Sleep is extremely important for your health.
That might sound obvious, but few people realize just how sensitive your body and mind are to changes in your sleeping patterns.
Even fewer people realize what a massive effect poor sleeping habits have on your health – both mental and physical.
A single bad night’s sleep will severely reduce your cognitive faculties, reducing focus, preventing clear thinking, and depress your mood. It will also reduce strength and stamina by a significant degree. You will be more emotional, and more prone to making bad decisions.
Consistently failing to get enough sleep each night – enough being 8 hours – over many months and years can actually be pretty ruinous to your body and your mind.
People who get less sleep lead shorter, less healthy lives. Shift workers who sleep during the day – when melatonin levels are lower and sleep a lot lighter – have higher rates of heart disease and several cancers than the rest of us! The effects of chronic poor sleep quality are not limited to shift workers – anyone who fails to get enough deep, restful sleep will be at a higher risk of heart disease and cancer!
Thankfully, there are plenty of ways that you can start getting more, better quality sleep.
Here are my top tips for hacking your sleep. Try implementing some of these methods tonight and you’ll start reaping the benefits right away!
Stay Away From Screens After 8pm
This is one that you’ve probably heard before, but chances are, you don’t realise how serious it is!
According to Brian Johnson, editor of VAGA, our addition to lights – and in particular blue lights from digital screens – is making us all insomniacs one night at a time:
“Everyone now knows that blue light from screens disrupts your sleep. Yet everybody still checks their emails in bed, or looks on Instagram, or watches TV. If they knew what a massive effect it was having, maybe they’d stop. Blue light exposure can actually push your big melatonin spike back by up to 2 hours. So instead of entering deep sleep at 1am, you will only start entering deep sleep at 3am.”
Brian explained why this was such a disaster: “Pushing back your melatonin release will effectively have you lying awake at night for longer, and leave you without enough time to fit in enough deep, genuinely restorative sleep. The long-term effects of this have been well-documented, and they are not pretty!”
Start giving yourself plenty of ‘wind-down’ time away from your screens at least 2 hours before you plan o going to bed.
Instead of checking your emails, try reading in dim light for an hour before you sleep. Melatonin is the darkness hormone, so the lower the light, the deeper the sleep!
The notion of ‘catching up’ on your sleep at the weekend has been shown to be a myth; it takes a lot more than one or two good night’s sleep to claw back the 10 hour deficit that most people accumulate over a working week!
Instead of just accepting 6 hours sleep per night through the week, do your best to sacrifice an hour of television or email checking each night and use it to get a jump on your sleep! It might seem like you’re being more productive by staying up later, but come Friday, your focus, information processing, and motivation will be rock bottom from sleep deprivation.
Take A Hot Shower
Taking a hot shower has been used by people as a method for hastening the onset of sleep for as long as we’ve had showers. Before that, a hot bath was the sleep aid of choice.
Taking a hot bath or shower shortly before bed really does help bring sleep on sooner. Some people also suggest that it promotes deeper, more restful sleep, although this has yet to be conclusively proven by clinical studies.
While many people intuitively know that a hot bath or shower will reduce sleep latency, few people understand why. It is not because being hot makes you feel tired; it doesn’t.
Quite the opposite in fact.
Human beings feel most tired when they’re cold.
You might feel lethargic or lazy when it’s sweltering and the sun is blazing, but you don’t tend to feel sleepy. Actually, most people struggle to sleep if they’re too hot at night; few people struggle to sleep when they’re cold.
So why does a hot bath or shower make you feel sleepy sooner?
When you submerge into hot water, your body temperature rises. Your body then tries to regulate your temperature with a cooling response. So when you step out of the bath or shower, your core body temperature plummets. This rapid drop in core temperature is what makes you feel sleepy, not the heat!
Taking a hot shower before hitting the hay is a great way to reduce sleep latency and hasten the onset of sleep.