By Diane Small
We’ve all done it: gone out really late, returned in the wee hours of the morning, slept around 5 hours and woken up looking like a totally different person: puffy eyed, grey skinned and dried out. But we don’t need to have a late night out to look like heck in the morning: some bad habits can add up, making us look temporarily older than we are, and in the long run, accelerating the ageing process, leading to premature wrinkles and sagging skin. The main reason for that? A lack of growth hormone that improves our cellular health.
Human growth hormone (often abbreviated HGH, or GH for growth hormone, or hGH) is an important part of the body’s endocrine system and is released by the brain into the bloodstream during sleep. One of its major functions is the repair and restoration of all our cells. In healthy people, the most important period of HGH release is in the first period of Stage 3 sleep during the night. If you pull an all nighter, there is no surge in growth hormone release, and you look like crap, with no cellular turnover.
But guess what? Not sleeping not only makes you more knackered looking, but it can also make you fatter! We also tend to overeat when we are tired: the body craves carbs when it’s high in the stress hormone cortisol, and a lack of sleep increases levels of this in our system. A vicious circle then begins: we overeat because we are tired, but can’t hit the gym to work it off because we lack the energy.
A lack of sleep isn’t just a beauty problem: doctors and researchers always say that in order to live a healthy and happy life, getting a good night’s sleep is absolutely essential. Regularly sleeping less than 7 hours a night can lead to not only exhaustion, but depression, moodiness, overeating, higher blood pressure and in some rare cases even heart attacks.
Forget expensive creams and treatments – the best thing you can do to improve your beauty and health is just…sleep well! Here are a few tips to get you started.
1) Sleep alone
It may be romantic, but sleeping with a partner can ruin your sleeping patterns. Often it’s difficult to agree on the right room temperature (women are colder faster), blanket heaviness and mattress firmness, so already one of you is compromising. But it your partner snores or moves around a lot at night, you may be waking up frequently without even realising it.
2) No coffee after 6pm
Another guaranteed way to improve your sleeping habits is to avoid caffeine for at least 2-4 hours before your bedtime. It may be tempting to have that last espresso after dinner, but caffeine is a stimulant than can keep you buzzing for up to six hours after ingestion.
3) Kick the habit
Nicotine is another stimulant that keeps you awake and alert hours after consumption, so smoking before bedtime is bound to interfere with the quality of your sleep. Not only that, but smokers tend to snore…even waking themselves up unknowingly in the middle of the night. For the best sleep, just quit smoking. There are plenty of sites that can help you, such as this.
3) Avoid napping
Napping disrupts your body’s natural sleeping patterns. If you find it absolutely necessary to nap during the course of the day, then ensure that you take your nap before 5pm. There are many people who find it impossible to stay asleep through the night or even find it difficult falling asleep, and so often they compensate their lack of sleep with a nap–which makes the problem worse.
4) No late night cocoa
Taking in the right amount of fluids before bedtime is essential in order to improve your sleeping habits – if you consume a lot of fluids before you sleep, you are bound to wake up every few hours to relieve your bladder. But then, if you go to bed thirsty, you may well wake up wanting water. Each person is different; find out the right amount of pre-bedtime fluid for yourself.
5) Hit the gym earlier rather than later
In order to improve your sleeping habits, it is absolutely necessary to ensure that you complete your daily exercise routine at least 3 hours before your bedtime. Exercise is known to stimulate the body to secrete cortisol, the stress hormone which activates the alerting mechanism in the brain, which will result in making you energetic and awake. Thus, in order to maintain good sleeping habits, make sure you hit the gym well before your bedtime. But whatever you do, don’t stop working out: just as sleep does, exercise also induces the release of human growth hormone, which is one reason why fit people look younger longer.
6) No pets
It’s adorable, but sleeping with pets comes with several caveats: we all know that cats are famous for waking owners at the crack of dawn, begging to be fed, and that some breeds of dogs are notorious smokers. All of these ‘cute’ habits, unfortunately, interfere with our own sleeping habits in the long run and can hurt our health. Best to give Fluffy and Fido a bed of their own, preferably in the next room!
People often believe you need to be some kind of swami to meditate, but the truth is, it’s dead easy. All you really need to do is listen…try meditation videos like this one to help clear your mind and relax before bedtime.
8) Try a pillow spray
Aromatherapy has a powerful effect for many people. Lavender oil is particularly known for lulling insomniacs asleep, and maintaining sound sleep for those who have no issues falling into dreamland. There are plenty of great brands in the market; try this one or this one.
9) Ensure you’re comfortable
The ideal temperature for sleep is between 60-67 degrees F, and your bedroom should have some fresh air and no light. Consider using blackout curtains, an eye mask, earplugs or a white noise machine (like a fan or humidifier) to ensure your room is as dark, quiet and comfortable as possible, and that your mattress and pillow are perfect for you.
10) Stick to a routine
As anyone who’s travelled far east or west knows, messing up our sleeping habits leads to jet lag. But you don’t need to be on holidays to suffer interrupted sleeping habits – just a few later than usual nights out or even the change of clock time from summer to winter hours can mess you up. Create a sleep routine so your body knows it’s time to chill out. Your body needs time to shift into sleep mode, so spend the last hour or so before bed doing a calming activity such as reading a book or taking a hot bath.
11) Avoid laptops and phones before bed
Using an electronic device such as a laptop can make it hard to fall asleep, because the particular type of blue light emanating from the screens of these devices is activating to the brain, making it think it’s daytime, and stopping you from really winding down. If you have trouble sleeping, avoid electronics before bed or in the middle of the night.
Improving your sleeping habits will result in a healthier, happier and prettier you. You will find that a good night’s sleep makes you feel more energetic, alert and active during the day. Improving your sleeping habits is simple and only involves a few basic and healthy lifestyle changes.