Is a good night’s sleep frustratingly elusive?
We feel your pain – and offer some reliable improvements you can make to your sleep schedule.
Insomnia afflicts up to one in every three adults in the US, and lack of sleep reportedly costs the workforce over $400 billion in lost productivity annually, according to Fortune Magazine. If you find yourself struggling to get to sleep at night, and battle to stay awake at work during the day – join the club. According to the American Sleep Association, nearly 40% of people surveyed reported falling asleep unintentionally during the day in the last month.
Achieving a consistently good night’s sleep may not be as simple as counting sheep, but it doesn’t have to involve dramatic life changes either. Here are some easy tweaks you can incorporate into your existing schedule to ensure a better night’s rest.
It’s tempting to get comfy in bed with an indulgent Terrace House marathon, but the blue light emitted from these your screen can increase alertness and reset the body’s internal clock (or circadian rhythm) to a later schedule. Put away all smartphones, laptops and TVs at least one hour before bedtime to allow your body time to start producing melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone responsible for winding down your body for sleep.
The lights are off, the air-con is thrumming, and you’re all tucked in nice and cosy – and your mind is absolutely whirring. If you find yourself plagued by thoughts of impending meetings and worrying about looming deadlines, instructing yourself to block out these thoughts is not going to help. To organise your mental clutter and provide a game plan for your busy day, why not make a to-do list? You’ll feel better once it’s out of your head, and knowing you’re not forgetting anything important – after all, you can finesse it all again in the morning when you’re feeling refreshed, and feel like you’re getting a head start.
Our natural circadian rhythms are very much linked to our external environment, and are very responsive especially to light and dark as cues to signal when it’s time to rest and be wakeful. In an urban landscape like Singapore, light and sound are constantly being emitted from multiple sources like traffic, road lights, and even your electronic devices on standby mode. Blackout curtains are a good option, or for something even more lightweight, try a sleep mask and comfy ear plugs – they’re also great for signifying to the mind that it’s time to put away on distractions and solely focus on the luxury of sleep.
Deep breathing is a pretty miraculous healing exercise – it can help reduce anxiety, induce a parasympathetic response in your body which relaxes it, and most of all, it’s free and easy to practise anywhere, most of all, in bed. The 4-7-8 breathing method is a simple procedure that requires you to breathe in for 4 counts, hold your breath for 7, and exhale slowly for 8. Even if it doesn’t tip you off into the realm of sleep in a matter of minutes, it can help do wonders for relaxing your body and calming your mind and spirit.
We’re all susceptible to the multi-snooze button morning, and know that we end up feeling even more groggy and unrested when we finally do rouse ourselves. That’s because disrupted REM sleep caught between snooze intervals in not high-quality sleep, and drifting off back into this sleep again and again can create what sleep experts call “sleep inertia”, which causes that familiar feeling of drowsiness that can last for hours after you wake.
I know this can sound counterintuitive, especially when you think weekends are for sleeping in and making up your sleep debt. In reality, sleeping in actually makes it more difficult for you to fall asleep the next night. Here’s how it works: A fixed wake time helps build a stronger desire for sleep through wakefulness, and reinforces a more predictable circadian rhythm. If you introduce a change in the pattern by sleeping in two hours, for example, on a Sunday morning, it’s like trying to go to bed two hours early that night, and can make it more difficult for your body and mind to fall and stay asleep.
By the same token, your circadian rhythm becomes more strongly anchored in a predictable pattern, making it easier for you to fall asleep, stay asleep, and wake up feeling refreshed. Exposure to sunlight upon waking up, even if just for 15 minutes, can really help to reinforce this rhythm and enhance wakefulness in the morning, allowing for better sleep at night. So be sure to throw open those curtains, pull up the blinds, flood the room with as much natural light as possible from the get-go. Eating a substantial breakfast every morning will also keep your body clock on schedule – by contrast, large meals should be avoided at night when it’s time to power down.
By Pearlyn Quan, February 2020
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