Pillar of health

Most of us aren’t strangers to the notion that even one night of sleep deprivation can affect our attention, working memory, emotions as well as learning the very next day.

If you consistently wake up refreshed, ready to tackle the day all the way through to bedtime then you can stop reading and do something more productive as likely you already have a healthy sleep routine, but if you are like nearly 30% of population who struggle with sleep quality, this 5 min read might be all you need to TLC your sleep routine.

Some facts on sleep

But first let’s briefly touch on what happens while we sleep and why it is so important:

  • The brain processes all our learnings and consolidates them into our memory and primes our neurons for problem solving and decision making
  • Your cells and neurons carry important housekeeping activities like removing free
    radicals and metabolic waste products produced during the day
  • Several detoxification activities take place all over your body but specially in your lymphatic system and your gut, with your liver working harder between 1-3 am to deactivate of toxins and hormones
  • Important repair activities take place like muscle repair, protein synthesis for the building blocks of hormones, enzymes and your defenses
  • Your nervous system goes into parasympathetic state so it can provide a measured response and stay resilient to life’s inevitable stresses
  • And the list goes on…

The amount of sleep one should get varies, but studies show an average of 7-8 hrs. is optimal while anything lower or higher predicting shorter lifespan (and I’d argue health span too) (Siegel, 2022). But the number of hours is only one angle, the time we go to sleep also matters as well as the time you spend in each sleep stage.

From wakefulness to sleep there are two things that need to happen: Your cortisol (stress hormone) levels need

to start dropping (cue start engaging your parasympathetic nervous system) and your melatonin levels to start rising (cue dimmer the lights and avoid blue harsh lights). The graph shows what your body is primed to do for efficient sleep (Hickie, et al., 2013).

Deep sleep is achieved at the rise and during peak of the melatonin load (blue line above) and the ideal timing for that is between 10 pm and 2 am. After this time, we go into a mix of light and REM sleep which also have important functions but they act as consecutive naps. This is why is important to go to bed around 10 pm in order to ride the melatonin wave and rip the benefits for brain and overall health, and lest not forget melatonin is possibly the most potent antioxidant our body produces so it is in your best interest to support your body produce healthy amounts of it. This is what a typical night sleep can look like:

Most of you might be familiar with the 3 different sleep stages: REM, Deep sleep, Light sleep. Most of the housekeeping activities in our brains for example happen during Deep sleep, this is why sometimes we may sleep well over 8 hrs. but not feel refreshed if we didn’t achieve deep sleep (inefficient sleep) or sleep 6 hrs. but get sufficient deep sleep so we feel switched on and energetic. So the point here is that timing is key and time in the stages as well.

Now all this theory is hopefully enough to convince the most skeptical that sleep is super important for our health, mood, performance and longevity, so here are a few tips on how to achieve deep and restful sleep that allows you to enjoy life to the fullest.

Note: If you suffer from a sleeping disorder like sleep apnea or any other health condition, always consult a healthcare practitioner.

An ideal sleep routine

Good sleep starts from the moment you wake up:

On rising

  • Get exposure to natural light first thing, if possible, watch the sunrise (not through a window). If you have access to a garden, spend some time there barefoot
  • Drink some lemon water or water with electrolytes, remember your cells and neurons were busy with all the housekeeping so will welcome the hydration, this will also wake up your digestive system.

During the day

  • Aim for 30-60 mins per day of light/moderate activity outdoors (walking counts and is highly recommended!)
  • Ventilate your house and bedroom even in winter time, good quality air will support your sleeping cycle
  • Stop caffeine intake before 3 pm as it has a half-life of approximately 5 hours i.e. if you have a coffee at 4 half the caffeine will be in your body by 9 pm antagonising melatonin
  • Have your last meal at least 3 hrs before bedtime
  • Avoid napping or restrict to 30 mins if needed
  • Avoid using your bedroom other than for sleep & sex
  • Avoid alcohol as it can affect your sleep/wake cycle at night (but if you have to alcohol during the day is better than at night, I’ll forget I said this)

2 hours before bedtime

  • Switch off electronic devices that emit blue light. If not feasible, you can wear blue light blocking glasses or next time you get your eyes testes ask for blue blocking glasses at the optician.
  • Dim the lights or use red spectrum lights as it can help with melatonin production (red light also helps with cellular health so double win!)
  • Enjoy a relaxing activity like listening to soft music, mediation, reading, journaling, gratitude; this will help you get into the right mood for sleep

Bedtime – ideal 9-11 pm

  • Ensure the bedroom is dark and cool, room temperatures between 16 to 18C are ideal for sleep
  • Practise a 4-7-8 breathing exercise while in bed to ease you into sleep. Here is a video if you haven’t heard/practiced it yet.
  • Drink a bedtime tea like holy basil (tulsi), chamomile, lavender or lemon balm. They work and bring a whole host of other benefits.
  • My favourite is to have an Epsom salt bath for 20 mins, 30 mins before my desired bedtime. 2-3 cups of salts will get you into the slumber mood
  • Some supplements could be used (Ashwagandha, Magnesium Citrate or Glycinate, L-theanine), but is best to consult with a healthcare practitioner before starting.
  • Get into bed only when you feel sleepy, if unable to fall asleep within 20 mins step outside the bedroom and do some reading, light stretching, listen to soft music but at all costs DO NOT start scrolling your phone, remember blue light?

This list is not exhaustive and also does not mean you need to do all of the above to get a good night sleep, everyone will be individual and should work with what suits them and what is achievable.

Also, there will be days that due to many reasons you wont be able to achieve a restful sleep; those days remember to be extra kind to yourself, do not skip meals (that is not the day for fasting or beating your PB) and aim to eat as many nutrient dense foods as possible, especially vegetables, good quality protein and omega 3s.

If you are struggling with sleep and have any questions don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I’ll aim to reply to as many of you as feasible (outside core hours).

In good health,

Alexandra R.

Other resources

References

  • Acosta, M., 2019. Sueño, memoria y aprendizaje [Sleep, memory and learning].. Medicina, 79(3), pp. 9-32.
  • Hickie, I., Naismith, S., Robillard, R. & Scott, E., 2013. Manipulating the sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythms to improve clinical management of major depression. BMC Med, 11(79).
  • Krause, A., Simon, E. & Mander, B., 2017. The sleep-deprived human brain. Nat Rev Neurosci, 18(7).
  • Siegel, J., 2022. Sleep function: an evolutionary perspective. Lancet Neurology.
  • Tordjman, S., Chokron, S., Delorme, R. & Charrier, A., 2017. Melatonin: Pharmacology, Functions and Therapeutic Benefits. Curr Neuropharmacol.