The constant fear of missing out seems to attract us all into forfeiting the scientifically suggested 8 hours, for a restless 4 hour shut-eye and a double-double flat white as we meander into work 10 minutes later than yesterday. What is this doing to our health and wellbeing and how on earth can we fix it?
In our bustling lifestyles, where we don’t like to miss the sunrise but struggle to put ourselves to bed at any hour we know is reasonable, and where everything in between is full of high action and intensity, how do we make the most of the sleep we allow ourselves?
More importantly though, what are we doing by avoiding the pillow?
If your routine has developed into something of a reliance on artificial energy, the constant feeling of being tired and the 3pm sugar binge to make it through your working day, then chances are your goodnight rest is everything but. Lack of sleep wrecks havoc on your cellular system when you don’t allow your body to shut down and rest efficiently. With the rising numbers of immunity related diseases such as cancer and coeliac disease, or just that nagging cold that won’t be shaken, it is important to understand the effect that lack of sleep has on our immune system, our hormones and our health.
It is important to note that your immune system is the protective mechanism that fights off cellular mutations and external pathogens like viruses and bacteria. It is a complicated system of specialised cells with specific roles that require a lot of energy and regulation. Poor diet, increased exposure to toxins, alcohol, stress and lack of sleep start to affect these cells the same way they affect your whole body - making them slow and as unproductive as you feel on Monday morning.
Here are some tips on how to get better sleep when your life is starting to creep up on you, so you can continue to make it to all those events in good spirit and without the black circles under your eyes.
Get up and get outside in the morning.
Your hormonal system is a key driver for immunity, sex drive, digestive function, skin and hair health, and of course sleep. If you’re disrupting these hormones then your body struggles to produce what is required. Without getting too enthralled in the jargon of biochemistry all you need to understand is, you need melatonin to sleep, and light destroys melatonin. Exposing your eyes to light by getting up and outside early will shut down melatonin in your brain, and you will feel more energized and alert during the day. By shutting off electronics and light before you go to bed, you start releasing melatonin and you will be employing a routine your body can start to function with.
Get your B vitamins.
B vitamins are essential for many different processes in the human body but they’re fundamental for stress hormone regulation. If you struggle to unwind when you’re in bed then ensuring your diet is full of B vitamin rich foods like wholegrains, nuts, avocado, mushrooms, sesame seeds, eggs and green leafy vegetables like kale will help assist getting to sleep.
Learn to say no, take a bath.
If you’re anything like me, saying no comes with the thought that you can’t handle everything, that you’re being rude by not attending, or that you’re somehow selfish for not making the 3rd night of wedding celebrations in a row. I have learned now, that me being present in an energetic and positive mood beats the lethargic and grumpy version you’ll get if I have been dragged out for the fourth time this week. Being able to say no and allowing yourself a night in with the music you love, that hot bath and the book you’ve been meaning to start can be just as good for your brain and body as a holiday. Mandarin, lavender, Jasmine and sandalwood are all calming oils you can add to your bath or burn in your room.
Don’t self medicate.
Many people are falling into the trap of being exhausted and just wanting the band-aid approach of a sleeping pill to get one good night. Then they take another because it worked last night, and before people know it, there is a cycle of sleeping pills in order to get to sleep and stay asleep, without any treatment into why there was a lack of sleep in the first place. Understanding the cause, rather than treating the symptom is key in holistic and successful lifestyle treatments. Look at natural alternatives to medication and ask your doctor to help assist before you rely on a sleeping pill. Quality magnesium here is a game-changer. See your nutritionist for the best kind for you.
It seems obvious to many I know, but it helps to understand why. Alcohol tends to get people to fall asleep quickly, so innately people believe it is helping. However, we have four distinct phases of our sleep cycle and alcohol disrupts the final stage (REM phase) where the majority of our body repair takes place. This causes us to wake up without having had the fully restorative aspects of a good night sleep. If you’ve had a few too many glasses of red, then help your body out by turning off your phone and sipping at a herbal tea like chamomile in some dim light before you hit the pillow.
You hear it time and time again that exercise helps you sleep, but when you’re too tired to exercise how do you break the cycle? Exercise itself releases endorphins that promote energy. If you work hard then your body needs to be repairing the consequence of that work. Put simply, if you exercise early you’re telling your body to be awake and energised and by the time you shut down the computer and turn your phone off, your body will be prepared to rest, relax and repair. If you have to train later in the afternoon or evening, then follow it with fifteen minutes of stretching and slow breathing while listening to calming music. A great video on the mental benefits of exercise is here.
Drink tea - read a book.
Finally, there is one more very simple and cheap option to help get that goodnight rest and it comes in the form of routine and an elegant cup of tea. By setting aside fifteen minutes before bed to just make a cup caffeine-free tea, preferably one that helps calming and relaxation, you begin to tell your body it is time to relax and get ready for sleep. Peppermint, chamomile, lemon balm and valerian root are my top picks. Taking this time to enjoy your tea and read a book is going to calm the mind and shut off the technology - an actual book and not a kindle is the key here.
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