Image via Giphy
Sleep is the wellness word of the moment – and with good reason.
Google searches with the word ‘tired’ have risen 64% between 2004 and 2019, and just 40% of people in the UK get a full night’s sleep, with 10% frequently getting less than half the recommended eight hours. A survey from Well+Good showed sleeplessness is an issue on both sides of the Atlantic, reporting 92% of respondents felt ‘chronically fatigued’ during the week.
Described as a ‘brain-repair mechanism’, sleep’s effects go much further than tiredness, and can impair an extraordinary range of basic functions, including:
In fact, sleeplessness is a key factor towards Millennial Burnout (what other generation has a medical term named after them?!).
So how can you sleep better?
Brands' answers have largely been sleep tech, and lots of it. Between exciting new sleep gadgets and mattress start-ups, the global sleep aid industry is set to reach $76 billion this year. While sleep trackers are exciting, and can be really interesting, they aren’t helping us sleep better. The anxiety caused by sleep trackers is so great, it has even been given its own name: orthosomnia.
The best answers really are often the simplest. Reclaim your bedtime routine: it turns out, each part of your childhood sequence of bath, book and bed before a scheduled lights out has a specific role in improving sleep quality.
First: consistency matters. The human brain is built around shortcuts. Do anything a few times, and your body will adapt, recoding itself to react accordingly, saving you time and energy in the long run. Most of the time this is great, but you know the saying about habits: they take seconds to form, a lifetime to break. This means that daytime activities (like staring at screens) can reset your body’s internal clock, and frequent late nights can trigger a bust of adrenaline just as you’re heading for bed. On the other hand, it means you can create habits out of anything, and a strict bedtime (after a series of specific bedtime activities) can signal to your brain that it’s time to rest. Doctors even go so far as to recommend you skip your weekend lie in, to help train your body to its new sleep schedule.
The bath is another clever bit of brain trickery. Just as we rely on light and dark to guess the time of day, we are also hugely affected by temperature. Aside from baths being absolutely amazing in their own right, the temperature change you feel when you step out of a warm bath mimics the cooling effect of sunset. Do this about an hour before bed, and your brain will do the rest...
Finally, read yourself a bedtime story. Imagine: you’ve had a long, hectic day, you’re tired, and anxious about the things you have to do tomorrow. If you do manage to get to sleep, chances are you’re building towards a broken night or a stress dream. A bedtime book can help change that: just six minutes is enough to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels, while the escapism helps to reset your mind (similar to meditation), giving you a clean slate for sweet dreams.
And if you still can’t sleep?
Try not to stress too much: your body needs time to train and get itself into a healthy routine, and the odd night without won’t harm you in the long run. If you find yourself counting sheep late at night, remember there’s nothing wrong with getting up and read for 20 minutes or so, until you’re ready to try again (just don’t scroll through your phone).
Protect yourself from blue light, by lowering the brightness on your devices and putting aside your screens before bed.
Adjust the temperature. For the same reason baths are great, cold signals ‘bedtime’, so opening a window or considering a lighter duvet can improve the quality of your shut-eye.
Reduce late night anxiety by deciding that this is the year you’re going to get organised – it works, we promise!