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By Lora O’Brien
We’ve all heard of clean eating, where we ditch processed and refined foods in favour of healthier grub. We’re also all familiar with clean beauty, which involves using only cosmetics that have non-toxic ingredients. And now, there’s a new type of clean living on the block, and this time it’s hitting our beds. Yep, we’re talking clean sleeping.
Actress and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow has recently spoken out about how sleep health plays a vital role in her healthy lifestyle – apparently, she aims for at least seven or eight hours of good sleep a night, although ten hours is ideal – and she firmly believes that sleep plays a greater role in our health than we give it credit for.
Whilst Gwyneth may find the time to sleep for ten hours, for the majority of us that may be a bit too much, according to the National Sleep Foundation, which recommends that adults between the ages of 18 to 64 aim for between 7-9 hours nightly.
But like food and beauty products, not all sleep is ‘clean’ – if you depend on pills to knock yourself out; if you find yourself constantly waking up throughout the night, or even if you just wake up tired all the time, it’s probably time for you to check out these 10 rules for clean sleeping.
After all, poor sleep can actually interfere with the body’s hormones, immune system, cellular repair systems and metabolism, which can have a knock-on effect when it comes our emotional state (hello, mood swings), skin quality, weight and even a slowed motor coordination.
So, let’s delve a little deeper into clean sleeping, and see how to maximise the amount of decent kip you get each night.
1. Sleep with an awesome mattress and pillow
When you consider the fact that we spend roughly a third of our life sleeping, it’s important to find the perfect bedding. Some like it firm, some like it soft – whatever your preference, ensure your bed is the right size for you to be able to move around a bit, and comfy enough that you don’t wake up throughout the night with a sore back or neck.
Obviously, no one wants to be sleeping on something toxic. Yet sadly, many of us are! And it’s not only those ‘memory foam’ beds and pillows that are full of all kinds of weird stuff – toxic fireproofing chemicals, formaldehyde and boric acid are sprayed all over most mattresses and pillows. And guess what? We breathe in the fumes from those seriously gross chemicals all night long.
If you’re not vegan, opt for a natural down pillow; if you are vegan, go for natural cotton or latex fillings. For beds, Coco-Mat produces seriously natural mattresses, ethically made in Europe from naturally replenished raw materials such as cotton, seaweed, wool and wood. They’re GOTS certified (Global Organic Textile Standards), which indicates they’ve got no nasties. If you live too far for Coco-Mat to deliver to you, ensure when you buy any mattress, it’s also GOTS certified!
2. No food or drink before bed
While we all get a little peckish from time to time before bed, more often than not we reach for something that’s going to hinder our sleep rather than enhance it. The wrong kind of food can cause numerous problems, like heartburn, gas, or just feeling a bit too full, which can stop you from feeling comfortable enough to sleep.
Of course going to sleep hungry can also trigger difficulty when it comes to sleeping. Try to prevent this from happening by ensuring that you opt for balanced meals and snacks throughout the day with slow releasing carbs to keep your energy levels stable.
Finally, if you drink before bed, even something as benign as a glass of water, it can disrupt your sleep because – you guessed it – you’ll need to get up to pee.
3. No devices before bed
Most of us sleep with our phones beside our beds, but if you’re one for bringing electronics into your bedroom, you need to break that habit now. Say goodbye to your phone, your TV, your electronic reader – whatever it is, it needs to go.
Before technology became a way of life, the signaling of light and dark helped us to be alert in the morning, and sleepy at night. Now though, we’re constantly staring into electronic devices, exposing ourselves to the blue light they emit. This keeps us awake for three reasons: the light prevents the production of ‘sleepy hormone’ melatonin; being online stimulates our brains too much and can even stress us out; and finally, the EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) emitted by wifi disrupt our sleep.
So, turn your phone off an hour before you get into bed. I recommend charging it in a separate room and using an old school alarm clock to wake in the morning. If you MUST work late at night, download the free f.lux app – it puts a yellowish hue over your laptop at night, filtering out the blue light that keeps you awake.
4. Sleep in a dark, cool room
Modern bedrooms have too many light sources: the glow of clocks, electronic devices, smoke detectors, street lights and even lights from neighbour’s houses. These can be detrimental to our quality of sleep due to chronic exposure to light (see above for why).
Keeping cool whilst in bed is also important as it has a positive impact on our cortisol levels. When we’re overheated, this hormone rises and can lead to increased anxiety and stress, and carb cravings. Cortisol also inhibits human growth hormone, which is normally released in larger quantities at night to repair cells. High cortisol levels means our bodies stay in ‘panic’ mode rather than ‘healing’ mode. This causes the body to store fat rather than burn it and our metabolism becomes less effective.
5. Sleep nude
How often have you woken up in the night with your pyjamas all twisted, and you’ve got a wedgie and you have to toss and turn to get into a comfy sleeping position again? It’s far from relaxing. In fact, it can become damn right stressful. Sleeping naked will take away the risk of this happening, and allow you to keep relaxed as soon as you slide into bed. It will also reduce the risks of insomnia keeping you up all night. Getting all hot in bed really affects our sleep pattern and nobody wants to wake up in the middle of the night a sweaty mess, am I right?
6. No caffeine after noonish
It was recently reported that drinking just ONE cup of coffee in the afternoon can knock an hour off of your sleep at night. So if you’re a coffee addict who thrives on three to four cups – well, that’s certainly not a recipe for a peaceful night’s sleep. The best time to drink coffee if you can’t quite kick the habit for good is first thing in the morning. Also try to limit the amount you drink, as too much caffeine can increase anxiety and irritability, which is only going to disrupt your sleep even more, so drink no more than four cups daily at the most!
Around noon (2pm at the latest) – just stop reaching for the coffee. Caffeine can take a long while to wear off, and even when we feel like it’s not affecting us when we sleep, our sleep patterns may tell a different story. Which means that the afternoon latte you think is powering you through the afternoon may be keeping you up for a lot longer than you imagine so, so the bottom line? You’re better off just ditching the coffee.
7. No booze before bed
It’s a fact that some of us like to unwind in the evening by indulging in a couple of glasses of vino. In fact, some people decide to knock back a ‘nightcap’ with the belief that it makes them sleepy. Whilst it may help you to nod off, it doesn’t mean that the quality of your sleep will be great. In fact, drinking alcohol before bed can cause a rebound effect, where the body adjusts for the effects of the alcohol by lowering the body temperature. But halfway through the night, you’re temperature can rise to abnormal levels, causing lighter sleep that’s easily disrupted and broken, leaving you groggy the next day.
So, for a good night’s sleep, skip not only the booze, but even the herbal tea! (see point 2).
8. No pets
They’re part of the family and we love to pamper them. So when it comes to bedtime, we think nothing of letting our pampered pets sleep in the same room, if not on the same bed, as us. What ensues is a night of awkwardness; you find yourself sleeping round your pet so as to not wake them, and you find yourself huddled in the corner.
Your decision to let them sleep in your room may well change when you learn that pets in the bedroom have been linked to poor sleep. Aside from the typical interruptions, such as when our pets jump on and off the bed or decide they want to be let out for a wee in the middle of the night, 21% of dog owners have admitted that their pet’s snoring kept them awake!
9. Find a routine
Each of us has an individual sleep schedule kept on track by our circadian rhythms, which is biological activity regulated by body temperature, sleep cycle, hormone secretion, and external factors like light and darkness.
The ‘master’ circadian clock works with the the pineal gland, responsible for the release of melatonin. This hormone is a delicate little creature, easily scared away by too much light, wifi, and above all, irregular sleeping routines. The solution? Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day; don’t nap and don’t sleep in. Try to get melatonin going by winding down gently each night – try listening to soft, gentle music, taking a hot bath or reading a book before bed. You’ll sleep deeper and better for it!
10. Still knackered? Get help
No matter how many hours of sleep you think you’re clocking, no matter what your bedtime routine looks like and no matter how great your mattress is, if you’re not feeling refreshed and rested throughout the day, you should probably consult your doctor. Sleep disruption can be caused by some emotional or physical issues you may need help dealing with.