I actually started writing this whilst on holiday in Spain, the country that put the afternoon siesta on the map. And it’s now almost the end of September. That’s how long it’s taken to get this blog post written. But that’s by the by… you didn’t need to know that. But, it kind of explains my current obsession with taking a nap during the day. And admittedly, holiday mode is totally different to being back at home in London, which, if you’re anything like me, your days are literally defined by alarm clock notifications, time segments, appointments for which you can’t be late, other people’s appointments if you’re driving them there, school timetables… you get the picture.
But what if, like me, you know you don’t get enough shut-eye on a daily (nightly) basis. I know for me, anything between seven and a half to eight hours sleep a night is my ideal; I function better, I feel like my best self and I’m not literally lurching from one day to the next until I get to the weekend lie-in.
In an ideal world, even in London in my very busy life as a working mother of three children, if I could fit in an afternoon nap I know I’d feel so much better. But when do you make your own health your priority? I’m as guilty as the next person for always pushing it to the back of the list of things I must do. So this blog post is as much a reminder to me of why I need to make sleep a priority as it is a little checklist of reasons for you.
REASONS WHY YOUR SLEEP NEEDS TO BE A PRIORITY
Mental Health – it’s not really rocket science, is it? We all know that when we’ve had a good night’s sleep, we feel on top of the world, our energy levels are high, our thoughts are clearer and we feel able to take on anything the day throws at us. It’s whilst we sleep that our brain is able to form new neural pathways to help you deal with and remember new information. Sufficient sleep is vital for learning – whether it’s academic schoolwork or learning how to look after newborn baby, sleep enhances your learning and problem-solving skills. Conversely, sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, suicide and poor decision making and risk-taking behaviour. So getting enough sleep is vital for
- staying mentally alert and strong
- boosting creativity
- feeling more positive and a brighter mood overall
- improvement in our memory function
Physical Health – of course, the physical benefits are just as important too. Sleep is when the body has a chance to heal, repair and reset, cell growth and turnover can happen. Not only is your body working to support a healthy brain function, it’s also working hard to maintain your physical health. Consistent lack of sleep has been shown to lead to chronic health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, strokes and even diabetes. There are proven links between insomnia and obesity; one study of teenagers showed that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese rose and this is true in other age groups too. Sleep also affects your hormones that control your hunger pangs (ghrelin and leptin); I know in my case, I make bad food decisions when I’ve not had enough sleep. But perhaps worst of all, lack of sleep can really adversely affect your immune system, which of course, can have huge knock-on effects on your physical health.
MY TOP 5 TIPS & TRICKS
Black-Out Curtains – the easiest thing to do is to put up black-out curtains in the bedrooms, perhaps not so important in the Autumn and Winter here in the UK when the days are shorter and the evenings and nights are longer, but certainly in the summer months. Gone are the days when we could rely purely on our circadian rhythms for our sleep patterns. We had blackout curtains made when we first furnsihed our house, but it’s easy enough to just hang a pair of blackout curtains behind your exiting ones, such as these: LINK
Weighted Blanket – I’ve recently discovered the utter joy of the weighted blanket (LINK) and I’ve converted my husband to this too. Not only does it help me to fall asleep faster, it also keeps me in a more relaxed sleep throughout the night. It takes some getting used to, especially if you’re the kind of person that doesn’t like a heavy duvet or blanket, but the difference it’s made to me is unmeasurable. You can find the one I have here: LINK
Tryptophan / Valerian – I never underestimate the difference eating and ingesting the right things can make to my health and overall wellbeing, and sleep is definitely included in this. If I’m not doing my 16/8 intermittent fasting, I’ll have a banana and a few almonds just before bedtime – both natural sources of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that increases serotonin, a precursor to melatonin, both neuro-transmitters in your brain’s pineal gland that are essential when falling asleep. Valerian is a root extract that is sometimes referred to as ‘nature’s valium’ and studies have shown that it helps reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and helps towards a better quality of sleep. I’ve tried the capsules and can honestly say it is quite possibly the most disgusting thing I’ve ever tried in my life. But I’ve recently discovered Sleep Well, a milk flavoured drink with a small amount of valerian which actually tastes delicious and works so well – problem solved.
Sleepytime App – In my search for wanting to know how much sleep is enough sleep, I discovered this handy little app that has changed the way I prioritise my sleep patterns. I know what time I have to get up to start my (and my children’s) day, so I work backwards, using the clever app that utilises sleep cycles, to set my bedtime and it’s made a world of difference to my feeling of well-being on a daily basis. You can find the app HERE
Last but not least… what if you just didn’t get enough sleep at night? Well, if you’re lucky enough to find a quick 20-minute window in which you can close your eyes and take a short nap, experts suggest having a quick cup of coffee just before, then closing your eyes for twenty minutes. It takes about 20 minutes for the caffeine to kick in, so you’ve also managed to fit in a quick nap too, you’ll benefit from the double-whammy of a little sleep and a caffeine boost – which might be just enough to get through to the day till you go to bed that night. Try it and let me know if it works for you – it’s never worked for me, but that’s because I just can’t sleep in the day unless I’m sick.
What about you? Any tips or tricks you can share on getting better or more sleep? Share in the comments below.