A lot on your mind? Just can’t stop these thoughts all the time? We’ve all been there. If only there was a rulebook that guarantees a good night’s rest… and you may find that the harder you try to sleep, the more difficult it becomes. Fortunately, there are things you can try to enhance your chances of finding a better quality of sleep.
What to know about sleep
Understanding more about sleep may help you have a better relationship with it. In Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep, he is quoted to describe sleep as “treatment that makes you live longer”. Other than giving us a sense of restfulness and make us feel energized for the day that follows, sleep is a vital process that serves many biological functions of our body. Without getting too deep into what REM and Non-REM sleep cycles do for our brain, it is important to know that when we sleep, our body remains at work: it fixed and adjusts things to maintain our body for its daily functions.
When we sleep, our bodies undergo several physiological changes, such as slowed heart rate, reduced body temperature, and a more systematic change in our breathing rate, it is also during sleep that our kidney activity will be reduced, thus producing less urine. It is said that during sleep is when our growth hormone, somatropin, works the most effectively. Somatropin is responsible for stimulating and regulating the growth of our cells: when we have good cell metabolism, our bodies are more able to replace old, damaged, or harmful cells, thus keeping our bodies healthy and functioning effectively.
When we lose sleep or don’t sleep well, we miss out slightly on the repair of our bodies and benefit less from how the sleep process removes impurities from the inside out, which can accumulate overtime in forms of illnesses or diseases due to a weakened immune system. According to Chinese medicine, our body has a set time period during the night for detoxing and repairing of individual organs, for example, during 1-3AM is when the liver is in ‘deep cleansing’ mode, and this is the time where toxins, from what we eat and drink in the day up until evening, are removed. If you’re waking up around the same time during the night, maybe check out which organ it relates to, and see if you may need to alter your daily habits or diet to improve that.
Insomnia: What is it?
Insomnia is more than just not being able to sleep. There are differing degrees to its symptoms; acute insomnia involves occasional sleep disturbances that may be due to recent stress-inflicting issues in life, and usually will go away by themselves once issues are resolved. Chronic insomnia, however, can occur when an individual experiences a lack of sleep for at least 3 nights per week, for at least 3 months. This pattern will greatly impact daily life, as well as mood and other physical functions. Lack of sleep doesn’t only consist of not being able to get to sleep (onset), it also involves struggles to stay asleep during the night, as well as how we wake up from a long night’s sleep but still feel tired.
Insomnia: A real problem in Hong Kong
According to a local study, over 2 million people in Hong Kong suffer from insomnia. On average, Hong Kongers only sleep 6.5 hours, which is 1.5 hours short of a typically ideal 8 hours per night. From work and financial to social issues, living in Hong Kong can carry considerable stress and pressure.
This is a major issue as along with nutrition and physical activity, sleep is the third pillar of good health. Considering that we spend a third of our lives asleep, it is essential to pay attention to our sleep habits.
- No caffeine after 2 pm. Caffeine can stay elevated in your blood for at least six hours after consumption. Other than coffee, avoid any teas that also contain caffeine.
- Eat foods that promote sleep. Food containing tryptophan, magnesium, vitamin B6 and calcium all help regulate your circadian rhythms.
- Try not to take naps that are over 15 minutes during the day; once naps become any longer, you enter into a state of sleep that disrupts your body clock and confuses the sleep patterns you want to sustain.
- Use natural light to your advantage. Increase the amount of bright, natural light you are exposed to during the day. Your circadian rhythm manages your sleep-wake cycles and is activated by natural light. Exposure to natural light is associated with longer and higher quality sleep.
- Make your bed every morning before leaving home, so when you return in the evening, and enter into a clean, fresh bed, it can enhance a rewarding feeling associated to sleep.
According to sleep experts, adults need around 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Getting there may take some adjusting to current habits, but trying doesn’t cost much and is worth it.
- Set up a routine to ‘switch’ your brain into sleep mode. If you have children, you would never take them from running around in full energy mode (the kid-version of adult minds thinking about work/family/money etc.) straight to bed and expect them to sleep. Like kids, once you have a well established routine, breaking it every now and then is not a problem.
- Sip some herbal tea or warm water before bed. Chamomile is always a good, calming brew.
- Try to eat at least 3 hours before bedtime; when we go to sleep with a full stomach, digestion keeps us from entering into deep sleep, and interferes with our organs’ detox processes during the night.
- Take a bath or hot shower before bed. The warm water initially warms your body, but after 15 minutes your body temperature starts to drop. The cooling of the body will produce a signal similar to temperature drops when day turns to night, and will influence the body to prepare to enter into sleep, i.e. make you feel drowsy.
- Try to sleep and wake at consistent times every day. Setting your ‘internal clock’ to the same schedule every day helps your body produce melatonin at the correct time each night. After a few weeks of regular sleep/wake times, you may not even require an alarm.
- Don’t make a nightcap a daily habit. Alcohol decreases the time you spend in deep sleep. The sleep you have after even one drink isn’t nearly as restorative.
Make your bedroom a cozy, inviting sleep space. The activities associated with specific spaces also influence our chances of getting good sleep, so it’s important we separate space more strictly. These tips are a good start:
- Keep your bedroom cool and dark. From the evening into the night, try to dim the lights or turn off any unnecessary lighting to encourage sleepiness.
- Try to keep the bedroom as a space only for rest, if you have any activities or work to carry out before bedtime, try to take that into another room. If there isn’t enough space available, try to stay away from the bed to carry out the activities even if you remain in your bedroom.
- Electronics do not belong in the bedroom. Give yourself at least half an hour of screen-free time before bed. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware that the light that screens emit mimics daytime and tells your brain that it’s time to be awake rather than to rest. If you need something to ease into bedtime, you cannot beat physical books (not associated with work!).
- Beds are for NOT for working. They are for sleep and intimacy, that’s it.
Once you finally get some good rest and experience working through the day refreshed and energised, you won’t want to go back to your old routine!
We hope this article can help you catch some better z’s… share it and subscribe to our newsletter for more interesting articles about health and well-being!