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Mind & Body

How to sleep better

With more of us struggling to get an unbroken night’s rest, SUZANNE SCOTT looks for the sleep-boosting solutions that work

Beauty

Two-thirds of us are poor sleepers, despite many of us trying numerous pre-bed rituals and sleep-hygiene methods. Plus, generally speaking, the quality of women’s sleep is worse than that of men. “Menstruation, pregnancy, menopause – and hormonal shifts – have a huge impact on our ability to sleep,” explains Jessica Hoyer, founder of night-time beauty brand Bynacht. In addition, we are all experiencing a higher degree of emotional labor and anxiety in these difficult times, which also impacts our ability to sleep well. That said, research does show that just one extra hour of sleep per night can make us happier and healthier.

Take control of night anxiety

We know it’s impossible to sleep well with anxiety – daytime worries and incomplete to-do lists always haunt us in the middle of the night. One idea worth trying, the next time you find yourself awake with your worries, is to try settling under a weighted blanket. As a therapy, weighted blankets are not a new concept, and they have been used in the care industry for people living with autism for years. They are specially weighted so the blanket envelops your body, wrapping you in a solid hug. Experts believe this could increase the ‘happy hormone’ serotonin, while decreasing anxiety and putting a stop to the continuous, restless movement many of us experience at night.

You can work out before bed

Common sense would suggest working out before bed is a bad idea. The combined effect of elevated heart rate, cortisol, adrenalin and body temperature should, in theory, spell disaster for a good night’s sleep. But the truth is studies have found that when you exercise has little impact on sleep. In fact, working up a sweat can help to reduce your body temperature ready for sleep, not to mention that working out adds to your physical exhaustion. So, if you prefer to do your workout in the morning, that’s great – but don’t force it if you’re a natural night owl and prefer to exercise in the evening.

Is your digestion keeping you awake?

Your digestion doesn’t stop because you’re sleeping. “Your organs are most active at different times of the night,” explains Annee de Mamiel, an acupuncturist, aromatherapist and healing holistic facialist. “The liver, for example, is busiest between 1am and 3am, and your large intestine is working hardest from around 5am.” If your gut has to work harder because you’ve eaten a difficult-to-digest meal before bed, you won’t sleep well. De Mamiel suggests taking a milk-thistle supplement every morning to support your liver, and introducing pre- and probiotics to help your gut. Increase your fiber intake and eat fermented foods, such as yogurt, to equip your gut with prebiotics, and keep your evening meal light and consisting of low-GI foods with plenty of fiber. That way you won’t see a spike in blood-sugar, which could wake you up in the middle of the night.

Adjust your temperature

“If you can, leave your windows open for at least two hours before going to bed to circulate the air, and set your thermostat to 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit [16-21 degrees Celsius],” says Hoyer. “When your bedroom is too warm, your body is less likely to be able to reduce its internal thermostat, leading to poor sleep and puffy skin.” Your feet are the exception; having warm feet dilates your blood vessels, which tells your brain it’s time to sleep. So, if your feet are cold, wear a pair of cashmere socks. Hoyer also advocates applying skincare containing high- and low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid to both hydrate and retain moisture.

Listen to a bedtime story

Listening to bedtime stories can distract your mind from its usual wandering, making them ideal for anyone with an overactive brain. Meditative sleep apps such as Calm now employ ‘storytellers’ to write soothing tales that induce sleep – and most are narrated by familiar voices, such as Stephen Fry and Matthew McConaughey. The narrative isn’t what’s important; rather it’s the poetic prose and soft timbre of the narrator’s voice that will lull you to sleep.

Supplement the right way

We’re familiar with magnesium as a sleep aid – it calms the nervous system and prepares mind and body for rest – but there are other, less obvious supplements to help you sleep through the night. “If fidgeting keeps you awake and you can’t sleep even though you’re exhausted, you should check your iron levels for anemia,” explains de Mamiel. Iron-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, alongside a good-quality iron supplement, will help. Unfortunately, exhausted doesn’t always equal sleepy – so if you find it difficult to sleep despite feeling fatigued, you should supplement your diet with a B vitamin to help maintain levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that produces the sleep hormone melatonin.

The aromatherapy oils that actually work

When it comes to sleep-boosting aromatherapy oils, lavender is the most obvious choice, but there are even better alternatives you might not know about. “Vetivert and wild chamomile have the strongest sedative properties,” says Christina Salcedas, global director at Aromatherapy Associates. “Alternatively, if you just want to unwind and you’re not ready for bed, ylang ylang, petigrain and lavender are all great.”

If crystals are your thing…

“Great sleep depends on slowing your energy, and the right crystals can help you do just that,” says Emma Lucy Knowles, author of The Power of Crystal Healing. You may already have a rose-quartz roller on your nightstand, such as Angela Caglia’s bestselling La Vie en Rose Face Roller, and while rose quartz is known to help bring harmony to a relationship, some may find it too stimulating to promote sleep. Instead, Knowles advises, “keep howlite, aragonite and barite nearby, or under your pillow. They help to still a busy mind, alleviate tension and improve rest and dream recall.”

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