Sleeping Tips: How To Get Better Sleep

Sleeping Tips: How To Get Better Sleep
BY Carey Townsend
Posted On 19 March, 2024

Are you looking for ways to get better sleep? Like most things in life, when we don’t have them, we covet them, and sleep is no different. Speak to the new mother who dreams of sneaking away for uninterrupted Zs, or the insomniac whose anxiety hits as the sun goes down – when we’re not sleeping, we’re suffering.

In my teens and 20s, I discovered the booming nightlife of the metropolis of Cape Town and happily handed over my sleep to the clubs, racking up debt as deep as the Mariana Trench. Interestingly, I didn’t feel it then and, perhaps due to my youth or just the sheer excitement of being out, happily eked it out on the bare minimum.

Fast-forward to my early 30s when my first son was born, and the coveting of sleep began. I’d climb into bed anxiously, calculating how many hours of sleep there’d be until the next feed. Resentment grew as my husband and I bickered over who got up last time, grumbling with burning eyes to the nursery. Suddenly, sleep was on the agenda and has remained front and centre ever since.

“Sleep is essential to live your healthiest life,” says Christie Stanley, holistic health practitioner specialising in lymphatic iridology and circadian biology. “Our bodies cannot enter deep phases of cellular repair if we don’t enter the deepest phases of sleep.”

In bypassing this essential state of regeneration, we experience a cascade of symptoms, from hormonal imbalance to low libido and lack of focus. “Most adults are suffering from chronic exhaustion,” says transformational psychiatrist Dr Shiv Dawson, “so we crave restorative sleep as a key pillar of health and happiness.”

The quest for sound sleep led me back to nature. Not long ago, people lived according to the Earth’s relationship with the sun. Our activities and diet changed with the seasons, and we honoured our bodies’ primal and cyclical nature. We woke with the sun, performed tasks until dusk, settled in for the night, and slept. By implementing a few of these ancestral hacks, we might just be able to secure the ever-elusive full night’s rest consistently.

Circadian rhythms, your internal biological clock, operate on a roughly 24-hour cycle and influence when you feel sleepy, wake up, and carry out various bodily processes.

Our modern lives, however, see us connected to light-emitting digital devices from the moment we open our eyes to the moment we close them, and this constant connection wreaks havoc with our circadian rhythms and bodies as a whole. “Circadian disruption leads to the destruction of vital hormones and contributes to the onset of neolithic (infectious) diseases,” says Christie. “Blue light devices and bright artificial light after sunset are major circadian disruptors, reducing melatonin (the body’s sleep hormone) and driving inflammation.” Exposure to blue light from screens before bed tricks the brain into thinking it’s still daylight, thus blocking the release of melatonin and making it difficult to fall and stay asleep.

Minimising contact with blue light at night is a powerful way to down-regulate your system and prepare it for sleep.

While I’ve embraced candlelight at night (thank you, Eskom, for the lighting inspiration), I still indulge in the odd night of scrolling and watching (hello, Succession S4). To counter the effects, I decided to try a pair of blue light-blocking glasses.

TrulyBlue founder Jacques Prinsloo recommends limiting blue light exposure for at least an hour before going to bed or using blue light-blocking glasses to minimise the adverse effects on sleep, and I must say I am sold. Slipping on the glasses, I’ve found viewing a screen less sharp on my eyes and less arousing for my nervous system.

My blue-blocking glasses are only filed for occasional use, as easing into candlelit evenings sets me up for sleep success. What you do first thing in the morning is as important as what you do at night. “Good sleep is established with healthy habits, beginning in the morning,” says Dr Dawson. Her suggestion? Tuning into your circadian rhythm and rising with the sun (a feat far more achievable once late-night viewing has been axed).

Another game-changer is exposing your eyes to early-morning natural light and avoiding waking and scrolling. The light that enters your eyes communicates to your cells what time of day it is, providing vital signals to balance hormones and other functions.

Exposing your eyes to sunrise wavelengths (even on an overcast day) tells your body to stop producing melatonin. It allows for the natural rise of cortisol and the production of dopamine and serotonin, leaving you feeling naturally energised and happy. Interestingly, windows block these powerful wavelengths, so your best bet is to get outside – onto the ground, if possible – or to crack open a window or door and raise your face to the sky.

One thing that poor sleep is unequivocally linked to is weight gain. Have you ever noticed that a short stint of sleep (less than a full 7 to 9 hours) leaves you craving all of the carbs? The science says you’re reaching for that chocolate croissant because two hormones, leptin and ghrelin, are out of whack and messing with your body’s ability to regulate your appetite.

All we need to do is tune back into our bodies’ natural rhythms and channel our ancestors’ wisdom: more morning sunlight, more feet on the grass… Leptin, secreted by your body’s fat cells, is known as the “satiety hormone”. It’s your body’s way of telling your brain that you’re full.

On the other hand, Ghrelin has been dubbed the “hunger hormone”, signaling to your brain that your digestive system needs filling. Studies show measurable differences in the levels of these hormones when people are well-rested compared to when their sleep is scrappy. Specifically, when people slept for shorter periods, their leptin levels fell while ghrelin rose.

Creating a more supportive and consistent sleep routine helps aid weight loss and works to keep blood sugar stable.

Some of the most potent healing solutions from nature are free of charge. All we need to do is tune back into our bodies’ natural rhythms and channel our ancestors’ wisdom: more morning sunlight, more feet on the grass, more time in nature. Tried-and-tested cures for restorative, healthy sleep and a happy, healthy body. See you outside and at the gym! Join a Virgin Active gym near you today.