THE IN-TRAY

The art of sleeping: 4 ways to get a better night’s rest according to a naturopath

Sleep. We literally can’t get enough of it. More than ever, people are not only thinking about how much sleep they’re getting, but the quality of their sleep, too. We’re busier, plugged into more devices, staying up later (cheers, latest season of Younger) and have more on our minds than ever before. Regardless, sleep shouldn’t be an after-thought; so much of our body’s tissues and physiological systems—and nearly all operations of the mind—are powerfully enhanced when we get sufficient sleep, and impaired when we don’t. We recently spoke to Anthia Koullouros, the resident naturopath at our flagship store in Sydney, about sleep, its connection to our overall health and everything in between.

THE MAGIC NUMBER (OF HOURS)

Everyone’s body is different, and some people feel like they can get by on less sleep than others. But according to Koullouros, we should focus on getting eight to nine and half hours of “bed time” in order to get seven to nine hours of actual sleep time. “Most people when they turn off the light don’t fall asleep immediately and may not stay asleep for the entirety of the night,” she explains. Long story short, we should all be spending more time in bed—and if you’re splurging on nice linen sheets and getting into a new book, why wouldn’t you?

FOOD AND DRINKS TO AVOID

We’ve heard it all before: caffeine shouldn’t be on the menu before your head hits the pillow. Not only in a flat white-kind-of-way, but also in the other food and drink you might consume at night. “Look for where caffeine is found in food and drinks, like cola, energy drinks, chocolate, green tea, black tea and in supplements,” starts Koullouros. “Caffeine has a half-life of about six hours—in other words, after around six hours half of that caffeine is still swirling around in your brain: it’s a psychoactive stimulant, which means it increases activity in the brain.”

Now, some of us enjoy a glass of red wine of an evening, but alcohol isn’t your friend when it comes to getting a good night’s sleep. “You think [after drinking] that you fall asleep faster, but you’re just sedating the brain. Alcohol fragments your sleep, so you wake up many more times throughout the night—and you wake up feeling unrefreshed,” says Koullouros. And if you’re one of those people who looks forward to dreaming when you sleep? No alcohol before bed for you: “it’s actually very good at blocking your rapid eye movement sleep—your dream sleep.”

Eating a diet full of processed and refined foods, eating late at night or too close to bedtime and eating a diet too low-carb will also effect sleep. “A nutrient-dense diet rich in calcium (sardines with bones, hulled tahini, high quality, additive free dairy), magnesium (leafy greens and almonds), and vitamin D (high quality pastured chicken eggs) helps sleep,” says Koullouros.

RITUALS TO HELP YOU SLEEP MORE SOUNDLY

Get into the rhythm of going to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time, no matter what day of the week it is, suggests Koullouros. “Try and sleep in a well-ventilated room with fresh air, sleep in natural material cotton or natural bed linen and avoid using digital devices an hour before bed.”

How your bedroom is lit also plays into how quickly you might fall asleep. “Dim the lights; night-time light exposure suppresses the production of melatonin, which is the major hormone secreted by the pineal gland that controls sleep and wake cycles.” Can’t fall asleep after 25 minutes? Koullouros suggests getting up and reading in a different room before trying again.

ARE POWER NAPS A THING?

“I see them as more as a “rest” rather than making up for lost sleep from the previous night’s broken sleep. If you struggle with sleep at night, it is best to not nap. Stay awake, build up all of that healthy sleepiness to help you sleep better at night and stay asleep.”

THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF NOT ENOUGH SLEEP

“Decades of research has shown that if you don't sleep between seven and nine hours per night you will not be able to manage stress, feel more stressed, have poor cognition and gain weight. Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are risk factors, as well as depression.” So, time for bed then?

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