When was the last time you had eight hours of uninterrupted sleep? Okay, make that six? Five? A recent survey* revealed that, as a nation, over half of us suffer from insomnia. The worry is that bad sleeping habits don’t just make nights unbearable, they have a profound knock-on effect during the day. And as if looking terrible, not being able to concentrate and feeling narky as hell wasn’t bad enough, insomnia can lead to much more serious issues such as diabetes, obesity and depression.
A good night’s rest isn’t a luxury, it’s vital for good health. During sleep the body repairs cells and muscles, the brain de-clutters itself of unnecessary information, your immune system cranks up a gear and appetite regulating hormones are released. Although you might not be able to control every sleep interference, you can adopt habits that encourage a more restful night.
Establish a sleep ritual, that you stick to religiously, in the hour or so before bedtime. Eventually your body will recognise the signals and start winding down automatically. Try drinking camomile tea, dimming the lights, meditating (Headspace is a great app) or reading. You should also aim to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day, even weekends.
Magnesium can help decrease the stress hormone cortisol. It also helps muscles relax. Add avocado, pumpkin seeds and dark green leafy vegetables to your diet or try this simple ‘sleepy head’ juice:
- 2 green apples
- ½ small pineapple
- a bunch of watercress or spinach
- ¼ lemon
Jo Foster, from Kiss the Moon, creates sensuous smelling, natural products that coax you into the right frame of mind for sleep. “Research has shown that breathing in certain scents can help to bring the two hemispheres of our brain into harmony,” she says, “which in turn promotes feelings of calm and wellbeing. Some scents, known as the ‘calming antidepressants’ of aromatherapy – such as jasmine, rose and neroli essential oils – can influence both sides, changing the brains rhythm and helping to induce a state close to meditation. The more balanced our brains are, the safer we feel and the easier it is to switch off.” Try Kiss the Moon’s Calm After Dark luxurious face oil or Neom’s Pillow Mist
- An Epsom or Himalayan salt bath with some lavender oil can work wonders for inducing serious zzz’s. Not only do the salts draw out toxins and ease aching muscles, they also contain magnesium (see benefits above) which is absorbed through the skin. Add two cups to warm water and soak for at least 10 minutes.
- Carry out a bedroom digitox. That means moving anything that emits artificial light – especially phones, laptops and televisions – to another room or, at the very least, shutting them down a couple of hours before you turn in. If you need to set an alarm, get a clock. Saves you, having finally nodded off, being woken in the night with messages from friends who certainly haven’t established their own sleep routine.
- Keep your room cool, very dark and cosy. What better excuse to stock up on Dyptique candles and 600 thread count bed linen.
- Ease off heavy meals, booze, caffeine and nicotine in the run up to bed. That red wine night cap might seem like a good idea at the time, but it’ll take a good few hours to wear off and can wreak havoc on sleep quality.
You might not reach never never land overnight, but it’s worth persevering when it comes to instilling better sleep habits. Considering you’ll look, feel and perform better, this is one commitment worth sticking with. Sweet dreams.
*The Great British Sleep Survey
Emma Bardwell is a freelance writer with a particular interest in health and nutrition. You can follow her on Instagram @eightypercentclean on Twitter @80percentclean and online at www.emmabardwell.com