We’ve all heard how important it is to get a good night’s sleep. It can boost your immune system, help you focus, improve your physical performance, keep your heart healthy, your body humming and your mind in a positive mental state.
But for some of us, sleep is hard to come by. Whether it’s the pressures of work, a cluttered mind, struggles with anxiety, stress, medications or illness, far too many people struggle with falling and staying asleep.
Reports show that more than a third of New Zealanders aren’t getting enough sleep, with a recent study suggesting that nearly 40% of us spend fewer than seven hours on the pillow each night.
And yes, if you’re a parent to young children, we hear you loud and clear. But even if you’re up at night to feed a baby, change a nappy, clean up an accident or convince your four year old that the spider she saw in the lounge that day is NOT now hiding in her bedroom (because it’s 3am and we all know spiders are physically incapable of moving at night), there are a few things you can do to wind down before bed and ensure the sleep you do get is as restful as possible.
Let’s get started.
1. Wind it down
Take half an hour before you turn in for the night and do something chill – something to help get you into the right frame of mind for sleep. Read a book. Stretch those limbs. Listen to calming music. Take some deep breaths. Meditate. Switch ofF the TV and chat to your partner.
2. Dim and disconnect
Bright light tells your body to stay awake while darkness helps your body to produce melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. Half an hour before bed, try dimming the lights or turning on a lamp with a warm glow.
And while you’re at it, disconnect from devices. Tablets, phones, laptops … all of it. The light can keep your brain wired, suppress your natural production of melatonin and make it really hard to wind down.
3. Use essential oils
Essential oils can be a powerful way to help you relax and sleep better. Naturopath and Medical Herbalist Lauren Vezich of Ascension Kitchen says essential oils contain compounds that have well-known relaxing properties.
“As you diffuse them, they traverse the air and excite the olfactory nerves in your nasal cavity as you breathe them in. Signals are transmitted to the limbic system – the part of the brain that governs your autonomic nervous system control. These signals trigger the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.”
“With this, a sense of safety and calm sets in, and the body moves from its ‘fight or flight’ response into ‘rest and digest’ parasympathetic dominance.”
Aside from diffusing them overnight, you can apply them topically on pressure points (just be sure to dilute them with a carrier oil like coconut) or even put a little on your pillowcase to be inhaled during the night.
But which oils promote sleep?
Lavender is the most widely studied essential oil, and for good reason. It calms the nervous system and has been documented to improve sleep quality. Roman Chamomile is known for reducing anxiety, while Cedarwood has a sedative effect due to a chemical compound called cedrol.
4. Craft a bedtime routine
Consistency is key, so try to create a routine that you follow each night. This helps reinforce healthy habits and signals to the mind and body that bedtime is approaching.
As MINT co-founder Rocky says:
“I have a routine which I’ve found has helped empty my mind and get to sleep easier. I have a bedside journal and every night before sleep I note down three things I’m grateful for that happened that day, and three tasks to accomplish the following day.”
“The journal helps with perspective and jotting down those tasks helps to empty the mind so it doesn’t pop up at 2am.”
Lauren agrees with the benefits of a routine:
“I have found that it isn’t just the use or application of the oils, but the entire evening ritual that helps you unwind and relax before bed. All those little moments are forms of self-care that help communicate to the body: we’re safe, we’re ok, we got this, we can sleep now.”
5. Sip some calming tea
Herbal teas have been used for thousands of years from ancient Chinese emperors to Buddhist monks, Portuguese priests to the British royal family. And the health benefits are hard to ignore. Some teas contain natural sedatives which help you relax, alleviate stress and promote faster sleep.
Chamomile is known as a ‘mild tranquilliser’ with many researchers believing it to function like benzodiazepine – a prescription drug that can reduce anxiety and induce sleep, but without any side effects. Some research suggests that chamomile has an antioxidant called apigenin that binds to certain brain receptors known to bring on sleep and decrease stress.
6. Invest in a good quality pillow and mattress
Is your pillow helping or hurting your sleep? A pillow that’s too hard, too soft, too thick or too thin can cause a restless, wakeful night. Choosing the right one for you depends on how you sleep.
Front sleepers would be best with a fairly flat, soft pillow. Back sleepers should choose a medium pillow, not so high that it pushes your head forward. Side sleepers would benefit from a thicker, firmer pillow that supports your neck.
And while we’re talking about investing in sleep, a good quality mattress can also be the difference between pain and pleasure. A good mattress should support your sleep, not ruin it. So if you’re feeling uncomfortable every night, have difficulty sleeping or are waking up in pain, it might be time to switch up your mattress.
7. Wear your MINT
Ok, so this is not a scientifically proven theory to a restful night’s sleep. But many a MINT Man can vouch for the superior softness and comfort of our organically grown bamboo undies.
“The best compliment I can give is that they’re so comfortable I don’t even know I’m wearing them! Magic pants.” – Matt
“Brilliant product, comfy as you get!” – Sam
“These are the best! So soft, I can’t stop touching them.” – Wendy
“Hands down the best pair I’ve ever worn. Light, breathable, comfortable.” – Albert
Sleeping problems can be complex. What works for your mate might not work for you. So keep trying different approaches until you find something that works. And remember it can take time for methods to take effect, so be patient and give your changes some time to kick in before trying something else.