SLEEP HACKS

Af­ter a re­cent trip to South Amer­ica, I came home jet-lagged and jit­tery, and in des­per­ate need of some kind of sleep in­ter­ven­tion. So I put 8 of the most rec­om­mended reme­dies (that didn’t re­quire a pre­scrip­tion or a com­plete life over­haul) to the test. H

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Marli Meyer

We try out eight com­monly rec­om­mended sleep reme­dies

Upon my re­turn to South Africa, I found my­self in the throes of un­re­lent­ing jet lag: I woke up and went to bed feel­ing hellishly nau­seous and wired. And the most dis­tress­ing and un­ex­pected symp­tom was how anx­ious I felt – which made my sleep­less­ness worse. And we’re not talk­ing two or three nights here; I was well into week two of be­ing back home!

I trawled the web (when you’re not sleep­ing at 3am you have a lot of time to search for what might be wrong with you) and made a list of the reme­dies I found on­line.

The next morn­ing co­me­dian Joe Ro­gan, who hosts a con­ver­sa­tion-style pod­cast with peo­ple from var­i­ous fields, re­leased an episode in which he spoke to pro­fes­sor of neu­ro­science Matthew Walker, one of the most pro­lific sleep ex­perts in the world. (How’s that for serendip­ity?) Lis­ten­ing to their con­ver­sa­tion re­minded me of some im­por­tant ba­sics and en­light­ened me on a few crazy facts. For in­stance, did you know that when you travel or sleep in a ho­tel or un­usual bed­room, one half of your brain re­sists go­ing into deep sleep?

‘It’s a threat de­tec­tion thing,’ says Dr Walker. ‘Other species do this much more im­pres­sively than we do – dol­phins or any sort of sea-dwelling mam­mal can sleep with half a brain.’ Dr Walker says that your brain keeps track of the REM sleep (phases of deep sleep, or dream sleep, that oc­cur through­out the night dur­ing which your brain and body are en­er­gised) that you didn’t get if you’ve slept too lit­tle or drunk too much al­co­hol so it can make up the deficit.

‘Al­co­hol and mar­i­juana, both used as sleep aids, are very good at block­ing your dream or REM sleep,’ he ex­plains. ‘The brain builds up a clock counter of how much dream sleep you should have had (but haven’t been getting) and de­vel­ops this in­creas­ing ap­petite and hunger for it, so that when the al­co­hol is out of your sys­tem, you get what’s called an REM sleep re­bound ef­fect, where you get the nor­mal amount of REM sleep plus the brain tries to get back some of the dream sleep it’s been los­ing. That’s when you’ll have in­tense dream sleep and vivid dreams.’

I wasn’t sur­prised that most of us sleep way too lit­tle.

‘It took Mother Na­ture 3.6 mil­lion years to put this thing called an eight-hour sleep ne­ces­sity in place,’ Dr Walker points out, ‘and, in the space of 100 years, we’ve lopped off al­most 20% of that.’

And our lack of sleep is cost­ing us, he says.

‘We’ve done stud­ies with mo­torskill learn­ing. Prac­tice does not make per­fect – prac­tice and a night’s sleep is what makes per­fect. When you come back the next day, you’re 20 to 30% bet­ter in terms of your skilled per­for­mance than you were at the end of your prac­tice ses­sion the day be­fore.’

He also warns that the old say­ing, ‘you can sleep when you’re dead’ is ‘mor­tally un­wise’ ad­vice!

‘We know from the data you’ll be dead sooner, and the qual­ity of that now-shorter life will be sig­nif­i­cantly worse. Re­search shows that the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.’

That set­tled it. I was of­fi­cially on a mis­sion to get my sleep­ing mojo back. I rarely strug­gle to sleep, and I needed to get back to my usual rou­tine – pronto.

1. DIM LIGHTS & NO SCREENS

Dim the lights an hour be­fore bed­time and turn off screens two hours be­fore.

‘Light bulbs can sup­press mela­tonin,’ says Dr Walker. ‘One hour of iPad read­ing ver­sus one hour of read­ing a book in dim light shows that an hour of iPad read­ing de­lays the re­lease of this crit­i­cal dark­ness hor­mone by about three hours. Fur­ther­more, you don’t get the same amount of REM sleep.’ He also rec­om­mends dim­ming the lights in your bed­room and switch­ing off half the lights in your house an hour or two be­fore bed. THE VER­DICT:

This was a mas­sive chal­lenge be­cause my nightly rou­tine was to watch Net­flix or scroll through In­sta­gram un­til I fell asleep. When I fi­nally got it right it made a huge dif­fer­ence! I was sleepy by 9:30pm. But the trick­i­est thing was to keep my phone away from my bed­side ta­ble be­cause it func­tions as an alarm and I of­ten use it in bed to make ar­range­ments for the next day. So I put my phone on charge out­side the bed­room and used an ana­logue clock as an alarm, which worked much bet­ter for wak­ing up too. In­stead of In­sta­gram, What­sapp and Net­flix be­fore bed, I was read­ing with just my bed­side lamp on. I also switched off most lights about two hours be­fore bed­time, and it was sur­pris­ingly so­porific! 2. TO­TAL DARK­NESS When I’m tired and stressed I’m hy­per-sen­si­tive to even the slight­est bit of light, es­pe­cially if I wake up at strange hours. We live in the city cen­tre so it’s hard to keep our room com­pletely dark. I tried an old eye mask to help me fall asleep faster – and stay asleep.

To­tal dark­ness is im­por­tant be­cause it af­fects mela­tonin. It doesn’t gen­er­ate

sleep but reg­u­lates the tim­ing of it. Light, whether it’s com­ing from out­side or from your elec­tron­ics, messes with your cir­ca­dian rhythm. Ac­cord­ing to Dr Walker, we’re a dark­ness-de­prived bunch due to mod­ern-life con­ven­tions like screen time and il­lu­mi­nated cities. A study that placed sub­jects in a sim­u­lated in­ten­sive-care en­vi­ron­ment with bright lights found that par­tic­i­pants who wore eye masks and earplugs had el­e­vated mela­tonin lev­els, bet­ter sleep qual­ity and more REM sleep. THE VER­DICT:

The mask took some getting used to as it can move around and the elas­tic band can be ir­ri­tat­ing. But I’ve grown to love sleep­ing with it on and I do it ev­ery evening now. Af­ter two nights I found I could fall asleep more eas­ily (which helps when you have a part­ner who’s still scrolling on a phone or read­ing later than you are) and I fell back asleep if I woke in the mid­dle of the night much faster be­cause keep­ing your eyes closed means you don’t fully wake up. I’ve up­graded to a more luxe padded mask – a 100% silk mask from The Silk Lady (www.the­silk­lady.com). It’s soft and com­fort­ing, and the ad­justable vel­cro strap means it stays on and in po­si­tion.

3. SLEEPSUPPORTIVE LO­TION

An in­som­nia rem­edy that kept pop­ping up dur­ing my on­line re­search was LUSH’s Sleepy lo­tion. In­fused with laven­der and oatmeal, the mois­turiser prom­ises to soothe, calm and as­sist with sleep. I also came across Healing Earth’s Sleep En­hanc­ing Still­ness body but­ter, which is made with ex­tracts of laven­der, man­darin, rose­mary and ve­tiver root. Th­ese botan­i­cals are used in aro­mather­apy to ease feel­ings of ten­sion and stress. THE VER­DICT:

I em­balmed my­self in the Sleepy lo­tion two nights in a row af­ter a short shower. It has a sweet smell and the creamy tex­ture ab­sorbs eas­ily. But I don’t think the lo­tion helped put me to sleep; it’s more hype than ef­fect.

The Healing Earth body but­ter was more like a balm, which I pre­ferred for evening mois­tur­i­sa­tion. The tex­ture seems grainy at first, but the par­ti­cles melt into your skin as it warms up. It has a heavy scent, more like an es­sen­tial oil, and it’s good for win­ter skin. This balm re­ally helped to keep me asleep – when I’m stressed I some­times wake up itch­ing all over; this helped soothe my skin so I didn’t get the mid­night stress itch.

Mois­tur­is­ing at night meant I show­ered be­fore I went to bed, and I think this was ac­tu­ally what helped get me to sleep. Dr Walker ex­plains that a drop in core tem­per­a­ture af­ter a bath or shower sig­nals to your brain that it’s bed­time.

‘Cold is bet­ter – stud­ies have found that cooler tem­per­a­tures re­sult in fall­ing asleep faster and more REM sleep.’ When you get out of a hot bath, your body tem­per­a­ture plum­mets, which is what makes you sleep bet­ter.

4. A REG­U­LAR BED­TIME ROU­TINE

This is the first tip Dr Walker gives for bet­ter sleep: ‘Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time – no mat­ter whether it’s the week­end or a week­day. That’s the most im­por­tant thing.’

This isn’t a quick fix, but once I had a crit­i­cal look at my bed­time rou­tine, I re­alised there was a lot of work to be done. I made use of my iPhone’s bed­time func­tion in the clock app. You can choose how many hours you want to sleep and set the time you want to wake up, and it will re­mind you be­tween 15 min­utes and 1 hour be­fore your bed­time to get to bed. An­other use­ful app is Sleep Cy­cles, which helps you track your sleep qual­ity and can even tell you how much deep sleep you got and whether you snored. Also, the alarm can go off at the best time ac­cord­ing to your sleep cy­cles.

I lit can­dles in the bath­room and bed­room, dimmed the lights, sprayed my pil­low and body with a calm­ing mist (more on that later) and on the nights that I show­ered, mas­saged the sleep en­hanc­ing balm all over. My beauty rou­tine of cleans­ing and mois­tur­is­ing, or ex­fo­li­at­ing and mask­ing ev­ery other night also be­came part of this, so I spent about an hour getting ready for bed, at my leisure. THE VER­DICT:

I’m a morn­ing per­son and I have a 6am gym class three times a week, so wak­ing up early and at a sim­i­lar time ev­ery day wasn’t too dif­fi­cult. The bed­time rit­ual was the big change for me. I usu­ally spend about 15 min­utes getting ready for bed and do­ing my beauty rou­tine. Adding to my nightly rit­ual made a mas­sive dif­fer­ence: it gave me a chance to wind down, get com­fort­able, and to feel pam­pered and ready to sleep. Apart from help­ing me fall asleep faster and wake up feel­ing re­freshed, it has trans­formed into a self-care, me-time mo­ment ev­ery night. I also spent more time read­ing, which I’d lost be­cause I usu­ally spent the time in bed scrolling through my phone. Read­ing, I re­dis­cov­ered, is also the best way to make my­self sleepy – take away the screens and you’re half­way there.

5. CBD OIL/ TINCTURES

CBD, or cannabid­iol, is one of the many ac­tive com­pounds found in cannabis. CBD and THC are the most talked-about com­pounds but CBD doesn’t de­liver the ‘high’ that THC does. Rather, CBD is known for its abil­ity to calm anx­i­ety, ease nau­sea, re­lieve pain and act as an anti-in-

flam­ma­tory and an­tiox­i­dant. The cannabis tinctures and oils you can buy come in dif­fer­ent CBD:THC ra­tios, so ask about that wher­ever you get them from – you want a low THC: high CBD ra­tio.

A friend in San Diego had given me a bot­tle of CBD bit­ters for Christ­mas. I’d been adding it to my G&Ts but hadn’t yet tried it as a sleep aid – un­til now. THE VER­DICT:

This was hands down the most ef­fec­tive sleep rem­edy for me. It worked in­stantly, and is an ef­fec­tive quick fix or rou­tine use op­tion. I added a drop­per of bit­ters to a glass of sparkling wa­ter or kom­bucha as I neared bed­time – it has a bit­ter, botan­i­cal taste, and isn’t su­per con­cen­trated, so you can gauge whether you need more or not. I also used it a few times when I woke up in the mid­dle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep.

Af­ter 10 to 15 min­utes you can feel your body, mus­cles and mind be­come deeply re­laxed, but you don’t feel ‘high’. This is a great rem­edy if you’re strug­gling to sleep due to stress. I’ll def­i­nitely use this as a sleep aid in fu­ture and as a calm­ing el­e­ment for my nightly rou­tine.

I was lucky to be gifted my Cor­dial Or­gan­ics bit­ters, since CBD bit­ters aren’t avail­able in SA (yet). There are, how­ever, on­line stores that stock CBD oil or tinctures. Or ask holis­tic med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers for a tip on where to find some. Ev­ery­one I spoke to about it knew some­one who knew some­one who knew a lady who sells some re­ally good CBD oil.

6. YOGA STRETCHES

Al­most all of the on­line ar­ti­cles on sleep aids that I found rec­om­mended do­ing a yoga rou­tine be­fore bed. Laura Mal­loy, di­rec­tor of yoga pro­grammes at Mas­sachusetts Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal’s Ben­son-Henry In­sti­tute for Mind Body Medicine told

TIME mag­a­zine: ‘Yoga helps elicit what we call the re­lax­ation re­sponse, which is es­sen­tially the phys­i­o­log­i­cal op­po­site of the stress re­sponse.’ This sounded like a so­lu­tion to stress-in­duced in­som­nia. THE VER­DICT:

I did a few yoga sleep rou­tines that I’d found on YouTube. But it meant screens be­fore bed, and I found it hard to watch the video and do the rou­tine at the same time. With prac­tice this could be very ef­fec­tive – the stretch­ing is re­lax­ing and did give me that ready-forbed feel­ing, es­pe­cially be­cause I mostly do high-in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing. But as a quick fix, this wasn’t the best op­tion be­cause it takes prac­tice if you don’t know a se­quence. It’s worth in­cor­po­rat­ing as a way to wind down for bed though.

7. SLEEPENHANCING SPRAYS & ES­SEN­TIAL OILS

Pil­low sprays and es­sen­tial oils are said to calm and soothe for bet­ter sleep: a study pub­lished in Chrono­bi­ol­ogy In­ter­na­tional found that laven­der es­sen­tial oil in­creased deep or slow-wave sleep. I put Soil’s or­ganic laven­der es­sen­tial oil to the test and gave my pil­low and body a spritz with Cow­shed’s Sleepy Cow pil­low mist, which com­bines the calm­ing prop­er­ties of St John’s Wort, Lady’s Man­tle and Melissa (lemon balm) es­sen­tial oil. THE VER­DICT: I filled a small laun­dry tub with boil­ing wa­ter, added a few drops of laven­der es­sen­tial oil and placed it next to my bed. For a more in­tense ef­fect, place a towel over your head and lean over the tub to in­hale the in­fused steam. I also used the oil in a burner, which I re­ally en­joyed. The scent def­i­nitely had a calm­ing ef­fect and I’ll be putting my es­sen­tial oil burner to use a lot more. But I wouldn’t say it put me to sleep by it­self.

The pil­low spray and body mist had a gor­geous cit­rusy scent. I was away for the week­end on one of the nights that I tested it, and this is where I found the mist to be most ef­fec­tive – if you use the spray while trav­el­ling, it cre­ates fa­mil­iar­ity. I had a more rest­ful night than I usu­ally would if I were sleep­ing in a dif­fer­ent en­vi­ron­ment. But again, although it’s some­thing I would hap­pily in­clude in my rou­tine, don’t ex­pect it to knock you out in 10 min­utes.

8. CHAMOMILE TEA

This is prob­a­bly the num­ber one sug­ges­tion that came up in my re­search. I tried the Five Roses The­atre of Dreams tea which com­bines chamomile flow­ers and laven­der buds in the teabag. THE VER­DICT:

Noth­ing to see here. Drink­ing a warm liq­uid was sooth­ing but I’d prob­a­bly choose rooi­bos over this. I didn’t en­joy the taste much. I could get used to it but I didn’t feel any dif­fer­ent af­ter drink­ing the tea be­fore bed.

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