Sleep is something that can unfortunately evade all of us at some point in our lives. Whether we’re overworked, emotionally or physically, quality sleep can be difficult to get and even more difficult to maintain. Sleeping issues are not few and far between for Britons, with an estimated third of the population experiencing insomnia in their lifetime according to the NHS. On top of that, there are many other sleep disorders that aren’t mentioned as frequently, that are a part of some people’s everyday lives.
Serious issues aside, what about those nights we just can’t drift off, or the moment you hear one tiny noise outside and you know you’re awake for another few hours? These seemingly small things can have a big impact on our health in both the short term and long term, so, how can we improve our sleep?
Quality of Sleep and the Four Stages
To improve sleep, it’s important to first understand sleep and why quality of sleep is important. Surely sleep is sleep, is it not? It isn’t!
There are four stages of sleep that anyone can enter at any given time of the night and will also indicate the quality of sleep you are getting.
Non- REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep consists of three different stages, with the fourth being REM sleep itself. Stage one is known as the drifting stage, where you drift from being awake to being asleep. This stage doesn’t actually last very long, and during it you might start to relax and dream. This is also where your body usually makes abrupt involuntary movements, which happen to be the opposite of relaxing.
Stage two will see you in a light sleep, but this sleep is becoming more stable as your heartbeat and breathing slows down. Your body starts to relax further, your temperature decreases, and your brain waves are less active.
Stage three and four are the stages you really start to rest, with stage three being an entering of a deep sleep, and stage four being the deepest of the stages. Stage four is the stage where it is most unlikely for you to be woken up by a noise or a nudge as your muscles are completely relaxed. This is where the common saying “dead to the world” is used. Stage four of sleep is the ultimate goal. It is within this stage that your body repairs itself, hormones are released to heal the body, tissue grows, and cellular energy is restored.
Be Smart About What You Eat and Drink
What you eat and drink can have such a drastic effect on the quality of sleep you can achieve. It may come as no surprise when we say no caffeine before bedtime, and to limit alcohol drinks too – which can really disturb your sleep cycle, and cause chaos with your circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is the last thing you want in chaos as it is responsible for your physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle.
Eating a lot before going to bed can also wreak havoc on this rhythm, as your body is supposed to be preparing to rest, but instead, is going through the process of digesting, which requires the bodies energy instead of it conserving it.
Some foods can actually be helpful for promoting sleep such as a light, ‘carby’ snack, but avoid full meals or anything stimulating. Carbs are the go-to when it comes to sleeping as they quickly raise blood sugar levels, which means the inevitable drop will make us sleepy. Carbs are also known to boost tryptophan and serotonin, which are two brain chemicals involved in sleep, and feeling peaceful.
Use Natural Supplements as an Aid
There are many reasons people don’t want to use prescribed sleeping tablets, but that doesn’t mean there is no hope. Using natural supplements such as melatonin or herbs that induce sleep, such as lavender and valerian, can be an excellent alternative. The latest supplement that can benefit sleep is cannabidiol oil which is a non-psychoactive derivative of the cannabis plant. This may come as no surprise as cannabis has been used as a sleeping agent all over the globe.
Clear Your Mind
It’s not a shock that what isn’t conducive to a good sleep is when your brain is whirring at full speed the moment your head hits the pillow. We’ve all been there, but how on earth do we stop it? Using meditation techniques help calm our mind down, but this doesn’t have to require scatter cushions and incense. Meditating is simply anything that gets you to just focus on one thing and be present with it no matter what is going on. Some people find focusing on breathing helpful, others maybe focus on counting, or even colouring in a picture before they go to sleep. Meditation is much like a bath for your brain, just let it soak and relax.
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