Sleep is one of the most important aspects of our life, health and longevity and yet it is increasingly neglected in twenty-first-century society, with devastating consequences.
Sound restful sleep is a major cornerstone for an energetic, joyful and healthy life. Being on call 24/7, juggling jobs, parenthood, social activities and self-care, our lack of sleep can result in low energy levels causing us to habitually reach for unhealthy foods, extra cups of coffee and irritability, lethargy and moodiness. Our sleep is vital for learning and memory, our health and safety, and our quality of life.
For elite athletes, sleep is the greatest performance-enhancing drug of all. Roger Federer claims to sleep around 12 hours a day (10 hours at night and 2 hours during the day), LeBron James claims to sleep 12 hours a night and Usain Bolt sleeps between 9.5 and 10 hours a night with strategic naps throughout the day.
Sleep enhances their performance on the day, reducing chronic inflammation, building peak muscle strength and speed of recovery.
“Sleep is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle. On a day to day basis, how well and how long we slept the night before is the single most important variable dictating how we feel,” said Dr David White, Chief Medical Officer, Philips Sleep & Respiratory Care.
Both Matthew Walker and Harvard University recommend a consistent sleep of 7 to 9 hours a night.
Many people, out of frustration, turn to sleep medications in search of a more restful nights sleep. However, these drugs can have side effects, including drowsiness, strange dreams and appetite changes. So before reaching for the pills, try these 5 suggestions below for a better nights sleep:
1) Lifestyle change
Avoid alcohol and any stimulants before bed. Alcohol is a sedative and depresses the nervous system. This helps people initially fall asleep but will cause disruptive and blocked sleep throughout the night causing people to wake up groggy.
2) Physical Activity
According to Harvard University, regular aerobic activity helps people fall asleep faster, spend more time in deep sleep, and awaken less often during the night.
3) Sleep Hygiene
- Maintain a regular sleep-and-wake schedule. Set an alarm 15 minutes prior to going to bed to prepare yourself for sleep.
- According to Ayurveda (the life science of Yoga), it is best to wake up before 6am and go to bed between 9pm and 10pm. Ensure a consistent sleep schedule 7 nights a week. We can’t bank up sleep, so ensure you don’t fall into the habit of under-sleeping during the week and trying to make up for it on the weekend.
- Use the bedroom only for sleeping or sex.
- Ensure soft, dim lighting using salt lamps, candles, essential oils.
- Keep the bedroom dark and free of distractions i.e. no television, computer or phone. Place phone out of your room on a charger.
- Regularly hitting the snooze button will harm your bodies cardiovascular system. The constant hit of the snooze button will spark heart rate and increase stress chemicals. Either rise as soon as the alarm goes off or allow your body to wake up naturally. Avoid hitting the snooze button.
4) Relaxation Technique
Switch on your bodies relaxation response by using the following exercises:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep) – this progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing and visualisation technique will take you into a hypnagogic state allowing you to deeply relax. Refer to Mona Anand Yoga Nidra found on iTunes.
- Restorative Yoga – Restorative Yoga stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system by supporting your body with props and quietening the chatter in your mind. Practice the following poses, holding anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes in each.
- Meditation has been proven to increase sleep time, improve sleep quality, and make it easier to fall (and stay) asleep.
- Either sit or lie down, close eyes and breathe slowly and deeply. Give your mind an anchor, either your breath, a visualisation technique or a mantra. If the mind starts to wander, simply bring the attention back to the anchor. Start with 3 minutes and increase the amount of time as you get more comfortable.
Stephanie Johnson (@stephanie.johnson_) is an Australian Stress Management specialist and a 500hr Tamara Yoga ISHTA yoga and meditation teacher, specialising in restorative, yin, vinyasa and yoga Nidra. Stephanie has worked with Australian and International business, schools and individuals reducing stress and improving personal wellbeing. Her 6-week Employee Empowerment programs, one-off workshops and regular yoga and meditation classes are highly sort after across Australia. To learn more about Steph, visit her website or her Instagram for further info.