In today’s world, where being constantly on the go, multitasking and side hustling is revered, this isn’t very surprising. Add to that the fact that humans are the only species that doesn’t sleep when they are tired.
“Humans actively resist sleep, whereas every other mammal, doesn’t. Our advanced brain system, such as our our prefrontal cortex, allows us to consciously override our basic biological needs such as sleep,” explains Stephanie Kersta, a sleep specialist trained in cognitive behavioural therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) and co-founder of Hoame, a a meditation studio in Toronto.
“This higher level functioning allows us the choice to take stimulants, splash cold water on our face, whatever we need to do to force wakefulness no matter how sleepy we are.”
But let’s be real. As much as many of us feel sleep deprived and crave more rest, we’re also the ones catching up on social media, sitting through just one more episode on Netflix or replying to “just one more” work email instead hitting the sack. So prioritizing sleep in your life is the first step.
Ultimately, you’ll want to be getting approximately 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, says Carolyn Plater, also a sleep specialist trained in CBT-I and co-founder of Hoame. However, even if sleep is your priority #1, insomnia is, of course, a common problem, leading many of us to frustratingly count sheep to infinity. “At the end of the day, be kind to yourself; not everyone can get perfect sleep every night, however, any improvement with sleep provides a big payoff,” she says.
How to get more sleep
Establishing a good bedtime routine is essential to set you up well for a good night’s sleep, say Plater and Kersta. Here are seven ways these two sleep experts recommend (and personally practice themselves) for getting the restorative zzz’s you need.
Practice yoga nidra. You’ve dabbled in vinyasa but how about yoga nidra? Known as yogic sleep, yoga nidra is a practice that allows you to enter the middle zone between wake and sleep, explains Kersta. “It is a laying-down meditation that activates the parasympathetic nervous system—our rest and relaxation system. By tapping into this system, we lower cortisol levels, norepinephrine and epinephrine levels, and overall stress reduction. We also focus on the third eye in yoga nidra, which is the space between our eyebrows, and behind this is the pineal gland, which is the gland responsible for melatonin production, which we need to get into REM sleep.”
Set your room to a cool temperature. “Sleep in a cold, dark room about 17 to 19 degrees Celsius,” says Plater. Our body temperature lowers naturally when we sleep, so by setting your room to a cooler temp will introduce your body to a slightly chilled state, encouraging sleep. Plus, if the room temp veers too far from this ideal sleeping temp, this can often disrupt your restorative REM sleep.
Take a soothing bath with epsom salts. The magnesium from epsom salts in a bath get absorbed by your body and this mineral helps to promote calm and relaxation.
Practice exercises that boost relaxation. Legs-up-the-wall pose helps to boost circulation of the blood and lymphatic fluid; this gentle inversion is considered restorative and brings about a state of relaxation. Alternatively, doing progressive muscle relaxation (during which you first tense certain muscle groups, such as your shoulders and neck, and then release that tension, being mindful of how that feels) can lower stress.
Drink to a good night’s sleep. Avoid caffeine after 3 p.m., and drink beverages that encourage snoozing, such as sleep tea (typical ingredients include chamomile, valerian, lavender and lemon balm).
Set up your bed for a good night’s rest. Use the benefits of aromatherapy to bring about slumber. An essential oil pillow spray with calming ingredients such as lavender, ylang ylang or bergamot is the adult equivalent of a lullaby in a spritz format. Also, a gravity blanket may serve you better than your duvet at getting you to a night of sweet dreams. This weighted blanket is said to encourage sleep thanks to its ability to mimic the feeling of being held or hugged as it applies gentle pressure across your body.
Ban electronics one hour before going to bed. The world won’t come to an end if you aren’t checking your emails up until your head hits the pillow. Exposure to the blue light from screens and from energy-efficient lighting has been found to suppress the body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that impacts your circadian rhythms (that is, the 24-hour biological cycle).