t eat enough green, leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes. Plus, stress, medications and unhealthy diets that rely on preservative foods can all reduce magnesium absorption. Khan recommends first trying to improve your magnesium levels through your diet by adding more of the above foods. Ask your GP if a supplement could help, but don’t self-prescribe.
Another way to up your magnesium levels is to have Epsom salts baths, where magnesium is absorbed by your skin.
“If you have an underactive thyroid, you’re not producing enough thyroxine,” GP Dr Vishal Shah explains. “Simply put, too little thyroxine and your metabolism slows, which results in tiredness.”
Doctors look for levels of TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), as well as T3 and T4 (inactive and active form of thyroid hormones). If levels are low and therefore underactive, there’s a medication you can take that replaces thyroxine and there are diet tweaks you can make, too — like eating more nuts and seeds (Brazil nuts are especially good), eggs, meat and leafy greens.
“However, certain foods can disrupt thyroid function, including broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage,” Dr Shah warns. “But unless you’re eating these foods in huge amounts, they shouldn’t cause any problems.” Again, consult your doctor before making any changes.
Lack of sunshine
“Vitamin D is vital for your immune function and energy levels,” Khan says.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as many as one in four Aussie adults are considered to be vitamin D deficient. While most of your vitamin D will come from sun exposure, some of it also comes from the nutrients in foods such as dairy, eggs and fish. “But it’s hard to get enough from diet alone,” Khan says.
So you need to make sure you get enough sun, but not too much because of the high rates of skin cancer in Australia — prolonged sun exposure does not result in increased vitamin D levels but does increase the risk of skin cancer. For information on how you can get enough vitamin D safely, visit cancer.org.au
Low iron levels are something the World Health Organization describes as “the most common and widespread nutritional disorder in the world” and is one possible cause of tiredness. “Iron is not only vital for energy, but also for things like hair health. If you don’t have enough iron, your body cannot produce the haemoglobin in your blood,” Khan explains. “The haemoglobin is what binds to oxygen, and the red blood cells in your body help transport this oxygen around your body.”
Low iron levels particularly affect women in their fertile years, as well as those with a vegan diet. Food sources include leafy greens, meat and poultry, legumes and fortified-iron foods. “Vitamin C can help facilitate the absorption of iron, so a glass of orange juice alongside iron-rich foods can help boost the absorption,” Khan says.
But it’s not something to guess at —a blood test is the best way to determine your iron levels.
Low B12 levels
“Vitamin B12 is vital for energy production. It draws energy from the foods you consume, helps your nervous system stay healthy, is fundamental for red-blood-cell formation and helps you use folic acid in the body,” says nutritional therapist Clarissa Lenherr.
As B12 is predominantly sourced from animal products, vegans and vegetarians are at risk of low B12. But even if you’ve had your B12 levels checked and they’re normal, you may not be getting the full picture, she warns. “The active B12 represents between 10-30 per cent of the B12 in the blood, yet it’s the only form that can actually be used by your cells,” Lenherr says. So you need to get tested for the active compound specifically, she advises.
If you’re a strict vegetarian or vegan, it’s important to eat breads, cereals or other grains that have been fortified with vitamin B12, or take a daily supplement.
Rebecca Judd certainly got tongues wagging when she made a confession.
The TV presenter and co-host of KIIS FM’s ‘The 3pm Pick Up’ revealed that she “always” sleeps in a G-string.
“It’s like wearing a watch,” she said. “For the first day or two, you feel it but then after that, you don’t feel it at all.
Her co-host, Monty Dimond, also sleeps in underwear – though she confesses to preferring “granny undies”.
While people are now debating how comfortable (or uncomfortable) it might be to sleep in a g-string, the real question it’s made many of us ask is: Is it healthy to sleep in your undies at all?
To be honest, that’s a tough question to answer, as there’s little research on the topic. I guess it depends on the type of underwear and sleepwear you’re wearing, to some extent.
If you choose to wear a lightweight, breathable material such as cotton underwear, and pair that with, say, a nightie, then there shouldn’t really be any issues. If you’re choosing to wear knickers at night, you’re also better off opting for a loose-fitting pair.
But if you prefer a heavy material for your undies, and then pop on a pair of flannel pj’s and snuggle up under a thick doona, that might not be such a great idea.
That’s because, in doing so, you’re creating a warm, moist environment. And yeast infections (thrush) thrive in that kind of setting.
Symptoms of thrush include itching and a ‘cottage cheese like’ discharge. If you think you have thrush, there are lots of over the counter medicines that can help. But if you keep getting thrush, it’s definitely worth seeing your GP. That’s because there are other reasons you might develop recurrent thrush, such as diabetes.
Another potential issue with wearing knickers to bed is if you’re prone to skin issues down there. If you wax or shave your bikini area, you may be prone to folliculitis (infection of the hair follicle). If that’s the case, you may be better off sleeping without briefs on.
In fact, if you have any chronic issues down there, such as vaginitis or vulvitis, it’s probably a good idea to steer clear of undies at night when possible. (And if you do have ongoing probs in that area, make sure you see a doctor to get it checked out.)
There’s also this idea you need to ‘breathe’ down there. While you may have heard that advice, there’s no definitive answer about that. Some women swear by that idea, others say it’s less important to them.
Of course, if you prefer to sleep without knickers on, that’s totally fine. In fact, if sleeping in nothing but your birthday suit tickles your fancy, it’s totally OK to go to bed starkers (mind you, things might get a little chilly in the heart of winter).
There are certain times when you should wear undies to bed. When you’ve got your period and are using a pad at night (which, as we’ve discussed, is what you should do), then by all means, keep your undies on during the night. But for the other times, the choice is yours.
As long as you don’t have any issues down there, you should be fine to either sleep in undies, or without them.
If health experts could have their way, we’d all be napping on the regular. Studies show that there’s more good in napping than just reducing fatigue, with naps also proven to improve our mood, immune functioning and memory recall.
In fact, people who nap at least three times a week may even live longer, thanks to a reduced risk of a heart attack.
“Napping is a skill we can all be cultivating because it’s really good for us,” sleep scientist Dr Carmel Harrington, author of The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep, tells bodyandsoul.
“The major issue is that people don’t understand the value of napping.”
Sounds good in theory, but what if you just can’t sleep when the sun is up? Dr Harrington has some tips.
1. Know the productivity value
Despite the fact Google, Mercedes Benz and NASA staff have access to EnergyPod chairs that are designed for sleeping on the job – many people still judge napping as a waste of valuable time.
“When people say ‘I don’t nap’, it could be the perception that napping in the day is lazy,” Dr Harrington says.
“We all have been brought up with the idea that we should be on the ball 24/7. We don’t even like sleeping at night half the time, let alone sleeping in the afternoon.”
But Dr Harrington says napping deserves a rebranding to make it our go-to energy booster, given it works similarly to caffeine without a subsequent crash.
“If we started to see napping as a tool for productivity rather than something that takes away from our productivity, I think people would have a different attitude towards it,” she says.
2. Learn some basic biology
Nobody bats an eye at an ambitious executive downing their third coffee for the morning in the pursuit of efficiency, but Dr Harrington says it’s worth noting that naps work similarly, yet more effectively.
It all comes down to turning down the “sleepy neurotransmitter” called adenosine that builds up the longer we have been awake.
“When we nap, we don’t produce adenosine and we actively degrade it so we have less of this sleepy neurotransmitter and our brain is refreshed and ready to go,” she explains.
Caffeine feels similar, but works quite differently by simply blocking the brain’s adenosine receptors, thus blinding us to the feeling of adenosine.
Trouble is, once the caffeine wears off, all that sleepiness suddenly hits and we can find ourselves having microsleeps because we’re so weary.
3. Time it right
If you think you can’t nap, you might need to look at when you’re trying to have one because your body might not be ready.
Dr Harrington says that for most people, the best time of day for a nap is around 3 or 4pm when we have a natural dip in energy levels.
“It’s unlikely that you’ll need one at 10am and if you are having one then, it probably indicates that you didn’t get enough sleep the night before,” she points out.
“Having one in the afternoon works really well for students coming home from school or university – instead of wandering around the house during that lull, it’s good to have a 20-minute nap and when you wake up you will be much more productive.”
4.Cap it at 20 minutes
If you’re worried about losing precious minutes in your day to sleep, then know that all you should be napping for is 20 minutes max.
“Twenty minutes keeps you in light sleep,” Dr Harrington explains.
“If you go into deep sleep, which is 90 to 110 minutes, that will affect your ability to initiate sleep at night because you will have taken away some of your sleep drive. You also wake up from a deep sleep feeling groggy and awful.”
When your 20-minute alarm goes off, Dr Harrington suggests doing some star jumps, hula hooping or jogging on the spot.
“You’ll be ready to go for four or five more hours,” she says.
5. Take what sleep you get
You don’t have to spend the full 20 minutes dead-to-the-world – even if you only drift off for a few minutes, Dr Harrington says you’ll get the same body benefits.
“Whether you sleep for five, 15 or 20 minutes, your brain is refreshed,” she says.
“Sometimes you will lay there for 20 minutes and then get up, which is okay too – you just weren’t ready to go to sleep.”
If you don’t sleep, Dr Harrington says it could be that you weren’t actually tired enough and maybe taking a walk in the fresh air is what you need for a brain re-set.
If you have tried napping around 3pm and had no success, you may need to tweak the time to suit your chronotype [natural body clock].
“If you’re an ‘owl’ and like to go to bed late at 11pm or 12am or 1am, your physiological dip in alertness may occur at 5pm or 6pm,” Dr Harrington points out.
6. Legitimately can’t nap? Try these energy-boosters instead
If you’re feeling bleary-eyed but your job/kids/to-do list genuinely render that impossible, Dr Harrington says there are ways of replicating the energy boost.
“One of the ways to alert your brain and make it refreshed is to exercise or surround yourself with bright light,” she says.
“Do a brisk walk around the city block or try using red light, which is really alerting to the brain. Caffeine works as well but if you have caffeine at 3pm it might affect your sleep that night, which will be counter-productive.”
When it comes to interrupted sleep, it’s essential to be clear on the differences between insomnia and sleep deprivation.
“Insomnia is a real medical condition that prevents people from falling asleep, while sleep deprivation is the result of poor sleeping habits and lack of total sleeping hours,” says Cheryl Fingleson, The Sleep Coach.
“There is no worse feeling than beginning your day like you’re a cast member out of Michael Jackson’s, Thriller music video. The knock-on effects like low energy, fatigue, decreased performance or mood swings can play havoc with your health and lifestyle.
“While no two sleepy individuals are the same, it’s important to treat the root cause of the problem as well as begin developing good sleeping habits. Here’s how to start.”
1. Create a bedroom haven
Make sure your bedroom is free of clutter, rubbish or dirty clothes and, most importantly, free of electronics. Create a cosy haven where you’ll enjoy lying in and can prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep.
2. Acupressure or meditation
The whirlpool points at the back of the neck, where muscles attach to the base of the skull, can help you fall asleep. Clasp your hands and place them behind the head so that your thumbs reach downwards and gently massage the left and right points in a circular motion for 30-60 seconds while inhaling and exhaling deeply.
Meditation can also help calm the sympathetic (‘fight or flight’) and induce the parasympathetic (‘rest and digest’) nervous system responses. A 10-15 minute meditation every morning and night will promote better sleeping habits in the long-term.
3. Bedtime snack
Peanut butter sandwiches, scrambled eggs, wholegrain cereal with low-fat milk, yoghurt topped with granola sprinkles, a low-fat milk banana smoothie or herbal teas are just some of the items you can have before bedtime to induce sleep. Foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan help the brain process sleep. Avoid caffeine or alcohol in the evenings if you have trouble sleeping.
Writing before bedtime is a fantastic way of brain dumping the worries that kick your brain into overdrive, especially at night. Another excellent journal practice before bed is writing about the positive aspects of the day; this helps redirect the brain towards positivity so you’re not staying up thinking about your problems. Make a habit of journaling 20 minutes before bedtime.
5. A boring book or sleep music
A dull or uninteresting book won’t stimulate our brain the way a great novel would. With a lowly dim light, read in bed until your eyes fight to stay open. Enhance the process by playing soft sleep music in the background to help you on a deeper level. Strictly no kindles, tablets or mobiles for this one.
6. Consistency is key
Adults need seven-nine hours of sleep a night. Any less and you may be depriving your body of what it requires to function. We should be drowsy but awake when we head for bed, we do not want to fall asleep in front of the TV or on the lounge. Being drowsy is your body’s cue that it’s time to fall asleep.
I explain to my clients that it’s important to create a bedtime routine or plan so that every night you follow precisely the same steps, such as reading or having a bath, before bed so that your body knows that it’s time to go to sleep.
The Dalai Lama once said that ‘Sleep is the best meditation’, which I would certainly agree with. There’s not many things a good night’s sleep can’t fix. Stress, blood pressure and even weight management have all been proven to improve if one can get enough sleep.
However, there’s one key word in that last sentence which makes all the difference… ‘IF’. Yes I could almost feel you saying through the screen ‘Well, that’s great! When you can actually GET to sleep’. Ah yes, maybe that’s a better place to start. Not just talking about how important sleep is but what we can do to fall asleep quicker and more soundly.
Just like most experiences in life, meditation and sleep can be broken up into three main sections. Start, middle and end. But with our increasing lack of patience, what we tend to do with both of these practises is try to skip the start and jump straight into the middle. ‘Just give me the good stuff.’ Well, I’ll tell you now, you can’t experience the good stuff if you’re not willing to do the small stuff first and this goes for sleep, too.
We’ll often try to go straight into it without a proper starting ritual. It’s just like going for a run. You’re probably going to run further and faster if you take the time to stretch and warm up before you hit the pavement and a quick 10-minute meditation exercise can be your ‘warm-up’ for sleep.
So next time when you’re in bed and you close the laptop with heavy eyes after watching the latest Vikings episode on Netflix, try the following ‘warm-up sleep exercise’ aka ‘meditation for sleep’.
1. Preferably you want to find a comfortable position laying on your back. Try to have a straight spine too. However, you legs and arms can be where/however you like. If you’re a tummy sleeper, that’s ok. The most important thing is to wriggle your body into a comfortable position.
2. Take 5 deep breaths. As deep, long and as full as possible. On the out breathe, really try to exhale every bit of air your lungs have in them and imagine your body is feeling lighter and lighter with each breath out.
3. Bring your attention to the small area around your left nostril. Really feel the air entering the nostril and follow it all the way down into your lungs. Once it fills up the space in your lungs, follow it as it begins to leave the body. Whenever you feel ready, shift your attention to the right nostril and repeat this process a few times. Finishing with focusing on your breath entering and leaving the body through both nostrils. Noticing your breath getting deeper and heavier.
4. Then really try to feel your toes. As if you’re putting your mind in them. They may feel tingly as if there’s energy swirling around and through them. Feel this energy as it begins to move around your feet and creep up your legs. Take your time with this and just focus on the different parts of your body as this energy moves up the legs, around your torso, down your arms and lastly through your neck, shoulders and head.
5. Your body at this stage should really start to feel relaxed, light and peaceful. While the mind is also beginning to quieten down, as it has simply been focusing on an element (part of your body or breath) in the present moment not something that might of happen earlier that day or what needs to happen tomorrow. Just the act of diverting you thinking to the above is incredibly relaxing.
6. If you haven’t fallen asleep by this stage, you can repeat or draw out this process until you naturally drift off. Some ‘surrender statements’ can help too. This is where you’re telling yourself to let go. Such as ‘I am letting go of my body, mind and spirit now to be recharged and refreshed.’
These simple steps all have a common thread and that is to direct the mind into the present moment (the essence of what meditation is). Taking it away from the incestuous thinking about either the past or future. This is why the counting sheep is so popular. It’s just simply getting your mind to focus on something in the present moment.
If you’ve ever had a terrible night’s sleep, you’d know how hard it is to get through the next day… Poor concentration, sluggishness, and an insatiable hunger are just some of the not-so-great symptoms. Now imagine an extended period of deprived sleep, be it from jet-lag or inexplicable insomnia. Getting a restful night’s sleep suddenly goes from being an impulse to something that consumes your every waking thought!
Professor Marc Cohen believes the secret to getting a restful sleep is understanding how your internal body clock – or circadian rhythm – works.
“We all have an internal master clock, a cluster of 20,000 neurons in our brain just above the point where the two optic nerves from the eyes meet. This master clock controls our circadian rhythms, responding to light and regulating when we sleep and wake,” Professor Cohen explains.
“Circadian rhythms vary from person to person, meaning that those who claim to be night owls and like to sleep in, aren’t necessarily lazy, but are actually may be subject to different circadian rhythms than those who rise early.
“Listening to your body and working in sync with your circadian rhythm can make for a more productive day and also help optimise quality sleep. If your workday allows for some flexibility, it’s worth altering your day accordingly. Failing that, there are still some changes you can make to help improve sleep quality,” says Cohen.
1. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets the body’s internal clock to expect sleep at a certain time every night. Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine on weekends to avoid a Monday morning sleep hangover.
2. Limit your tech use before bed
Computers, phones and televisions all emit blue light, which promotes wakefulness, even more so than natural light. Try to put devices down at least one hour before bedtime.
3. Reach for the right sleep aid
If your health professional has ruled out any underlying medical conditions for sleeplessness, a herbal supplement could help.
4. Pay attention to lighting
Light plays a key role in controlling your circadian rhythm. In the morning, with exposure to light, our body’s internal master clock sends a signal to raise body temperature and produce hormones like cortisol to help wake you up. Try to get plenty of natural light within two hours of waking and keep yourself exposed to bright lights or sunlight throughout the day. At night, try to decrease the amount of light you expose yourself to so your body can naturally release the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep.
5. Avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime
Doing work, discussing difficult issues and exercising can cause a rise in the hormone cortisol, which can keep you awake.
While there are so many factors that can cause sleeplessness – from our screen addiction to the stresses of modern day life – people who share a bed or bedroom with a loud snorer will tell you there’s just one.
But snoring isn’t something only our bed-mates should be concerned about – those who snuffle, snort and snore while asleep should consider these irritating noises an early warning sign that all may not be right. There are hundreds of wearable devices that claim to stop snoring, but I’ve found the most effective cures are often the simplest ones.
1. Take a load off
People who snore generally have higher BMIs, are less physically active and, scarily, are more likely to develop sleep apnoea, which causes dangerous drops in blood oxygen levels and can even increase the likelihood of night-time heart attacks. Even losing just two kilos can decrease the fat deposits in the upper airway which causes breathing obstruction which in turn leads to snoring.
2. Quit the bad habits
Smokers are twice more likely to snore than those who don’t, according to studies. Smoke irritates nasal passages causing decreased airflow and making it harder to breathe, among other issues. Alcohol is also a great snore-inducer as it relaxes the muscles in the throat, causing the soft palate tissue and uvula to flutter.
3. Sleep sideways
As anyone who shares a sleeping space with a snorer will tell you, a sharp dig and push to roll the offender onto their side will often stop night time noise pollution. Side sleeping opens your airways and makes it less likely that you’ll snore. A budget solution is to sew some kind of object to the back of your PJs to keep you side prone or invest in a sleep positioner.
4. Do a voice workout
Singers apparently snore less than the rest of us because the muscles in their soft palate and upper throat are stronger. But if channelling Ed Sheeran isn’t your thing, British ENT surgeon Mike Dilkes has designed a five minute daily throat and tongue workout that can help reduce snoring. This is especially important as we age and lose muscle tone.
Exercise 1: Curl your tongue back towards the soft palate then forward to touch behind your upper teeth.
Exercise 2: Open your mouth as wide as possible and say ‘aaahh’ for 20 seconds.
Exercise 3: Poke out your tongue as far as it goes, take a deep breath and then make a high pitched sound for 30 seconds. Imagine you’re gargling with air.
5. Talk to your GP
If none of these works or you’re a snorer who doesn’t fit into any of the above categories, there may be a physical reason for your condition that needs looking at. This could include allergies, large tonsils or adenoids, sinus issues or even your mouth anatomy.
Surgery is an option to look into as a last resort but there are also less invasive laser treatments available for sufferers.
Falling asleep isn’t always easy – least of all nowadays, when it feels like we’ve always got a hundred things to worry about at any given moment. And while you could waste time counting sheep, there are definitely easier solutions to getting some quality shut-eye, one of which is by investing in a weighted blanket.
Having come into vogue at some point over the past two years, weighted blankets are generally filled with glass beads to create the sensation of being hugged. Specifically, they use Deep Touch Pressure Simulation (DPTS), which is a therapy method frequently used to treat stress and anxiety due to the way it can release both serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Whilst there are plenty of models available in varying weights and sizes, according to Ecosa, it’s best to select a blanket that’s around 10 to 15 per cent of your body weight, as “this allows for adequate pressure to activate your body’s neurological response”.
We did the research to find some of the best weighted blankets on offer, from organic designs to breathable summer-suited options.
ASHWILLOW Australia Luxury Tencel Weighted Blanket
Price: $89 at Etsy for King Single size
Details: Made from a super soft and breathable fabric called Tencel, this 5.5kg blanket filled with lead-free glass microbeads will keep you cool in summer and warm in winter. Every detail down to the calming blue colour was specially designed by small local business ASHWILLOW, which was founded by a Naturopath.
Bambury Weighted Blanket
Price: from $139.95 at Zanui, in Single size and various weights
Details: Available in 4.5kg, 6.8kg and 9kg, this plush weighted blanket features cotton on one side for breathability and comfort and is weighted with glass beads. You can easily cover it with a single-sized quilt cover to make things more hygienic.
Accessorize Weighted Calming Blanket
Price: from $119.95 at Zanui, in Single or Queen size and various weights
Details: This blanket comes with a washable cotton cover to keep things easy and clean, and is filled with non-toxic micro glass beads. It’s available in 4.5kg, 6.8kg and 9kg weights.
Giselle Bedding Cotton Weighted Gravity Blanket
Price: $59.95 at Myer, in 72cm x 102cm sizing
Details: A great lightweight option for those wanting to dip their toes into the weighted blanket trend, this 2.3kg one is machine washable and has a microfibre side and a cotton side for comfort and warmth.
Ecosa Weighted Blanket
Price: from $240 (down from $300) at Ecosa, in Single sizing and various weights
Details: Perfect for those who run hot or with sensitive skin, this blanket has a breathable and organic bamboo outer which is naturally hypoallergenic and moisture-wicking. It comes in 7kg, 9kg or 11kg options.
Trafalgar All Seasons Weighted Blanket
Price: from $74.99 at Dick Smith, in Single sizing and various weights
Details: With a super cosy removable and washable faux mink cover, this option comes in 2.3kg, 7kg or 9kg weights.
Hotto Cuddle Weighted Blanket
Details: These cotton-covered blankets come in multiple colours to suit your style, and have weights corresponding to all bed sizes from single to King.
A good night’s sleep is hard to come by these days. At the end of every exhausting day, you collapse into bed, accompanied by a million and one little worries that your brain can’t quite seem to shut off. But fortunately, there are a few things you can do to make the process a little bit calmer – and believe it or not, switching out your sheets is one of them.
It might seem far-fetched, but investing in good quality bedding can help you get a better night’s rest, especially if you splurge on sheets that are softer, more breathable, and kinder to sensitive skin types. That’s right, we’re talking about the latest bedroom trend: linen sheets.
“Once you ‘get’ why sleeping in pure linen is so good, it’s hard to become unhooked. The benefits are many,” explains Georgia Cavanagh, co-founder of French linen bedding brand Carlotta+Gee.
“Deep, restful sleep is extremely important to us, and it’s true that the way we sleep determines how we feel the next day. If there’s one thing to invest in, it’s making sure you sleep soundly and comfortably.”
So what exactly are these so-called benefits of linen sheets? We asked Cavanagh to spell them out for us, so we could get the low-down on why you should consider splashing out on a set.
They’re better for you
“Carlotta + Gee’s sheets are washed in volcanic stones from Malaysia for over four hours to accelerate the flax softening process, resulting in extra soft, luxurious linen bedding which will help boost your mood as well as your slumber.
“The fabric of linen is naturally permeable and can absorb up to 20 per cent of its weight in moisture before it feels damp. Unlike cotton, linen draws away the moisture in the air, remaining cool and dry to the touch, meaning it won’t retain any nasty smells. Linen’s antibacterial properties are perfect for those with allergies or sensitive skin, and it’s also been known to stimulate blood flow.”
They’re better for the environment
“All our linen is derived from a natural long and strong fibre called flax – harvested from the flax plant. Flax can be grown all around the world but we source ours from Normandy, France, where optimal climatic conditions ensure the plants are grown naturally and ecologically, without the need for pesticides or dangerous chemicals.
“Unlike other fabrics such as cotton, flax doesn’t need heavy irrigation and so its production uses little water, making it a more sustainable choice. Not one part of the plant is wasted – the biodegradable fibres are woven into bedding, the seeds are eaten, and the oil from the plant is used to varnish furniture.”
They’re more durable
“Flax is the oldest and strongest natural fibre in the world. It’s naturally 30% thicker and stronger than cotton, which extends the durability of our sheets, so you’ll be able to sleep comfortably in them for many years to come. Because it’s stone-washed, linen also softens with age, so not only will it last longer than cotton sheets, it’ll feel better against your skin, too.”
They’re breathable and suited to every season
“Linen’s breathability means it’s perfect all year round. Flax’s natural fibres allow air to circulate within your sheets, freshening and cooling you off in summer – just what we need for those long hot nights when the last thing you want are sheets that stick to you. Linen sheets will never do that!
“Thanks to its thermoregulatory properties, linen will also retain the heat from your body during the year’s cooler months, keeping your body temperature warm and cozy inside the bed.”
They’re easy to care for
“We’ve carefully and purposefully sought out linen that doesn’t need to be ironed – isn’t that the dream? Aside from saving you time, this also has a positive effect on the environment, by using less energy and appliances. Our linen dries quickly, so you can wash and dry your set and have them back on your bed the same day. In fact, the more you wash your sheets, the softer they’ll become.”
Linen sheets are certainly the next bedroom trend, but you want to make sure that if you’re going to splurge, you’re choosing a quality set. These are a few of our favourites:
Carlotta+Gee 100% Flax Linen Duvet Cover in Natural Stripes, $260.
Bed Threads 100% Flax Linen Bedding Set in sage, from $250.
Morgan & Finch100% Flax Linen Sheet Set in blush, from $179.95.
Home Republic100% Flax Linen Vintage Washed Sheet Separates, from $99.99.
Pillow Talk100% Flax Linen Washed Sheet Set, from $299.