Waking up to the Benefits of Sleep

Any experienced surfer can tell you the best time to ride waves is generally in the morning – there’s less chance of joining a crowded line-up, most spots boast offshore winds and early morning sunrays provide the benefits of Vitamin D exposure, mood elevation and digestion improvements. And while it can be hard enough leaving a comfortable bed, especially on an early winter morning, if you’re sleep deprived, your performance at dawn patrol – regardless of the optimal conditions – will never be great.

Lack of sleep will also significantly impact your performance at work. Sleep deprivation can result in bouts of drowsiness - considered a major cause of accidents in virtually all forms of transport, surpassing alcohol and drugs - loss of motivation, reduced immunity, blood sugar imbalances and weight gain, mood swings and inattention. In fact, The National Sleep Foundation estimates that, in the United States alone, sleep deprivation costs businesses more than $100 billion each year in lost productivity and performance.

Regardless of age, profession or level of stamina, no one can function properly without a good night’s sleep, so to maximise the chances of performing at your peak, both professionally and personally, you need to sleep well. Unfortunately in today’s stressful 24-hour society, many of us skimp on sleep, so here are some tips for getting a good night’s rest.

1. Create the right environment

How you feel about your bedroom is a big influence on how you sleep so it’s important to associate it with pleasure and rest, not stress and tension. Create the right atmosphere by keeping things cool (16-19 degrees Celsius/ 61-66 Fahrenheit is the optimal range for sleep) and ensure the bedroom is quiet, dark, comfortable and free of interruptions (this includes televisions and computers, which emit blue light and stimulate the mind – not helpful when you’re trying to switch off). The bedroom should also be free of clutter as this can create unnecessary stress.

2. Bask in comfort

Invest in a good quality mattress - research shows buying a new bed is more effective than sleeping pills and can improve a night’s sleep by 42 minutes. Try sleeping on silky, natural fibre sheets, super soft throws and blankets, and hypoallergenic down comforters. Sleeping naked is also a great way to get comfy and it’s easier to adjust to your optimal temperature with sheets and blankets rather than attempting a mid-slumber strip off.

3. Establish a routine

One of the best ways to train your body to sleep well is to get to bed and wake up at the same times each day - this will help your body to get into a sleep rhythm and make it easier to fall asleep and get up in the morning. You should only hit the sheets only when you’re sleepy (not just tired) and don’t stay in bed when you’re awake – a part of your mind will start to associate the bed with being awake rather than being asleep. The entire circadian rhythm is one big, daily routine so sticking to a regular sleep schedule is going to help you maximise the hours of sleep you’re getting.

4. Practice bedtime rituals

The body loves ritual and a regular bedtime routine is essential for creating good sleep habits. This could include winding down one to two hours before bed, doing some gentle stretching, yoga or breathing exercises, having a warm bath – this sends the blood away from your brain to your skin surface - reading or listening to relaxing music, and having sex – the only exception to the no exertion or stimulation rule before bed. The key is to find things that help you to relax, which can be repeated each night.

5. Stay hydrated

Drinking lots of water during the day and staying hydrated has many benefits, including aiding your sleep. Good hydration also means avoiding alcohol and caffeine too close to bed (ideally within six hours). Caffeine activates the central nervous system and blocks the effects of adenosine, a chemical produced by your brain that makes you sleepy. While alcohol can make you drowsy, the effect is short-lived and can disrupt the quality of sleep as it prevents you from falling into the deeper stages of sleep, where the body does most of its recharging. Drinking alcohol also affects your breathing, which means you’re more likely to snore and because it has a diuretic effect you’re likely to have to get out of bed for toilet stops during the night.

6. Eat right

A healthy, balanced diet will help you to sleep well. Additionally, what you eat three to five hours prior to bedtime has a strong impact on how well you sleep as foods contain chemicals and proteins that can either promote or interfere with your sleep. A large meal forces the circulatory system to move blood to the digestive tract and does anything but relax – conversely going to bed hungry also interferes with sleep, as this fails to supply the brain with sufficient glucose which will keep you awake. Foods that contain a substance called tryptophan promote sleep and include almonds, turkey, bananas, dairy products, cabbage, kidney beans, oats, spinach, wheat, poultry, eggs, tofu and soya products and marmite. Chamomile tea, honey, tuna fish, potatoes, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds and peanut butter are also sleep-promoting foods.

7. Keep active

Regular exercise is a great way to help with good sleep and although exercise doesn’t always lead to a good night’s sleep, according to some studies it does improve sleep patterns for insomniacs (at least as well as sleeping pills). Scientists believe that sleep may be enhanced by the light exposure that often comes with exercise as a daily dose of strong natural light has been shown to have both sleep promoting and antidepressant effects. Try to avoid strenuous exercise within two to three hours of bed as the mental and physical stimulation can leave yournervous system feeling wired and make it difficult to calm down at night.

Sources for more information:
The Sleep Council

National Sleep Foundation

Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on April 23, 2015
Categories: Articles