Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day — Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death.
— Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Do you feel refreshed? Do you bounce out of bed ready and eager to tackle the day ahead? Let’s be honest, most of us do not. Factors such as stress, nutrition and current life-circumstances all play a role. Out of these factors, some are out of our direct control. However, there are a number of variables which are controllable and which, when adjusted, can have a positive effect on the quality of our sleep. You may want to keep a sleep-diary noting down factors such as those below so that you can track what effected the biggest change.

 
Photo by solvod/iStock / Getty Images

Hormones
A regular sleep-wake cycle is crucial for a healthy hormone balance. This makes a consistent bed-time and wake-up routine critical, ideally, getting up early and going to bed early. For example, raising at 6am and being in bed by 10pm.
Whilst this is not necessarily achievable for everyone, it is good to set goals and aim for them where possible.

Our circadian rhythm (medical lingo for the hormone control rhythm) evolved with sunset and sunrise. This means that our body like to experience the changes in light during morning and night. This means that a walk at dusk can increase your sleep quality as your body notices the change in light and will start producing melatonin (see also Light and darkness below).

 
Ideal sleep temp

Temperature
Sleeping in an environment which is too hot or too cold is not restorative. The ideal sleep temperature for most people is around 18 degrees. If you have an automatic thermostat, set it so that it lowers the temperature to 18 degrees about 1 hour before you go to bed and raises it by 2 degrees about 2 hours before you get up.

 
Darkness for ideal sleep

Light and darkness
We sleep best in complete darkness. This is because our brain monitors the amount of light present and regulates the secretion of sleep-state or wake-state hormones, such as melatonin and serotonin, accordingly. If you like reading before you go to sleep, use a gentle, low light source such as a 25 watts bulb in your bedside lamp. For the same reason, it is advisable to avoid monitors and mobile devices 1 to 1.5 hours before bed-time.

 
Dinner time

Dinner time
We sleep best with an empty stomach. Plan to eat at least 3 hours before bed time and avoid after-dinner snacks for a better night’s sleep. When your body is busy digesting, it is not busy recovering from the day.

 
Good mattress and pillow for better sleep

Mattress & pillow
A great mattress and pillow can make a big difference to your sleep and therefore your health. This is especially so if you are already experiencing health issues such as back pain, neck pain and/or headaches. I have partnered with Therapeutic Pillow International, a Melbourne-based company specialising in the manufacture of therapeutic pillows. These pillows can have a dramatic effect on quality of sleep and are fully adjustable to fit all shapes and sizes. Most people find the Complete Sleeprrr Original suitable. The pillows are made from heat sensitive memory foam which molds to the contour of your neck and head and are registered with the TGA. Contact me to discuss which pillow could help you sleep better.

When it comes to choosing a great mattress it is hard to know who to trust. This is why I have a commercial relationship with Regal Sleep Solutions, a Melbourne-based mattress producer whose Healthy Life mattresses are guaranteed to improve your current health condition. Further, Regal Sleep’s Healthy Life mattresses have been certified as Class One Medical Devices by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). This means that WorkSafe and TAC may pay for you to upgrade your mattress under certain conditions^.
Are you thinking about upgrading your mattress? Contact me to arrange an unconditional VIP mattress fitting at your nearest Regal Sleep store and to receive further discounts of all mattresses in store.

 
Stressful life-style

Stress
There are few things more disruptive to restorative deep sleep than stress. Yet, sleep is vitally important to relieve stress - a catch-22. Long-term exposure to excessive stress and stress hormones leads to fatigue, irritability and eventually burn-out. The problem is that excessive stress is almost always a multi-faceted issue often involving at least some elements outside our immediate control. Therefore, finding ways to reduce the built-up stress and stress hormones becomes a worthwhile goal. One of the most powerful tools to achieve this with is mindfulness or meditation, the other is exercise (more below). Before you discount mindfulness as too hard or not worth your while, let me ensure you: Mindfulness is neither difficult nor ineffective. In fact, EVERYONE can learn it and EVERYONE can benefit from it - GUARANTEED. Over the past decades, the field of mindfulness and meditation has undergone rigorous scientific scrutiny. The results of thousands of studies are objectively positive and encouraging, here are a few key points.

As little as 10 minutes of mindfulness / meditation per day over a period of time lead to positive changes in a myriad of health-related areas of our body and mind such as:

  • Increased density of brain-cells

  • Reduction in stress hormones

  • Improved memory, cognitive function and problem solving ability

  • Reduced pain perception and improved coping with chronic pain

Mindfulness / meditation works for everyone regardless of age, mental or physical state and ability and whether or not you believe it will work. Imagine it like a daily reboot for your brain. A recent segment on the ABC show Catalyst followed a number of people through a mindfulness / meditation experiment with surprising results; it is well worth watching.

Should you be interested in learning mindfulness / meditation, I recommend Sam Harris’ app Waking Up. This app is designed to teach you mindfulness meditation in a fun, informative and achievable way in only 10 minutes per day. In my opinion, there is no single more powerful tool to optimise your body and mind than mindfulness / meditation. If you are only going to make one change, this should be it.

 
Healthy nutrition

Nutrition
Malnutrition can be a great source of stress for your body. As we saw above, stress hormones cause us to miss out on restorative deep sleep. Moreover, lack of certain specific nutrients can have a very direct detrimental effect on sleep quality. One common example is a lack of magnesium which will increase resting muscle tone making it difficult to get comfortable at night. Do you find yourself tossing and turning and waking up frequently? This could be due to magnesium deficiency. Contact me to discuss how we can improve your sleep by addressing nutritional factors.¹

 
Exercise for improved sleep

Exercise
Our bodies have evolved to be what they are today through constant adaptation and through daily movement - lots of it. After all, we used to wander the earth as nomadic tribes until rather recently. Then, throughout the industrial age, physical exercise decreased dramatically leading to a steep rise in diseases related to sedentary life-styles. There is much truth in the old saying ‘movement is life’.

Frequent movement and exercise is necessary for the optimal function of almost all bodily processes such as:

  • Movement of fluids and thus nutrients and waste products by way of muscle-pump action

  • Energy production

  • Healthy cell-growth and repair

  • Production of happy hormones like serotonin and dopamine

  • Good digestion, and much more.

The good news is that to stay healthy, 3 x 3 minutes of daily vigorous exercise goes a long way. What is important is that you exercise to raise your heart rate. This is about the point where it would be difficult to say “I am committed to improving my sleep through daily practice!” without having to take a deep breath in the middle of the sentence. You could do this by

a) doing as many push-ups, chin-ups or ab-crunches as you can do until you’re puffed
b) paddling as hard as you can on an exercise bike or running on your treadmill
c) doing as many squats as you can or any other exercise you like.

It really is not important what type of exercise you choose, the outcome (= raised heart rate) is what counts, so pick something that’s fun for you.

The effects of daily exercise are numerous and exciting:

  1. Reduction in stress hormones = better overall health and well being

  2. Increase in fat-burning enzymes which will stay active for 12-24 hours = weight loss

  3. Improved performance through increased supply of oxygen and nutrients

  4. Increased happiness through release of serotonin and dopamine

  5. Improved sleep and everything that comes with it.


As you can see, there are lots of variables within your control which can help you find a better night’s sleep and thus improve your health and well-being. If you would like more information, the book Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams by Matthew Walker is a great resource.

 

I would love to hear how you managed to improve your sleep. Did you try any of the methods above or do you have your own special method to share?
Do you have questions I have not addressed above?

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^ Active claim required. Written approval from your case manager required before mattress purchase. Contact Regal Sleep for further details on the process.

¹ While osteopaths are trained in nutrition, they are unable to medically diagnose nutritional deficiencies. As most nutrients are safe to supplement and relatively inexpensive, it often makes sense to try supplementation as part of a supervised treatment regime. If you are concerned that you may have a nutritional deficiency, see your doctor or let your chosen health care professional know so they can refer you appropriately.