It’s hard to read any advice on achieving a happy life without seeing a mention of your recommended seven to nine hours of restful sleep alongside staying active and eating well. From boosting concentration and reducing stress to increasing energy and strengthening our immune systems—not to mention better weight management and brighter eyes and skin—many of life’s problems can be overcome by catching some Zs. Easier said than done, right?
Tossing, turning, lying awake with your mind overflowing as you see the first glimmers of sunrise, or the kids running in when it seems you only just hit the pillow, the list of what can set your day off on the wrong foot (before you’ve even put a foot on the ground) is endless. This year’s extra stresses have meant that—for many of us—bedtime has felt like more of a task than a welcome end to the day as our minds go into overdrive: the uncertainty we’ve faced for months with the coronavirus pandemic; grief; facing the loss of jobs; politics; and witnessing the injustices of police brutality while focusing on finding the best ways to listen, learn, and make a difference wherever we live. Even some of those who feel that stress doesn’t really affect them have felt it manifest physically—those tight chests and emotional outbursts are no coincidence.
So, while we’d love to tell you that getting a good night’s sleep isn’t necessary or that the benefits are just a myth, we sadly can’t. You really do need it. Instead, the 8fit team have filed through research and experience to compile five tips for better sleep that work, and will hopefully help you too.
Conquering a tough workout in the morning will get your body more ready for sleep, when it recovers best, later but a few simple stretches before bed could help too, no matter how active you’ve been throughout the day. Yoga poses, foam rolling, and stretching release tension. After as little as five minutes, the combination of movement and breath can help your body relax and drift off sooner. Try the ‘5-minute bedtime stretch’ or ‘Goodnight flow’ in the 8fit app – we also have this beginner yoga flow on YouTube.
A full stomach before bed might make you sleepy initially but, as your body attempts to digest the meal, it plays havoc with your rest. Avoid big meals or snacks for an hour or two before bedtime, especially sugary ones that act as a stimulant. Other stimulants to avoid right before bed include caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. The latter might be surprising as its sedating effects often make you sleepy, but those wear off quickly, leaving you awake and dehydrated after just a few hours. If your hunger gets the best of you late at night, nuts, bananas, herbal teas, and comforting broths like miso are good choices. Make sure your diet is giving you the nutrients it needs—specifically magnesium, which can help regulate stress and your nervous system, readying you for sleep—with a balanced meal plan. Stay hydrated throughout the day too, rather than taking on lots of water right before bed and needing a 3 am bathroom break.
It’s hard to resist the temptation of a late-night Instagram scroll or getting ahead with your emails, but countless studies have shown that the blue light from computers, phones, TVs, and other tech has a dramatic (negative) effect on the body’s production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. The in-built night modes can help if your screentime is unavoidable, but only a little. Put your phone down and close the laptop as early as you can before bed. Instead of falling asleep with the TV on, reading or listening to a podcast or audiobook can make a big difference. Get a real alarm clock and banish your phone from the bedroom—a Harvard Medical School study found that, in addition to the interfering effects of blue light, simply having your phone near you puts your brain into a constant state of alert that, unsurprisingly, can disturb sleep.
Guided meditation is a great way to clear your mind and relax your body, especially after a hectic day, and 8fit’s series of sleep meditations have been designed to do just that and prepare you for a restful night. All are available to 8fit Pro members in the app. As well as getting rid of tech, keep your nightstand clear of textbooks, paperwork, and anything that distracts you. A notepad might help you transfer persistent thoughts or ideas onto paper so you can forget about them until morning, but always try to keep your sleep space clutter-free. Many people (and studies) find that journaling before bed is effective in ordering their thoughts, focusing on positives and successes, and setting intentions for the following day.
This part is especially crucial in the summer heat, when the temperature in our bedrooms creeps way beyond the ideal 60-65°F (16-18°C). Our body temperature naturally drops when we fall asleep, and is at its coolest in deep sleep, so fighting against a balmy night is going to have a negative impact. If you don’t have air conditioning to bring the mercury down, try a fan on a low setting or open a window if it doesn’t let in too many outside noises. Ditch the duvet and try lighter sheets or a summer-weight blanket in breathable, natural fabrics. Keeping your feet and hands uncovered can also help your body find its ideal temperature as the lack of hair and specialized vascular structures of our palms and the soles of our feet are perfectly designed to help the body get rid of unwanted heat.