Even though people are sleeping less nowadays, we spend a third of our lives asleep! But how can we maximise our sleep and get the most out of that huge portion of our lives?
Lack of sleep leaves you tired, unable to concentrate, decreases your mood and increases your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Too much sleep can lead to similar results. A good amount of quality sleep every night, on the other hand, will heighten your athletic performance and coordination, lower stress and increase memory and attention. This is why sleep is one of our core pillars of wellbeing, along with eating, relaxing and moving.
It's time to prioritise our sleep and personalise our bedtime experience. Designer sleep will bring you joy - and we're all about that here at yulife.
What we talk about when we talk about sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the circadian rhythm is "a natural, internal system that's designed to regulate feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24-hour period", or, in other words, our body clock. It responds heavily to light, which is why we tend to get sleepier when it's dark.
The circadian rhythm works cyclically, and most people feel the strongest need to sleep between 2:00-4:00am and then again between 13:00-15:00, so there's an excuse for that 'afternoon slump' you're feeling!
The circadian rhythm doesn't only change from person to person, but also changes with time. That's why babies, children and teenagers need more sleep than adults, and adults need more sleep than the elderly.
The 8-hour myth
If the circadian rhythm is completely individual, how is it possible that everyone needs 8 hours of sleep every night? The simple answer is: they don't.
The more complicated answer is that most healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night, but some people can be satisfied with 6 - there's no one-size-fits-all answer. There are so many variables that affect how much sleep you need, so the best way to actually figure out the optimal amount of sleep for you is to conduct a little experiment.
How you feel after 6, 7, 8 or 9 hours of sleep is a great indication of how much sleep you require. If you're struggling to quantify how you feel after your sleep, you can think about: How productive are you the next day? What is your mood the next day? Do you depend on stimulants like coffee or energy drinks to keep you up throughout the day?
The amount of sleep you need can be divided into two: the basal sleep need, which is how much sleep you should get on a regular basis; and your sleep debts, which is the accumulated lost sleep you have. Sleep loss from 14 days of restricted sleep is the equivalent of two days of allnighters - so it's important to make up for lost sleep before you start your experiment.
Quality over quantity
Sleep is not just about the length of your night's sleep - it's also about the quality of it. Quality of sleep refers to the depth of your sleep and its continuity. It's impacted by the atmosphere around you when you sleep, by your mental state, and also by lifestyle factors such as caffeine, alcohol and exercise. In order to truly make the most of your sleep and create your own designer sleeping routine, we've gathered here the best tips and tricks to try, so you can pick and choose what works for you.
1. Stick to a sleep schedule - even on weekends
When it comes to deciding your bedtime, listen to your body. It knows best when it needs to sleep and when it needs to wake. But making sure you follow that routine even on the weekends will allow your body to get used to a sleep schedule, which will help you make the most out of your sleep. Sleeping in one day or staying up another could disturb your circadian rhythm and hurt your sleeping patterns.
2. Let go of screens before bed
Even though 90% of Americans do it, using technological devices during the hour before you go to sleep can really hurt you. The use of screens before bed delays your circadian rhythm, damages your body's ability to secrete melatonin (a sleep-inducing hormone), makes it more difficult to fall asleep and reduces the amount of REM sleep you get. If you have to, turn on night shift mode on your device to reduce blue light.
3. Stay away from bright lights
Speaking of blue light… Bright light, and particularly blue light, suppresses melatonin secretion. Try to change your regular night light to dim red lights, and if you're really struggling to fall asleep you can always consider using blackout blinds. That being said, try to expose yourself to as much bright light as possible during waking hours - that will help your body realise it's awake.
4. Reserve your bed for sleep
By only using your bed for sleep - not for eating, watching telly, or writing up work emails - getting into bed will instinctively make you sleepy. We know it's not always the most practical solution, especially if you live in a small flat or in a flatshare, but you can always try to limit some of the activities or the times you do them.
5. Keep it quiet
The first step to ensure your sleep is interrupted is to keep your bedroom as quiet as possible. If you live in a particularly noisy neighbourhood, consider investing in a white noise machine (or use a white noise app) - white noise helps your brain block out other background noises by making it focus on one vague sound. This can help you fall asleep as well as improve your sleep quality.
6. Set the scene with the ideal temperature
The ideal room for sleep will be dark and quiet, but also cool. Get your room to a nice, cold (but not too cold!) temperature and get cosy under your duvet - that will make your sleep much more efficient.
7. Avoid alcohol and caffeine
Relax, we aren't saying you shouldn't be drinking at all (but if you can, that'll be great). It's okay to drink caffeine and alcohol in moderation, just try to avoid doing so too close to bedtime. A good rule of thumb regarding caffeine is to have your last cup before midday - that way you know it will have left your system by the time you go to bed. And as to alcohol, it may help you fall asleep, but it was found to reduce REM sleep during the night - so your quality of sleep will actually be hurt by it.
8. Get as cosy as you can
Sleep is all about comfort. Mattress, duvets and pillows should be as hard or soft as you like, but don't stop there. Take a look at your bedding - we suggest a high thread count or linen sheets. When it comes to duvets, wool-based products might help as they naturally regulate body temperature (ask any sheep!). The bottom line is to use anything that will make you as comfortable as you can be.
9. Exercise during the day
People sleep significantly better if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. So working out will not only help your mental and physical health, but also your sleep! However, be careful not to exercise too close to bedtime as, for some people, this may actually interfere with sleep.
10. Create a bedtime routine
A soothing routine before bed can prepare you for sleep, help you fall asleep more easily and increase your quality of sleep. It's your choice what to do: some of our suggestions include a nice hot bath, meditating, reading, listening to relaxing music or all of the above. You can also incorporate some essential oils or relaxing scents like chamomile or lavender - we love us a pillow spray!
11. Go for a morning walk when you wake up
We've already established that both exercise and bright lights during the day can help your sleep, so why not combine the two? Taking a stroll in the morning will wake you up with natural sunlight which will help your circadian rhythm. Just make sure you resist the temptation to wear sunglasses - you want to be able to completely absorb the natural light.
12. Keep a sleep diary
We suggest doing this for at least a couple of weeks to find your ground and learn what works for you, but some people find this routine very helpful to their overall wellbeing. You can use a bullet journal or your own format to track your mood, sleep and any other lifestyle factors that may affect your wellbeing - or just use this nifty tracker from the National Sleep Foundation.