Think for a moment and ask yourself if you sleep enough. Do you wake up on your own or do you need an alarm clock? Do you feel refreshed in the morning or do you need a cup of coffee/tea to wake you up?
Modern science has shown that sleep is the most important factor in our physical and mental wellbeing. More than exercise, diet, and wealth!
Sleep is our evolutionary heritage. We sleep in service of our brain and an endless list of body functions - is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day. There is no “sleeping pill” that can substitute natural sleep – it is free, yours to “pick up & repeat prescription” every twenty-four hours. The World Health Organisation recommends an average of 8 hours of sleep per night, and yet two-thirds of adults in developed countries fail to obtain it!
The statements presented below come straight from the first few pages of the book “Why we sleep” written by Matthew Walker – a British neuroscientist:
Habitually sleeping less than 6-7 hours a night demolishes our immune system
Double the risk of cancer!
Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop Alzheimer’s disease
It disrupts blood sugar levels and leads to the pre-diabetic stage
Increases the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases – such as stroke or heart failure
Contributes to mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, or suicide
Too little sleep makes you feel hungry, by suppressing hormones signalling food satisfaction!
There are more car accidents caused by drowsy driving (with not sufficient sleep) than by alcohol-driving
The whole book is worth reading – full of clear and convincing explanations (backed up by solid scientific research results). After reading it, you will never think of your bedtime in the same way again.
How to improve your sleep? - you might ask.
During the Foundation of Yoga Therapy course I am taking at the moment, we talked about some general guidelines and practical recommendations on how to help sleep better. There isn't one magic solution, usually, we have to consider various, smaller and bigger, lifestyle changes.
First of all, try to understand your sleep-wake cycle, by asking yourself a couple of questions - When do you begin to feel tired in the evening? When do you go to bed? How long does it take you to fall asleep? Do you wake up in the middle of the night? How often? When do you wake up in the morning? How do you feel? Compare those days when you felt good or not so good, and see what was different.
Close to sleeping time, consider avoiding these: caffeine, alcohol, heavy meals, exercise, bright and blue light, digital gadgets (screens). During the day: avoid long naps (longer than 20 min), and do not nap at least 8 hours before bedtime.
Consider adopting these: relaxation practices throughout the day and close to sleeping time, regular exercise, but at least 1.5-2 hours before sleeping, a warm shower 1-2 hours before bedtime, listening to relaxing music, and aromatherapy (e.g., lavender oil).
Modify your sleeping environment: use the bedroom only for sleep and intimacy, choose comfortable bedding: mattress, pillows, and sheets, keep the bedroom environment quiet with comfortable, and reduce light, especially blue light illumination, in the bedroom.
If you are awake in bed: consider leaving the bed if you’re awake for more than 20 minutes, put down your worries or thoughts that are keeping you awake in writing, so that they will be dealt with later, try doing some simple pranayama: square breath or Nadishodhana, you could also do some soft mantra meditation or simply soft humming.
Remember that sleeping pills do not induce physiological sleep. They only
make you less conscious or sedated, the same as alcohol. So, you don’t get the full benefits of deep sleep and you won’t feel refreshed the next day.