Sleep is so important in every aspect of our lives and research is increasingly proving this. We need to ensure that we have sleep which is, where possible, uninterrupted by external noises, movements or conditions and get “enough” of it every night.
How much is enough, I hear you ask. The scientific evidence seems to be vary to an extent, but it’s generally recognised that an average adult should probably be having between 7 and 9 hours. Contrary to what you might think, this decreases as we get older and elderly people can often need up to two fewer hours sleep per night.
For the vast majority of your life though, 7 to 9 hours seems about the right amount.
However much sleep you’re getting, it’s important that the quality of the sleep is good, as it’s no use having 9 hours sleep if you wake up 50 times each night. And we live in a society now with more and more distractions and less time devoted to sleep, so sleep hygiene is more important then ever.
Here are some ways to ensure the best possible sleep:
1. Eat one or two kiwifruit an hour before bed
This probably sounds like a weird place to start with improving sleep hygiene, but studies have proven that this really does work and can drastically improve the depth of your sleep. This study, in particular, had fairly amazing results. After 4 weeks of kiwifruit consumption, each of the parameters tested (such as time taken to get to sleep and waking time after sleep onset) improved dramatically.
It’s believed that the high level of antioxidants in kiwifruit plays in part in why it’s so good for sleep, but the main reason is likely the high serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical which is proven to help control the sleep cycle and can promote wakefulness in the morning, as well as deep and relaxing sleep at night.
From a purely anecdotal perspective, I’ve been having at least one kiwifruit an hour or so before bed every night for over a year now and can say that it has definitely improved my sleep. Whenever i have kiwifruit before bed, I sleep through the night and wake up feeling much more refreshed than I otherwise would.
Give it a go and see if it helps you.
2. Don’t use any screens for an hour before bed
Evidence is mounting against smart phones, tablets, smart watches etc. regarding the negative impact they have on sleep quality and quantity.
The blue light that these screens emit affects our circadian rythyms by confusing our body when it’s trying desperately to get us to sleep. This light tells the brain that it’s not, in fact, time to sleep, which obviously means it then takes a lot longer to get to sleep. A study at the University of Haifa in Israel found that sleep duration was decreased by an average of 16 minutes after only light levels of blue light.
The study also found, among other things, that exposure to blue light stopped the body from achieving its natural temperature changes during the sleep cycle, “unnoticed” awakenings (basically where the participants woke up without being consciously aware of it, which generally happens to everybody every night) increased from 4.5 times, to 7.6 times with blue light exposure before bed.
Long story short, blue light exposure before bed is very bad and should be avoided for at least an hour before sleeping. Sorry, but that means no laptops, no tablets and no scrolling endlessly through Instagram and Facebook on your mobile.
3. Avoid hot showers before bed
If you’re anything like my partner, you might find this one tough. She loves scalding hot showers and will even have a fairly hot shower in summer.
This is terrible for your sleeping though.
Your body wants to cool down before bed, as this produces melatonin, the chemical that induces sleep. If your body isn’t able to cool down before bed, you’ll probably find that you have a restless sleep and/or have trouble getting to sleep.
You’ve probably noticed this if you’ve ever exercised later at night. I’ve had indoor soccer games that started at 10:00pm and didn’t finish until close to 11:00pm. By the time I got home and showered, it would be closer to midnight. And good luck getting to sleep quickly when your body’s running at a thousand degrees!
The good thing is there’s a relatively easy solution to this. A cool shower before bed works wonders in cooling your body down and allowing it to start producing melatonin. If you can’t stomach a cool or cold shower at night though, at least end the shower with 30 seconds to a minute of cool water.
However, it’s important to note that cold showers can have the opposite effect if you have them too close to bedtime. You should only have a cold shower at least 30 minutes before bedtime. The idea is to cool the body down so that it starts producing more melatonin, rather than shocking your body into sleep.
There are other benefits of cold showers, one of which can be reduced incidence of illness, as this study shows. All in all, cold showers are fairly widely recognised to have a positive impact on your general health.
The most important thing to take from this is essentially that hot showers are bad for sleep and it’s a safer bet to have a cooler shower an hour or 30 minutes before bed if you want to promote deep sleep.
4. Meditiation and hypnosis helps with sleep
Again, I’m a prime example of this, and I’ll try not to be too preachy, but I think telling you my experience is the best way to explain just how great hypnosis is.
I’ve both meditated and experienced sleep hypnosis and can say that these have had the single greatest impact on my sleep.
A technique called Time Line Therapy® was used and, within 5 minutes, my horrendous sleeping issues had been solved.
I even get goosebumps thinking about it now and, needless to say, I became a pretty strong believer in hypnosis after that! It’s what encouraged me to become a hypnotherapist.
Meditation is great too. Although it didn’t have anywhere near the effect that the sleep hypnosis did, it calms me and gives me more energy every day. I try to meditate twice a day and find that my sleep is generally deeper when I meditate regularly.
If you don’t believe me, there are a heap of studies showing the effect of hypnosis on sleep, not to mention the other benefits it and meditation can have on any aspect in life.
Here’s one study on the effect of sleep hypnosis, although there are countless others that come to similar conclusions.
If you’re unsure about hypnosis (and let’s face it, you’re probably worried you’ll get made to cluck like a chicken or something), at least start meditating – it really is great.
Where to start
To summarise what I’ve written above, the things I think you should incorporate in your sleep hygiene program immediately are:
1. Eat one or two kiwifruit an hour before bed each night.
2. Avoid using screens that emit blue light an hour before bed.
3. Avoid hot showers before bed. Try to cool you body down in the hour or so before bed by having a cool shower.
4. Start meditating, even if it’s only for 5 minutes a day. This can easily be increased over time and I’ve yet to meet sometime who doesn’t enjoy shutting their eyes and relaxing for a few minutes. It’s easy and there’s no right or wrong way of doing it. Just research and choose what works best for you. The most important thing with meditation is to not put pressure on yourself. Let whatever happens happen.
I see hypnosis and hypnotherapy as the ‘reset’ button that allows your brain to make you sleep as well as you did when you were a kid. It’s worth looking into, but you should at least incorporate the above, even if you’ve got no interest in being hypnotised.
Let me know if you have any success with these tips and happy sleeping everyone!