Who needs sleep anyway?
We are frequently told that a healthy lifestyle is the product of a balanced diet and regular exercise, yet little emphasis is placed upon the importance of sleep. Through the advancement of scientific research, we are realising that evolution was not mistaken in having us fully unconscious for half of the day. Indeed, sleeping is an invaluable activity for human beings, owing to its impacts upon our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. This is easily demonstrated in the absence of sleep, at which point mental health issues surface, emotional irritability increases, and the immune system significantly underperforms. Conversely, adequate sleep is attributed with promoting cardiovascular health, lowering blood pressure and balancing insulin levels. It is then no surprise that the World Health Organisation recommends at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
Avoid counting sheep
With work-related illnesses at an all-time high in the UK (up 7% since 2014-5), 8 hours of sleep a night may seem like a pipe dream; however, there are certain measures that you can take to maximise your chances of getting to sleep. Light exposure (or lack of) is essential to getting a good night’s sleep. The body employs a 24-hour circadian rhythm to regulate its functions such as hormone production, including that of melatonin, the hormone that triggers the sleepy sensation. Exposure to sunlight during the day enables us to stay in tune with this natural rhythm, facilitating the production of melatonin in the evening. Indeed, most experts recommend an hour of sunlight for this purpose. Unfortunately, in an age dominated by technology, we are constantly exposed to screens that emit blue light, mimicking the brightness of the sun and, as a result, inhibiting melatonin. With features such as Apple’s Night Shift, we can limit blue light exposure, although this does not mean that scrolling through your phone is an appropriate bedtime activity! Activities like responding to emails and updating your Instagram stimulate the brain further and keep you awake longer.
Eating and sleep
Eating around bedtime can be detrimental to sleep. The worst offender is the stimulant caffeine, which should be limited to no later than the early afternoon in order to ensure that the effects have worn off before bedtime. Otherwise, experts seem to agree that eating too close to bedtime is counterproductive. A study by Harvard Medical School demonstrated a correlation between consuming calories later in the day (around the time that the body starts to produce melatonin) and a higher body weight. It can equally aggravate indigestion and acid reflux. Taking one of our ZZZZs nootropic sleep supplements before bed can help. It contains 5-HTP, a precursor to create serotonin, the neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. In turn, this aids the production of melatonin, helping us to feel tired in the evenings. It also contains the minerals Magnesium and Zinc, both of which are proven to promote deeper, higher quality sleep, as well as calming amino acid to help relaxation and improve sleep quality.
The environment in which you sleep is equally important. Just as darkness can trigger sleepiness, so too can bedtime routines. It is widely understood that your bedroom should only be treated as a space to relax so that, no matter what has happened during the day, your body will start to unwind upon entering. It should also be dark, so as to not interfere with the circadian rhythm. If blackout blinds are not immediately available, look to invest in thicker curtains or a sleep mask to help you drift off. Furthermore, experts suggest sleeping in an environment of 18-22 degrees. In the absence of movement, the body reaches its lowest temperature during the night, so temperatures outside of this range may have you tossing and turning. Finally, weighted blankets are growing in popularity and, although no independent studies have been conducted, a study organised by one of the manufacturers demonstrated a 63% reduction of anxiety in mental health patients over a two-week period. The weight of the blanket enables sleepers to feel more secure and to sleep restfully.
It seems that you can do everything from early morning yoga to adding spirulina to your smoothies but, if you are not getting enough sleep, it will hardly matter. Sleeping is an investment in yourself, with guaranteed returns, so indulge in that 10 pm bedtime or that late start. Your boss will no doubt understand – after all, this is your health and performance that we are talking about here.