Often fronted by images of women enjoying spa days and face masks, the term ‘self-care’ is sometimes associated with frivolous self-indulgence. But self-care is actually an essential part of living sustainably and taking the time to nourish both body and mind.
However, good sleep is key to our short-term and long-term mental and physical health, and impacts a whole spectrum of processes, from our cognitive function to the health of our skin.
Why Sleep Matters
According to a 2020 study, conducted by You Gov, one in six of us get by on less than 6 hours of sleep per night. While it may not seem a long way from the ideal 7-9 hours of undisturbed sleep, recommended by the National Sleep Foundation, persistent poor sleep can have a significant effect our energy levels, performance and our recovery.
In contrast, regularly enjoying a good sleep is powerful and can:
- Boost the immune system – sound sleep has been shown to reduce the risk of infection and improve the rate of recovery during infection too.
- Up productivity – memory, attention levels and performance are all improved after a good night’s rest.
- Reduce stress – even slight sleep deprivation has been associated with increased stress levels, anxiety and mental exhaustion. According to one study, it contributed to an increase in emotional stress by up to 30%. Meditation before sleep and resetting the body’s circadian rhythm, by developing a regular sleep routine, can help to reduce stress and decrease cortisol levels to promote a good night’s rest.
- Improve mental health – a recent study suggests that a healthy sleep cycle can repair brain activity and improve emotional regulation, while a poor sleep cycle is linked to the greater occurrence of negative thoughts.
The Science of Sleep
Our sleep runs on our ‘internal body clock.’ This clock runs on a 24-hour cycle called the circadian rhythm and controls when we feel wakeful and tired. In an ideal situation, we will feel most awake in the morning and then gradually our tiredness will increase until it peaks in the evening.
However, our lives today are busy and don’t always support an ideal sleep cycle. From technology and caffeine to exercise and busy minds, the environment and the way we manage it, has a significant role to play in the extent to which we get a good night’s sleep.
Tips for a good night’s rest
- Step outside in the morning – light guides your circadian rhythm. By stepping outside in the morning and letting your eyes see natural light, you’re sending a message to your brain that it’s morning and your body releases cortisol. Conversely, by dimming the lights in the evening and avoiding blue light at least one hour before bed, you’re telling your brain that it’s time to wind down and that’s when your body releases the hormone melatonin.
- Choose a book over screens – blue light can really disrupt your sleep and increase brain activity. Slow down and prepare your mind and body for sleep by reading instead.
- Prepare your bedroom – a cool, dark and clutter-free room is a good environment for a restful sleep. Also, make sure you only use your bedroom to sleep, rather than lounge in or work in. That way, your mind associates your bedroom with sleep, which will help you to nod off easier too.
- Keep a notepad by your pillow – sometimes your best ideas will come to you at night. Rather than holding them in your mind, quickly note them down.
- Build a good night-time routine – you can prepare yourself for sleep with a good night-time routine. As humans, we love routine. Whether that means drinking water and brushing your teeth or a longer routine that involves skincare and reading, keep a good routine to get a restful night.
Prepare for Bed
Having a bedtime routine will prepare you mentally as well as physically for sleep. This can involve winding down and reading a book or include your skincare routine, facial massage and incorporating essential oils.
Spend time, mindfully choosing your oils and applying them to your skin. This will not only help you to slow down mentally and physically, but also take you away from screens and harsh lights, so that you have a good night of rest and feel fresh the next morning.