I love to sleep. Alongside reading, it is my favourite hobby and, as luck would have it, it’s actually really good for you too. Before I give you my super fantastic tips for the best night’s sleep you’ll ever have, take a gander at some of the cool health benefits of catching some proper uninterrupted Zzzzzz.
Health Benefits[source: health.com]
- Longer Life-Span – who doesn’t want immortality?
- Decreased Inflammation Pain– if you suffer from aches and pains in daily life then one thing you could be missing is a proper snooze at night.
- Get The Creative Juices Flowing – studies have shown that the strengthening of emotional components of a memory during sleep can actually increase creative thought. Perfect for all you bloggers out there with writer’s block.
- More Stamina – whether it’s on the tennis court, football field, or maybe in the bedroom (hey, I won’t judge) the more sleep you get the less fatigued you will be during the day (duh) so your athletic performance will improve.
- Become Super Brainy – sleep deprivation = impaired learning. So go to bed early during exam time guys to avoid all that exam time stress.
- Focus – if you’re finding yourself being inattentive and distracted all the time, you might not be getting enough sleep.
- Help Weight Loss – apparently, you feel hungrier when you sleep less. The evil hormones that send your appetite through the roof increase as you get sleepier. If that’s not a reason to go to bed right this second then I don’t know what is.
- Decreased Stress Levels – this is one of the huge benefits I experience from getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Sleep reduces levels of stress and anxiety which in turn decrease your chances of so many other nasty side-effects of stress like heart disease or depression.
My Five Top Tips For Catching Zzz’s
1. Step Away From the Blue Light!
Never heard of the blue light? Well, it is probably the reason you’re struggling to fall asleep at night. If you want the science behind it then read this interesting article from Harvard Health on the dark side of blue light. To summarise, the blue light which is found in all of your electronic devices, like mobile phones and tablets, is like artificial sunlight to your brain. This means that your brain never truly realises it’s nighttime and, therefore, time to go to sleep. It basically attacks your body’s natural biological clock and your sleep will suffer as a result. Since I first discovered more about the dangerous blue light, I’ve tried to cut down my exposure to it about 30 minutes to an hour before I go to bed.
In a world of social media addiction, what can you do? Text your friends or tweet that you are going to bed well before you intend to go to sleep so that nobody bothers you while you unwind. Set your alarm thirty-forty minutes before you go to bed and put your phone out of arm’s reach. No laptops or TV either. Try reading a book (there are plenty of good book reviews on my site if you’re struggling for ideas) or if you’re in a relationship try talking to your partner until you fall asleep.
2. Try a Little Lavender.
Okay, since reading and watching Outlander I am slightly perturbed by the uses of lavender oil but before I knew about the menacing Captain Jack Randall, I was using lavender essential oil to soothe me to sleep. It’s a very simple and natural solution for anyone suffering from mild insomnia. It has calming properties and has been used throughout history for treating anxiety and nervous tension. It’s ideal for those bad days when you’re really worked up and stressed out.
What to do: Sprinkle 1-2 droplets of lavender oil on your pillowcase before you go to sleep at night. Don’t overdo it; you will regret it when your bedroom smells like your granny’s perfume for the next two weeks. Alternatively, put 2-3 drops of lavender oil in your evening bath to relax your muscles and get ready to sleep. Try lavender scented candles too! The Lavender and Chamomile candle from Love Scottish Candles is a great bedtime treat. For more information on the health benefits of lavender, click here.
3. Cut Out the Caffeine.
Up until this year, I took almost no caffeine in my diet other than the trace amounts of caffeine in green tea and even then I wouldn’t drink it before bedtime. I hated coffee and energy drinks so I never had to worry about how this everyday drug could be affecting my sleep. Then I discovered caramel lattes and now I am a self-confessed coffee addict. My body does not react well to caffeine. If I have too much, I get anxious, my heart races and, worst of all, I realised that my sleep was suffering as I was drinking more and more coffee. Studies show that your sleep can be affected by caffeine if you drink it anytime up to eight hours before bedtime!
How to avoid caffeine: Try to stop drinking coffee at lunchtime if you can and switch to decaffeinated for the evening (most cafés offer a caffeine-free option) Drink an alternative hot drink like milky tea, hot chocolate or a malt based drink which are all great for inducing sleep. My secret sleep potion is a cup of chamomile and honey tea. Like lavender, chamomile is a natural relaxant which can soothe aches and pains and promote a good night’s sleep. For more health benefits of chamomile, check this out.
4. Zzz is for Zen.
Some of you may be apprehensive about meditation. There is an abundance of health benefits to meditating and, contrary to mainstream belief, meditating does not need to be a religious experience. Myth busting: you don’t need to be a yoga superstar or a Buddhist to reap the rewards of meditating. Basically, it is just sitting in a quiet and peaceful place and breathing. If I’m really restless or anxious, I find a peaceful moment before I go to bed and listen to the sound of my breathing and float away for a few minutes. Meditation helps to alleviate the stress that has built up on your shoulders throughout the day or week and you can totally unwind.
Meditating for beginners: If you want to create a meditation habit then zenhabits.net have a wonderful guide to practising meditation here. I’ll pick out a few thoughts and I sincerely hope you forget any preconceptions you might have and give it a go. Sit in a quiet place. Breathe deeply. Forget what’s going on around you or what you have on your to-do list and just exist. Count your breaths and scan your body all the way from your toes to your head. What are you feeling? Personally, I like to imagine a little orb of white light which fluctuates with my breathing. It really calms me if I’m struggling to fall asleep.
5. Regular Exercise and Healthy Eating.
I am definitely guilty of not following my own advice here. I’ll give you an example of how your diet and exercise affects your sleeping pattern. Have you ever overindulged on a takeaway? I’m talking large-Domino’s-pizza-to-yourself-food-coma. Visualise that horrible ache in your stomach after you’ve over-eaten and how awful you feel as all the greasy, doughy food lies at the bottom of your gurgling stomach. Think of the wine and chocolate induced heartburn or that kebab-shop nausea. Bad food = feeling bad = bad sleep. It is not rocket science.
What to do instead: Ditch the heavy, fatty and rich foods for fruit, veg and healthy carbohydrates like wholemeal pasta, couscous and rice. Be aware of the food you eat and how it might have an effect on your sleep. Check out this article on the five best foods to eat for a healthy sleep. Aaaaaand, EXERCISE! Go for a long walk at night when the weather’s good or try a new exercise class. Your body will burn up all that excess energy, your muscles will tire out and you will probably fall fast asleep when your head hits the pillow.
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night – William Blake
Give some of these a go and see how you feel tonight. I promise you there is no cure quite like a proper sleep at night.