Your daily routine predicts your night sleep
10 Sleep enhancing practices ☽
One third of our lives is dedicated to sleep!
Every major physiological system within the body and every single operation of the brain is enhanced when we sleep and tremendously impaired when we don’t get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation affects cognitive functions (your ability to make good decisions, to learn, memorise, to be creative), weakens your immune system (you get sick easier), deregulates your hormones and your digestive system (weight gain, infertility). Insomnia, the most common sleep disorder, is directly correlated with anxiety and depression. Insomnia and depression feed on each other, and trap you in an obscure lonesome cycle.
On the positive side, treating sleep problems not only helps depression and its symptoms, but also helps all cognitive functions. Sound sleep restores the entire physiology - recalibrating the cardiovascular, hormonal and metabolic systems and refreshing the immune system.
Do you take your sleep seriously?
There are many things you can do during he day to greatly increase your chances to sleep deeper and give your body-mind its daily dose of restoration. Here is a collection of the best ‘sleep hygiene’ practices (according to sleep experts and Ayurveda). Implement some in your routine, and notice how deep is your sleep…
Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
Even on weekends, even if you have had a bad night sleep. Don’t sleep in, wake up early, and get back to bed early (earlier or at the same time) to reset the body clock.
If you sleep in, you won’t feel tired at the appropriate time to fall asleep, and you will fall out of routine (sleeping later, waking up later and so on).
2. Keep it cool
17 degrees celsius can sound too cold for some people, but it’s optimal. Why? Your brain has to drop its core temperature by 2/3 degrees to initiate sleep. It’s actually easier to fall asleep in a room that’s too cold rather than too warm (I was invited to sleep in an old cottage in the bush recently, it was super cold, and super dark and I had the best sleep!)
If it’s cooler, you will get deeper sleep. A valid excuse to sleep nude! But if you are sensitive to cold, use a hot water bottle, or wear socks. It is a good practice to cool down the core of the body, and keep the extremities warm (beanie/ socks), studies have shown that you could get 20 to 30% improvement in deep sleep.
Another way to drop the core temperature of your body is to enjoy a hot bath/ hot shower or if you are fancy, a sauna. Under hot water, all the blood rises to the surface of the body, away from the core of the body, so much so that when you dry off, the body experiences a thermal choc - you use an enormous amount of heat and the body temperature drops considerably.
One of the issues with modernity is constant ambient temperature in homes, hunter and gatherer tribes had it all figured out! They slept with cool air flow in their house, on hard floor, and in perfect symphony with the flow of temperature that occurs during the night as well as the rhythm of the sun, and its light.
3. Join the dark side
Sleep-inducing melatonin is triggered when it’s dark. Melatonin rises with darkness to let the brain know it’s time to sleep! Modernity gets in the way of natural rhythm – think screens, advertising boards, street lights... It is a good practice to lower lights in the evening, turn away from screen lights to fall asleep easily. Lights at night put the brakes on the production of melatonin (the sleep-inducing hormone), and so your brain misses the signal saying: ‘fall asleep’.
A few hours before sleep, dim down the lights in your home, it’s simple but it works! Studies have shown that people would naturally go to bed earlier when taken camping/ sleeping under the stars even if they would habitually go to bed after 11pm.
In the morning, expose yourself to bright light (ideally sunlight!) within 15 minutes of waking up). This stops the production of melatonin, and gets your body and brain going. At lunchtime, take a break in the sun. A walk, a meal outside can help keep the body’s circadian rhythms calibrated. You need about two hours of daily exposure to bright sunlight to keep your body in sync with nature.
Any noise louder than 60 decibels (the equivalent of a normal conversation) will stimulate your nervous system and keep you up. If you can’t quiet the traffic outside or tell the neighbours “shh!”, mask the sounds with a continuous low hum or white noise. If you can bare the discomfort, try ear-plugs. Alternatively, you can also listen to some light classical music — studies showed it can increase the length and depth of sleep by as much as 35 percent. Turn it off when you feel drifting into the land of sleep.
5. Train your brain
If you are in bed, waiting to fall asleep or if you have woken up and can’t fall back asleep, get up and go to another room than your bedroom.
Why? The brain is an incredibly associated device, if you are awoken in bed, the brain will quickly associate the bedroom with a state of awakeness. You condition your brain to expect whatever you do in bed, ie. eating, watching tv… which can make it difficult to fall asleep. The best advice is then to go to another room, with dimmed lights, and read, or listen to soft music (no screens!!) so your brain can re-learn that the bedroom is a place in which you fall asleep and stay asleep.
A healthy sleep routine tricks the brain to understand it’s time to relax and fall asleep.
Ayurveda (Indian ancient holistic medicine) recommends, taking a hot shower/bath, drinking sleep enhancing tea (chamomile, nutmeg, lavender…) and engaging in calming and soothing activities like reading something not too stimulating, listening to music, doing some calming inversions (ie. legs up the wall).
6. Beware of alerting substances!
I know you aren’t going to like that! But coffee and alcohol are great enemies to sound sleep.
Can your cuppa prevent you from sleeping later at night? Actually, it may! Caffeine (a psychoactive stimulant), which by the way is present in black and green teas, and in most soft drinks, blocks another chemical: adenosine. From the moment you wake up, you start to build up adenosine (sleep pressure), the more adenosine, the sleepier you feel. After about 16hrs of being awake, you have built up enough sleep pressure to feel ready to fall and stay asleep. But with caffeine running in the system, it mutes the receptors of adenosine. That means adenosine is still being produced but the brain isn’t aware of the signal – it’s like you receive messages, calls and notifications on your smart phone all day but you don’t get the information because your phone is on flight mode. When you reactivate your phone, all the notifications come up to you, all at once. Similarly, when the effect of caffeine wares off, not only do you go back to the same amount of sleepiness you knew before, but you also get a rush of all the adenosine that had been built up in the background, making you feel drowsy – it’s the so called ‘caffeine crash’.
Caffeine clears out of the body after 6 hrs to only 50% (on average, it varies depending on your genetics). After 12hrs, a quarter of the caffeine is still in your system! Practically, what does that mean? If you enjoy an espresso after lunch (which I consumed religiously when I lived and worked in Paris and strangely had sleep problems!) by the time you go to bed, say midnight, a quarter of the caffeine is still in your system. It’s like having a quarter of a cup of coffee before bed!
Now, some people can have a double espresso after dinner and still crash as soon as they hit the sack. If they can fall asleep easily, they won’t get much deep sleep, which means that they generally wake up feeling sleepy, not refreshed and need coffee to start their day (says Dr Matthew Walker Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab). This is how the vicious cycle of addiction starts.
Also, with repetitive consumption, the liver becomes less effective at filtering caffeine out of the system which makes us more sensitive to the effects. Coffee is delicious, and I too love it! But it can fatigue your nervous system, I would recommend keeping your consumption to one cup in the morning. Consider doing a cleanse to reset, and perhaps reintroduce coffee after, every now and then, as a special treat. check my winter detox here: https://www.maudleger.com/my-inspiration/cleanse
And what about wine? Is it your go-to in the evening to unwind?
Alcohol is widely used as a self-medication to fall asleep. It is a sedative, and sedation isn’t sleep. You fall asleep faster but you go into a state of light unconsciousness which is different to sleep. Alcohol actually fragments sleep, that means you wake and fall back asleep many times during the night. Often, those moments are so short that you aren’t aware of them. You wake up without feeling refresh and don’t remember waking up, so you don’t associate the consumption of alcohol with your state of fatigue, but know that sleep fragmentation is just as bad as no sleep at all.
Alcohol also blocks the REM sleep (or dream sleep) which is critical to restore most brain functions.
7. Swap long naps for quick mindful rests
During the day, sleep pressure (adenosine) is building up in the body. If we sleep for too long, we release too much of that sleep pressure which would then be missing at night when we want to fall asleep and/or to keep us asleep.
Studies have shown that short naps are beneficial – increasing creativity, decision making, restoring the bodily functions. Ayurveda (ancient holistic medicine from India) also recommends to rest, but prefers meditating over day sleeping. When you meditate, or practise yoga nidra (yogic sleep), your brain waves slow down to the same level as when you are in a state of deep sleep, while you remain conscious. That is the most rejuvenating mid-day boost you could give your brain and body.
8. Make your bed!
Upon waking up, make your bed! And clean up any of yesterday’s clothes that might have hit the bedroom floor (you know…it happens). And while you’re at it, why not swiping all the stuff on the bedside table…earrings, loose change, etc. Clutter makes it harder to relax: “You want as little in the bedroom as possible,” says Joyce Walsleben, PhD, an associate professor at New York University’s School of Medicine.
9. Eat light and early
All experts, from ancient holistic medicine practitioners to modern scientists recommend eating your lightest meal in the evening, and 2-3 hours before bedtime. Also, be sure to avoid any food that gives you indigestion. People with chronic heartburn are much more susceptible to insomnia and other sleep disorders, studies show that heartburn is caused by a highly acidic diet (caffeine, onions, deep-fried and spicy foods, alcohol, sugar, processed pasteurised dairy products, industrial foods, meat and fish, sodas and other sweetened beverages, high-protein bars/powders and supplements). To help, try integrating alkalinising foods and drinks in your diet: vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes.
10. Sweat and rest
Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to touch your toes in an evening class and keep up with a strong and fast vinyasa class? Experts consider 5 to 7pm the ideal time to exercise, as your body is then at its optimal physical performance. Moving at night is great but exercising within three hours of bedtime can interfere with your sleep cycle, because it activates the ‘sympathetic nervous system’ and energises you. Make sure to take a long stretch after exercising to calm yourself down and relax your nervous system before bed. Stress is awful for your sleep, and certain types of exercise can produce the stress hormone cortisol (boxing/ HiiT/ weight lifting).
But does sleep really matter anyway?
All it takes is one-hour of lost sleep to have an effect on the general health. A global study, performed twice a year (1.6 billion people across 70 countries), shows the effects of a small perturbation of 1 hour lack/gain of sleep due to day light saving regulations. In Spring (in the north hemisphere), when people lose one hour of sleep it results in a 24% increase in heart attacks. In Autumn however, people gain one hour sleep, and the data shows a significant 21% decrease in heart attacks.
We all need time to decompress after the efforts of the workday. A few things you may want to consider as you unwind: listening to calm melodious music, breathing deeply and lengthening every exhalation, read, practise slow flow, a few deep stretches or whatever it takes to put the stress and frustrations of the day behind you.
Care for your health, care for your sleep.