7 Days to Defend your Sleep
MARCH 10, 2021
By Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, Sleep and Energy Expert
Let me start off saying that our bodies are amazing. I am a neurophysiologist and have spent over 25 years studying the body and mind and how we can optimise our health and energy levels in order to live more fulfilling lives. Intrinsically linked to this is how we sleep. Sleep offers us so much; it gives our body the chance to repair and rejuvenate and our mind the chance to clear out the rubbish and file away events of the day. When we dream we are given a golden opportunity to manage and explore our emotions and feelings. The ability to sleep resides in our DNA, without sleep we cannot function and would long ago have become extinct. So, what is going wrong in the sleep habits of all those who struggle with sleep apnea, or waking in the middle of the night, or other problems staying asleep? Why is it that so many people battle drowsiness all day and then once the bedtime hour comes around our internal clocks tell us to suddenly feel wide awake?
A number of factors can affect our sleep and our ability to sleep better, and these are all mainly due to the overwhelming ‘go, go, go’ pace of society that we live in today, we need to defend our wellness against our overwhelming lifestyles. After all, the way we sleep is a reflection of how we live and our daily moment by moment choices. Being out of sync with the natural world and pushing our bodies and minds beyond their daily limits can also have a huge impact on our wellbeing and physical health. So, what is the answer? How can we retune ourselves for the deep, velvety, nourishing sleep that our bodies need and combat sleep deprivation? This deep sleep is really what will help us feel refreshed and rejuvenated and enable our bodies and minds to be totally prepared for the next day. In Sanskrit or Hindi this is called ‘sattvic’, which means pure. Sattvic sleep holds the key to healing potential and vibrant energy; it is not the junk sleep many of us are used to getting – sleep that is muddied by the noise and stimulation of the day – it is clear, pure, deep, restorative and rejuvenating. Sattvic sleep is so rejuvenating because it allows our bodies to heal and repair and our minds to reset and refresh. As nature intended.
Every night we go through phases of sleep where we first go from consciousness to being asleep. Firstly, we enter light sleep, before cycling through to deep sleep. Then we enter a 10-15minute phase of REM sleep, which is when we dream. This is usually experienced around 90 minutes after falling asleep. We then cycle through the sleep stages throughout the night, but it is the deep, restful sleep or Sattvic sleep that is really what we need to defend our wellness and mental health.
We have evolved whereby that first hit of sleep before midnight – the 90-minute phase before midnight – is the most powerful phase of deep sleep. If we are repeatedly missing out on his phase on our sleep schedule, it will have an impact on our wellbeing and result in poor sleep overall. Being in bed earlier and riding the wave of our natural sleep pattern will improve cognitive impairment, it will help repair and nourish every organ system in the body; and it is anti-ageing. Focus on a bedtime routine that helps you shutdown at the end of the day with differing relaxation techniques.
We spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping and this amazing process profoundly influences our energy levels. However, we need to nourish our energy in other ways too: we need to stay hydrated, eat healthily and enjoy regular exercise, as well as nurturing our relationships and keeping our minds creative and stimulated in healthy ways. And in these technologically driven times we must regularly reconnect with nature, get outside and enjoy the fresh air and natural light, sometimes all it takes is stopping and noticing these small things to reset and refresh.
Remember we also need to allow ourselves the chance to rest and recover throughout the day, taking regular breaks from whatever we are working on – particularly screen work - roughly every 90-120 minutes. By doing this we can align ourselves with our Ultradian rhythm, the natural rhythm of our physiological cycle – which are oscillatory not linear – giving ourselves a fighting chance of feeling well and energised and then sleeping well at night. Find ways to take breaks or even take a napping break to better help your wellness.
So, how do you answer the simple statement, how to sleep better? My answer to better (and deeper) sleep is a simple process of starting by applying my 5 non-negotiables:
- Don't skip breakfast
Not only is the 'most important meal of the day' vital for energy and concentration, but breakfast can affect your sleep too. I recommend eating within the first half-hour of rising, so you can stabilise your blood sugar levels. Stabilising your blood sugar enhances your body's ability to produce the hormone melatonin, which is needed for sleep, later in the day.
- Cut back on caffeine
You might feel like a cup of coffee is exactly what you need to keep you awake and alert after a bad night's sleep, but relying on caffeine can become a viscous circle, keeping you awake later at night.. Cutting back on caffeine can hugely enhance your sleep and help you sleep deeply. Ideally, you should avoid caffeine after 4pm. As well as coffee, it is advisable to avoid tea, fizzy drinks such as Coca-Cola, and even green tea too. Everyone's caffeine metabolism is different; however, the effects can linger for a long time in the body.
- Stay well hydrated
Another non-negotiable is drinking more water and making sure you're staying hydrated. Not only do you lose water throughout the night but being well hydrated can help reduce awakenings and disruptions caused by dehydration, such as a dry mouth and leg cramps. If you often forget to stay hydrated, set alarms evenly throughout your day, and drink a cup of water whenever they ring. This is extremely important to make sure your amount of sleep is adequate.
- Go to bed early
You should try and go to bed early about three or four nights a week. This is about training your body to receive rest earlier. It might be tempting to stay up and watch that extra episode on Netflix, but this can throw your sleep pattern completely out of whack. Three of four nights a week, you should aim to be in bed between 9:30 and 10pm. You don't necessarily have to be sleeping but resting or doing something that is restful such as a warm bath, reading a book (not on your phone! The bright light and light exposure causes more sleep problems), listening to soothing music, meditating, or writing a gratitude journal. You can even focus on deep breathing to slowly start preparing your body for sleep.
- Set healthy technology boundaries
The fifth non-negotiable is about having healthy boundaries with technology. This means leaving electronics out of the bedroom. Late bedtimes are often related to technology and social media, with people staying up absorbed by the internet or the television. The blue light from devices also impacts the sleep cycle. Ideally, your phone should not be the last or first thing you look at before your turn your light out or first thing when you wake up.
Just 7 days of using my 5 non-negotiables can produce dramatic results in the quality of sleep and energy levels , however for those who need a gentle nudge to drift off to sleep or have trouble with a sleep disorder, there are many herbal and natural plant-based sleep aids, that can be introduced alongside these non-negotiables.
I am a great believer in using herbal supplements such as CBD for sleep and other wellbeing issues rather than reaching for prescription medications which can become addictive and, in the long term, ineffective. I have personally enjoyed using the Healist calm chews and have found them to be really effective. Natural products, like Healist Naturals which use 100% natural blends that work with our bodies to restore balance, can enable a busy brain to switch off and support our bodies in promoting a healthy sleep cycle, defending our wellness and finding relief and solace from our busy ‘always on’ lifestyles in a proper sleep environment.
Dr Nerina Ramlakhan is a renowned physiologist and sleep expert and regularly hosts sleep programmes and workshops. She is the bestselling author of several books about sleep, including The Little Book of Sleep: The Art of Natural Sleep (Gaia, 2018).