No one likes to hear the words “you look tired” – they might as well just tell you your eyes look puffy, you have dark circles, and you look bad. The reality is, no amount of eye cream, caffeine or makeup has the same transformative powers as a good night’s sleep. And apparently, there’s a lot of you out there who aren’t getting the beauty sleep you need: according to the American Academy, one in three adults don’t get enough sleep. As a consequence, you’re less alert, you’re forgetful, and you’re more prone to stress and getting sick – basically, you’re a hot mess!
So, to help you catch some good quality zzzzz’s, we spoke to sleep consultant and founder of Nurture, Julie Mallon. She told us exactly how you should be sleeping, and the things that are preventing you from getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep. So here’s what you should be avoiding and exactly how to prep for the best night’s sleep ever.
1. Pay Attention To Your Hormones
If you’re a regular on our blog, you’ll have read how hormones seriously affect your life – in case you missed it, check out this post to find out more – and Julie confirmed that “hormones have a considerable impact on your sleep routine.”
Julie explained that “women are much more likely to report sleep problems like not getting enough sleep. During different stages of the month when hormone levels spike or drop, such as during the menstrual cycle, during menopause or during or after pregnancy, this can all have a negative effect on your sleep.” She said to improve the quality of your sleep during this period, you should “try mind-body therapies such as yoga and breathing techniques” to help rebalance your body.
2. Check The Thermostat
Think about it, sleeping without a fan in the summer is basically torture, which is because the environmental temperature has a major impact on your sleep! Julie explained that “core body temperature” plays a big role, and because your body works on a 24-hour cycle (your body clock), at different times of the day, your body temperature will naturally rise and fall. When your temperature is high, you’ll be “alert and have better responses.” Julie said that this is “the reason why you may be an early bird or a night owl. If you’re an early bird, your temperature will peak earlier in the day, whereas if you’re a night owl, you may experience this peak later on during the day.”
But regardless of whether you’re a morning or night kinda person, Julie said that “the ideal temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees [16-20 degrees celcius]. If your body is overheating it’ll cause sleep interruptions.”
Sleeping tip: We know this may seem counter-intuitive, but Julie said that “to help your body acclimatize for optimum sleep, I recommend that my clients take a warm bath before bed. This will help lower your body temperature, as when you step out the bath, the moisture will evaporate from your skin, which in turn will cool you down.” Although she said for this to be most effective “you should take a bath one hour before bed.”
3. Be Mindful Of Your Mattress
The idea that your mattress seriously effects the quality of your sleep is a no-brainer. But we didn’t realize how or why until Julie filled us in – it’s also to do with your body temperature. Julie said that “if your mattress is too soft it’ll retain heat, as it’ll mold to your body shape and envelop your body heat.” This is why “foam memory mattresses – although praised for enabling good sleep – are the worst culprits with regards to trapping heat.” Instead, Julie recommends a firm mattress although she adds that as “everyone is unique, it’s important that you spend a sufficient amount of time (roughly 20 mins) testing a mattress before purchasing it.”
Sleeping tip: It’s also important to keep the mattress, your sheets, and pillowcases clean to prevent allergens, bacteria, and dust mites, and increase the quality of your sleep. So make sure you wash your sheets and pillowcases frequently (weekly), as well as occasionally cleaning the actual mattress with a vacuum.
4. Schedule Your Exercise
One of the biggest sleep myths out there is that exercising leads to good sleep. But Julie told us that “in reality, the opposite may be true. Studies have shown that quality of sleep doesn’t always improve after exercise, and days which don’t include exercise and contain less exertion often lead to the longest and most efficient sleep.” Again, it’s to do with your body temperature: “Exercise produces a rise in body temperature, followed by a drop a few hours later,” this is why Julie insists “it’s important to finish exercise at least three hours before your bedtime, to allow your body to cool and prevent difficulties in sleeping.” Mind, blown!
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5. Turn Off Your Mobile
We’re all guilty of exposing ourselves to blue light, aka using our phones or our laptop before we sleep, but we really need to monitor our blue light exposure – we know it’s harder than it sounds! Julie explained that “these devices all emit a potent blue light that upsets the internal body clock by delaying the release of the sleep hormone melatonin, which is critical to the normal sleep-wake cycle. This will affect the further flow of melatonin throughout the night, resulting in poorer quality sleep overall.” As a consequence, you’ll have less “deep sleep,” which is the most restorative sleep. If you can’t avoid blue light, make sure you set your laptop and your phone to night time mode, so it emits a yellow light instead, which is less harsh.
6. Avoid Alcohol
Julie debunked another common sleep myth that alcohol helps your sleep, Julie said this is SO NOT TRUE. This is because “alcohol metabolizes rapidly in our systems, causing frequent wakings and negatively impairing the quality of your sleep.” It also increases snoring, meaning your partners sleep will definitely be affected! Julie said that “nicotine is also a stimulant, so if you can’t give up cigarettes completely, avoid smoking for at least an hour before bed.”
7. Eat With Sleep In Mind
Your diet affects almost every aspect of your life, including your sleep. Julie told us that we should avoid “foods high in fat” as they “stimulate acid production in the stomach, which can lead to heartburn and loosen the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus, which can disturb a person’s sleep.” Another food group to avoid is “meat, as it puts pressure on your body’s digestive system, which decelerates during sleep; again negatively impacting the quality of your sleep.” Instead, you should eat these sleep-inducing foods:
- Tryptophan is an amino acid that releases serotonin, which helps us wind down and fall asleep. So look for foods that contain tryptophan like eggs, pumpkin seeds, hummus, and turkey.
- Magnesium and potassium, found in bananas, stimulate the production of melatonin and serotonin and also act as a natural muscle relaxant.
- Calcium is needed for processing the sleep-inducing hormones, tryptophan and melatonin, so yogurt, seeds and beans are all ideal. Leafy greens like spinach and kale also contain high levels of calcium.
- Melatonin is the ultimate sleep hormone, so eat foods like oatmeal, cherries, pomegranates, olives, grapes, broccoli, and cucumber.
Let us know if there are any health or wellness topics you want more advice on in the comments below. Sleep tight!