How to get to sleep in seven steps
When it comes to sleeping well, both quality and quantity matter. As Bryce Mander, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, says: ‘You can sleep for a sufficient number of hours, but not obtain the right quality of sleep.’
For quality sleep, we need to complete several sleep ‘cycles’ of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM sleep, each lasting around 90 minutes. Studies show that seven to eight hours of sleep is the optimum length. Oversleeping can be just as detrimental to our focus and brain power the next day as undersleeping.
It’s also incredibly important for our immunity. Listen to Liz’s podcast with expert Professor Matthew Walker to find out why sleep may improve how effective a vaccine is.
The importance of routine
Keeping to a routine is one of the simplest ways to improve sleep quality. The body runs to an internal clock – our circadian rhythm. This dictates the peaks and troughs of wakefulness and tiredness through the day. To keep our circadian rhythms in check, we need to aim to sleep and wake at the same time each day.
A long lie-in at the weekend isn’t necessary, even if we’ve missed out on sleep during the working week. An eight-hour sleep should be sufficient to balance sleep-debt. Follow Liz’s simple seven-step sleep plan to ease you into a restful, restorative sleep.
Liz’s guide to sleep
Set the scene
For undisturbed sleep, think of the bedroom as a cave: cool, dark and quiet. While there may be disputes over the thermostat, anywhere between 15°C and 20°C falls in the recommended range.
One of Liz’s favourite tricks is to place a small square of duct tape over the blinking lights of digital clocks, chargers, and other electronics. Alternatively, wear an eye mask – we love the ones from Holistic Silk. Enjoy 10% off your order with the code LIZLOVES at checkout.
Foam or soft silicone earplugs also help you to settle into a quiet environment. Liz suggests using soft silicone varieties for the most comfortable fit and highly effective noise-blocking action.
Six hours before bed
Set a caffeine curfew. For the same reason many of us enjoy a morning coffee, we should reconsider our consumption from mid-afternoon. One study investigated the effects of a dose of caffeine equivalent to a large coffee-shop filter coffee. Researchers found that caffeine, even six hours before bedtime, can significantly impact sleep.
Bear in mind that tea and chocolate (especially the darker kind) also contain caffeine. Camomile and passionflower teas have traditionally been used for insomnia, and make better drink options before bed.
Five hours before bed
Be active, ideally outside, but not too soon before bed. Researchers say that moderate exercise can improve sleep for people who struggle to dirft off. One study in Japan measured the effects of two-hour forest-walking sessions, and found an improvement in people’s sleep time and quality, particularly following afternoon walks.
Exercising in the late afternoon raises our body temperature for around five hours, after which it drops. This appears to signal to the body that it’s time to sleep.
Three hours before bedtime
Flip the switch on light-emitting devices, or don ‘blue-blocking’ glasses if you really must use technology late at night. Tablet and phone screens emit a higher concentration of blue light than normal light. This can affect our levels of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone.
Research shows that wearing blue light-blocking glasses for three hours before bed can increase night-time melatonin levels by nearly 60%.
Two hours before bed
Skip the nightcap. While alcohol can help us fall asleep, it disrupts important REM sleep. One study found that the onset of REM sleep was delayed regardless of the amount of alcohol involved, and that less REM sleep was experienced over the course of the night.
REM sleep is important because it can influence memory and serve restorative functions. A lack of it can have a detrimental effect on concentration, memory and motor skills.
Magnesium can also help us to sleep. Take a supplement in the evening two hours before bedtime. Magnesium is an essential mineral many of us in the UK fall short of due to food processing. It is safe to take and also helps reduce anxiety as well as improve sleep. Vitamin B5 is another nutrient that can help improve sleep.
One hour before bed
A regular wind-down routine sends a signal to the body that it’s time for bed. Whether you take a bath, read, listen to music or stretch, you need to draw a line between your daytime and your night. One study looking into the effects of both bathing and a hot foot bath before bed found that each helped people fall asleep faster than those who had neither.
Get more out of your bath by adding magnesium salts. We love the ones from Better You (use LIZLOVES for 15% off). Magnesium salts help to ease muscle aches and reduce any spasms or cramps that can keep us awake.
For a real treat before bedtime, apply a rich, oily balm to your hands – such as this one from Isla Apothecary (use LIZLOVES for 15% off). Give yourself a soothing hand and finger massage, while allowing the oils to melt and nourish into your skin, cuticles and nails.
Go to bed only when you feel tired. It’s not only our circadian rhythm that contributes to our being able to sleep, but also something called the homeostatic sleep drive. This is our desire to sleep, and increases according to how long we’ve been awake. Our circadian rhythm keeps us going through the day, but the homeostatic sleep drive kicks in to help us nod off. To avoid lying awake at night, it’s best to hit the hay only when we feel truly sleepy.
Ensure that you feel completely comfortable as this will help you to sleep through the night. Find a good pillow, such as this one from Tempur, that offers incredibly good neck support with a soft pure silk pillowcase to soothe your skin. Liz is a fan of the high quality pillowcases from Holistic Silk – enjoy 10% off your order with the code LIZLOVES at checkout.
It’s also worth adding a few drops of lavender essential oil to your pillow to help you drift off. Lavender oil has shown to have sedative properties.
What we wear in bed will also impact our comfort and ability to get a good night’s sleep. Liz loves these pyjamas by Lusome, a stylish brand that uses uniquely breathable and moisture-controlling nightwear, keeping the body cool in summer and warm in winter. These beautiful pyjamas from Jigsaw in softest natural modal are also extremely comfortable. If you hold tension in your jaw, it can also be worth sleeping with a mouth guard too – Liz recommends this one.
To aid dropping off and promoting calm, Liz is a fan of Life Armour’s Drops of Slumber. This natural tincture contains traditional herbs that help calm an overactive mind and ease us in to a deeper sleep. Take a few of these delicious pepperminty drops just before bed or if you wake up during the night. Enjoy an exclusive 15% discount on Life Armour products by entering the LIZLOVES at checkout on the Life Armour website.