The secrets of a good night's sleep

Sleep is your superpower. Here’s how to harness its health benefits.

The power of sleep cannot be underestimated. A good night’s sleep can make everything better including our skin, energy levels, memory, focus, gross motor skills, moods and immunity. Good sleep also helps balance our hormones, regulate our metabolism and makes us less likely to overeat. New studies about sleep—and why we need more than we think—just keep on coming, each proving the time we spend asleep can be as productive as our waking hours. “Sleep is vitally important to both our short- and long-term health,” says Sleep Scientist and author of The Complete Guide to a Good Night’s Sleep (MacMillan) and "The Sleep Diet" (MacMillan) Dr Carmel Harrington of Sydney sleep clinic.

Dr Harrington says in the short term inadequate sleep compromises our immune function and increases our risk of catching colds and flus. Sleep also plays a big role in weight management. When we don’t get enough sleep our appetite increases, our metabolic rate decreases, we are less motivated to exercise and our body prefers to burn lean muscle instead of fat, she says. “In the long term, it makes us more likely to develop chronic diseases such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, obesity and to die younger than a well-slept person,” Dr Harrington says.

She says chronic sleep deprivation is a relatively new phenomena—in just over 50 years there has been a big change in the number of hours slept per night. “In 1960, the average nightly sleep duration was about 8.5 hours. But today the average working adult sleeps for just 6.4 hours on week nights.” It’s no coincidence this radical reduction in sleep time coincides with rising rates of depression, obesity and metabolic disorders in industrialised countries.

So how much is enough?

Most of us need somewhere between seven to nine hours of sleep a night. While this is a good guideline, some people can be fine getting only six hours, while others may need more than 9 hours to feel fully rested. The relevant test is how you feel after waking up and during the day. If after eight hours of sleep you feel tired and lack energy and motivation during the day chances are that you are not getting the quantity or quality of sleep you require. If this is you, try going to bed an hour earlier. You may be surprised by how much of a difference just an extra hour of sleep can make.

Finding the right amount of sleep that you as an individual require may take some time. A good way of working this out is to think back to your last vacation. If you felt well-slept at that time, recall how many hours sleep you were having—this is a good indication as to how much sleep you require all the time.

Sleeping longer on the weekends could also be a sign you are not getting enough during the week. Ditto relying on an alarm clock to wake you in the morning, overuse of caffeine as a pick-me-up or feeling sleepy in the afternoon or early evening, Dr Harrington says. Other questions to consider include: how long does it take me to fall asleep, do I feel sleepy most days and when did I last have a good night’s sleep?

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A brief guide to start getting better sleep

1. Make sleep a priority, just like exercise and eating well. Schedule what time you need to get up and count backward by 8 hours to work out your optimal bedtime.

2. Develop a bedtime routine that could include a candlelit bath or hot shower and gentle stretching, a cup of chamomile tea, journaling, some yoga sleep postures or deep breathing exercises.

3. Turn off all technology and dim all lighting at least one hour before you plan to go to sleep. Low light tells your brain to produce the hormone melatonin which makes you feel sleepy.

4. Do not eat a large meal within three hours of bedtime because digestion disrupts deep sleep.

5. Avoid exercise at least three hours before bedtime. Avoid caffeine after noon. Also avoid alcohol, smoking, social media and even tense conversations in the evening. Remember your bedroom should be a screen and work-free zone, reserved for sleeping and sex only. Charge your devices in another room during the night.

Some other beauty sleep strategies to consider…

Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Night Concentrate has been dubbed “beauty sleep in a jar” for good reason. It’s an ultra-concentrated serum that includes nourishing oils and rich botanical extracts of squalene (from olive oil), green tea, wild thyme, ginseng, liquorice, marjoram and jujube fruit to promote plump, luminous skin by morning.

If you want to bid goodnight to dull, congested skin and wake up with smooth glowing skin, Drunk Elephant Nightbright is a dynamic after dark duo of Drunk Elephant's bestselling T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum and Virgin Marula Luxury Facial Oil to resurface skin and soften lines and wrinkles with a blend of AHAs and BHA then replenish skin radiance with a potent blend of antioxidants and omega 3s.

Kiss goodbye to dry lips with Lips de Luscious Overnight, an intense and hydrating overnight lip treatment infused with Shea Butter and vitamin E to ensure you pucker up to a perfect pout.

This Works Deep Sleep Bath Soak is a therapeutic, sleep-inducing formula that will have you stumbling sleepily from your bathroom. The deeply soothing and sedative properties of lavender, vetivert and wild chamomile essential oils help soak away stress and tension then send them down the drain.

This Works Sleep Plus Pillow Spray is an aromatic mist designed for restless sleepers who need extra help in the form of 100 per natural essential oils of lavender, vetivert and wild chamomile to calm their body and mind before bed. If you suffer from insomnia perhaps it could be time to try spritzing yourself sleepy.

Nothing feels more luxurious than sliding between crisp, clean sheets at the end of a long day. Unless you have live-in help to change your bedlinen daily (lucky you), you can take a little shortcut by spraying your bedroom with Byredo Cotton Poplin Fragrance then drift away on a dreamy, aromatic cloud of linen, white cedarwood, blue chamomile and sweet.

Sweet dreams indeed!


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