Sleep is vitally important for health but many of us aren’t getting nearly as much as we need.
The years of raising young children can result in endless hours of lost sleep, a realisation that used to terrify me when I thought about my health.
Not all children are bad sleepers from birth, but my first born certainly was. For the first two years of his life, he’d wake multiple times in the night, sometimes less than every two hours. I often thought I was going to lose my mind. I would have sold my soul for sleep during those years.
When my second child came along and my three year old was finally sleeping through the night, I vowed we were not going to face the same fate. Some children just aren’t great sleepers, but I had learned that when it comes to sleep, some things can help and some can hinder. I’ve highlighted many of them in this post.
When we are exhausted or sleep deprived, we are more susceptible to pathogens and illness. Sleep is necessary for proper immune function, it aids in protecting us against diabetes, cancer, inflammation and stress. Sleep also promotes the release of growth hormone, which aids cell division and regeneration, and also tissue repair.
The brain has its own detoxification system which is responsible for flushing out toxic substances, waste products and by-products that accumulate during wakefulness. This clean-up system boosts its activity during sleep, which allows the brain to detoxify from neurotoxins that can cause serious cognitive, memory and sensory complications.
Research has shown that just one extra hour of sleep from six and a half to seven and a half hours can create a beneficial impact on our genes.
The amount of sleep each person needs depends on several factors, but as a general guideline, adults need seven to eight hours per night. Implementing a bedtime routine to allow time to settle down, relax and prepare for sleep can be really helpful in avoiding time laid in bed waiting for sleep to happen.
Below are some useful strategies to help prepare yourself to fall asleep naturally and encourage quality sleep.
- Wind down for an hour before bed. Try to avoid activities that require much energy. Listen to music or read a book.
- Get to bed early. Ideally get to bed by 10pm. Studies have shown an earlier bedtime provides numerous benefits including weight loss, more energy and a healthier heart.
- Meditate. Meditative apps such as Calm are designed for mental fitness, relaxation and sleep. Their guided meditations and sleep stories are great for providing relaxation at the end of the day and can be useful if you struggle to get to sleep.
- Reduce Blue Light. Blue light comes from any digital device, but also the lights around the home. Blue light interferes with natural melatonin production which is necessary for inducing sleep. Orange light from salt lamps, for example, emit a warm, dim light which doesn’t interfere with melatonin production. They provide a relaxing ambiance which is a beneficial alternative to the normal lights in the home during the evening.
- Turn off your WIFI and put your phone on flight mode. WIFI and 4G emit signals that can interfere with sleep. Minimise this by turning off your WIFI router at night and put your phone on flight mode, or at least leave it out of the room.
- Keep the room cool. The optimum temperature for sleep is 19 degrees Celsius, or 66.2 degrees Fahrenheit. A warmer room than this can impede sleep and cause more awakenings.
- Avoid caffeine for a minimum of six hours before you go to bed. This includes coffee, tea, green tea and even chocolate.
- Practice Conscious Breathing. Get into a comfortable position and breathe deep into your belly. Count four seconds on the in breath, hold for four seconds, then breathe out for six seconds. Repeat this until your body feels heavy and relaxed, then allow your breathing to come to a steady rhythm. You can utilise this breathing technique if you wake in the night and struggle to get back to sleep.
Address blood sugar issues. One of the main reasons for night waking is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. The brain needs glucose for its intense night time activity, but when glucose levels fall too low, the adrenal glands release stress hormones (cortisol), to raise blood sugar back to a safe level. Unfortunately, these hormones wake us up in the middle of the night.
Not getting enough sleep can make us more likely to reach for sugary, unhealthy foods during the day. The best way to balance blood sugar is to eat protein with every meal, focus on low-GI fruits such as berries, apples and citrus fruits and eat plenty of complex carbs such as vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Most importantly, avoid refined sugar that appears in foods such as white bread, white pasta and pastries.
Supplement magnesium. Magnesium plays a role in supporting deep, restorative sleep by maintaining healthy levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. It is quite common to be deficient in magnesium, therefore supplementation may be a necessary and effective way to improve sleep.
Sleep is necessary for human life, it is just as important as diet. Unfortunately it is often a luxury during the demanding years of raising young children but thankfully, it doesn’t last forever. Understanding the ways we can optimise our sleep environment means that those precious moments of sleep, when we get them, are absolutely worthwhile.