Few things are as refreshing as a good night’s sleep. It helps memory, attentiveness, productivity, and of course, our general well-being. But many of us live in a state of continual sleep deprivation. To help, we asked Hong Kong-based, internationally board-certified sleep physiologist, sleep science coach and founder of Sleep HQ, Kate Bridle, for her thoughts on how we can sleep longer and more deeply.
Relax your eyes
Eye relaxation is important as part of whole-body relaxation, which impacts significantly on sleep. Try giving yourself an eye massage before bed or using a warm compress to relax eye muscles and relieve dry eyes.
Kate says: “A great trick to relax eyes before you go to sleep is to soak a small towel or microfibre cloth in hot water. Squeeze any excess water out, lie down in a dark bedroom and place the cloth over your eyes. Focus on relaxing all facial muscles and keep the cloth in place for five minutes as part of your relaxing bedtime ritual.“
Use good-quality bedding and sleepwear
Recent studies including one from the US National Institutes of Health have shown that breathable material is best – that could be silk, wool or cotton. If you choose cotton, don’t be seduced by thread count – it doesn’t necessarily indicate quality. And very high thread count means the fabric might not breathe well. The maximum should be about 500.
Kate says: “Investing in good bedding is important. High-quality, breathable sheets are known to promote better sleep through improved body temperature regulation. Keeping your bedding clean and well-aired is also important. Low body temperature and comfort are significant factors in better sleep quality.”
Use warm lighting
Exposure to blue light – the type commonly emitted by digital devices – suppresses our “sleep hormone” melatonin. This is particularly bad at night, as it disrupts our circadian rhythms and may lead to long-term health effects, according to Harvard researchers.
Kate says: “Light is the main external influence on our sleep-wake cycle, and unfortunately we live in a world of artificial light. Stick to ‘warmer’ low-light lamps in the hour before bed to ensure your brain can start preparing for sleep adequately – candlelight is also excellent in that time.”
Meditation is a great way to relax before bed. For beginners, simply sit or lie comfortably, close your eyes, breathe naturally and focus on your breathing and the way your body moves with it.
Kate says: “Many of us are always on the go, so our bodies are in a chronic state of stress or ‘high alert’ and we find it hard to switch off at night. Meditation is a way to calm and focus the mind, to prevent ourselves from worrying about things that may have happened during the day or that may happen the next day. It helps us to control which hormones are surging around our body, switching from those associated with stress and worry to those that help us to rest and relax. I recommend that around 30 minutes before bed, you write a list of anything you need to do tomorrow – putting it on paper gets it off your mind – followed by 10 to 15 minutes of meditation. Apps are excellent help for beginners.”