Sleep is the force multiplier for life; without the right amount of quality sleep, it’s very difficult to take care of the other key aspects of health – mental health, energy, body composition, digestion and fitness (what we call the Six Signals®). The right amount of sleep is very subjective – some can genuinely survive on 4 hours a night (there is a genetic variant that enables people to function on this little sleep but it is rare!), and most people need between 6-8 hours to function well. It often surprises me when people tell me they sleep well, yet when I drill down into it they actually have very broken and insufficient amounts of sleep.
What is a sleep disorder?
We commonly think of a sleep disorder as insomnia, but in fact it can include other, perhaps less severe forms of sleep disruption such as getting up in the night to use the toilet, taking more than 20 minutes to fall asleep, having difficulty waking in the morning and feeling groggy. All of these are examples of a sleep disorder.
Our sleep cycles are governed by our circadian rhythms. Our circadian rhythm is guided by a part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, and is largely dictated by natural light, and hormones. On waking, we should get natural light onto our retinas and skin as soon as possible. Our levels of the hormones cortisol and serotonin will be at their highest to prepare us for the day. As the day progresses, our cortisol levels decline, and by sundown, a hormone called melatonin kicks in to prepare our bodies for sleep. Modern life has made this natural process quote convoluted however – blue light from phones, tablets and televisions and the harsh bright light of the light bulb means our circadian rhythms are disrupted, causing problems with sleep. But, there are things we can do to mitigate this – read on!
5 tips for improving your sleep
- Light-proof your bedroom. Studies have shown that even a small amount of light from an LED or perhaps a crack of light from a streetlamp outside can interrupt your sleep. This interference can still occur even if you’re sleeping or have only skin exposed to the light. Consider blackout blinds to combat this, and/or purchasing an eye mask to ensure you are immersed in darkness for the duration of your sleep (perfect in summer).
- Lavender oil. Sprinkle a few drops of essential organic lavender oil onto your pillow or diffuse a couple of drops into a diffuser whilst you’re relaxing before bed or in the bedroom. Lavender oil is proven to help sleep, as well as relaxing the body. I do this every night.
- Magnesium. I use a brand called Ease Magnesium which is a topical magnesium that I spray onto the major muscle groups (usually legs) and neck/shoulders/chest area before bed every evening. Magnesium is involved in over 325 biochemical processes in the body and is also beneficial for good mental health (particularly anxiety).
- Breathing exercises. Part of your sleep preparation should include relaxation techniques to ensure your nervous system is calm and ready for bed. Spending a few minutes doing deep breathing and activating the parasympathetic nervous system will pay dividends when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. You could also use a meditation app – I use Headspace.
- Body temperature and bedding. Your body temperature should be a little warmer than your bedroom, so whilst you don’t need to dig out a thermometer, be mindful of how hot or cold your room is. A bath 90 minutes before bed can ensure optimum body temperature, but also review your bedding. Bedding should be changed seasonally to reflect the change in temperatures.
What’s your Health IQ?
If you’re reading this, you’re are probably in a reasonably senior position, running your own business or have a busy life running the home and juggling other responsibilities. Either way, you’re busy. The convergent pressures of work and family life have probably meant that the time you did have to spend on health and fitness has disappeared.
Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit www.bodyshotperformance.com or email [email protected] to register your interest in our services and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.