Sleep is life’s greatest equaliser.
It doesn’t matter who you are – you could be a tantrum-throwing toddler, a globetrotting reality television star and/or the president of the United States of America – and sleep is the one thing you need no matter what.
Despite how integral it is, sleep evades so many of us.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, between 33 and 45 per cent of Aussies have poor sleep patterns that lead to fatigue and irritability that’s putting them at risk of low productivity, damage to their mental health and unsafe behaviours (like getting behind the wheel when sleep deprived).
While some sleeping problems require professional medical help, others can be helped along by changing a few habits.
Here are five things you can do (some are scientific, others anecdotal) before bed to transport yourself to the glorious land of nod faster.
TAKE THE NIGHT SHIFT
Ahhh, the cellular device.
It bringeth joy (tfw you level up in Candy Crush), but it also take it awayeth by wreaking havoc with your sleep schedule.
Everyone knows that looking at your phone right before bed can make it harder to nod off. In simple terms, light from your screen sends signals to your brain that interfere with the production of melatonin, a chemical needed for sleep. Phone lights are blue, which is the worst kind – factories use it to help keep night workers awake.
If you absolutely must be scrolling in bed before you nod off, turn your iPhone to Night Shift. Go to your home screen and swipe up, and you’ll find this:
Night Shift inverts the colours on your iPhone (it’s basically imperceptible) making the light a little easier on your eyes.
While you’re there, you may as well turn on Do Not Disturb (it’s the little crescent moon icon). This mode stops notifications, alerts and calls from making any noise, vibration or lighting up the phone screen when the screen is locked (although people who call repeatedly will be put through in case it’s an emergency).
The added bonus? When you wake up in the morning and see all of those notifications built up from the night before, you’ll cop a dopamine hit first thing. Win.
Again, if you’ve tried all this but still find yourself reaching for your phone when you’re tossing and turning, try plugging your phone in across the room, far enough away from your bed that you’d need to get out from under the sheets to grab it. Try doing this for just one night and see if it makes a difference. Baby steps.
BREATHE, ACTUALLY BREATHE
Okay, so you’ve whacked on Do Not Disturb and plugged your phone into a socket across the room, and you still can’t sleep.
Maybe your mind is racing, maybe you just can’t get comfortable, maybe you’re too excited about the almond croissant that awaits you for breakfast the next morning.
Whatever the ailment, it can be quietened by breathing. You can dress it up with a fancy name (meditating), but tuning into your breathing pattern and slowing it down can be a portal to getting to sleep. The 4-7-8 technique is a ripper way to get into breathing for sleep:
Start by lying down on your back with your hands by your sides. Throw a pillow under your knees if it feels weird to stretch your legs out straight.
Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
Close your mouth and softly inhale through your nose to a mental count of four.
Now hold your breath for a count of seven.
Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
There, you’ve completed one breath. Now, inhale again and repeat three more times for a total of four cycles.
If that didn’t make sense, here’s a YouTube clip that explains it with the help of visuals:
TUNE INTO A SCIENTIFICALLY-CURATED SLEEP PLAYLIST
If you routinely have trouble getting to sleep, you’ve probably given all those YouTube ‘Gentle Rain Sound’ clips a whirl.
They can be great at calming you down and helping you focus on something other than your thoughts. But what’s even better? A sleep playlist specifically curated for sleep.
Earlier this year classical composer Max Richter and neuroscientist David Eagleman created a sleep playlist (called, you guessed it, Sleep), that’s an eight-hour composition of sounds engineered to transport you to the land of nod:
Space and pause are valuable elements within Richter’s arrangement, with solo piano to choral tones, strings and electronics.
“It’s my personal lullaby for a frenetic world,” Richter writes on his website.
“A manifesto for a slower pace of existence. It would be great if people were to start playing it while they are getting ready for bed, so that they hear it in their sleep.”
You can cop it on iTunes here, too.
HAVE A (TEENY) HOT BEV
Say the word ‘cosy’ and a few things spring to mind. Big woollen jumpers and comfy tracky dacks. Roaring open fires in the dead of winter. And of course, tea.
Tea is the ingestible equivalent of a big hug, which could be just what you need before heading to bed. Of course, there are a few caveats to the pre-bed brew.
If you’re sold on tea, it’s best to go one with no caffeine. Steer clear of black teas and instead go for herbal varieties. Peppermint, chamomile and ginger are all gooduns; so long as you don’t add sugar (glucose is a stimulant).
If you’re not into tea, a warm glass of malk can help you nod off, too. Milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid that helps you produce serotonin and melatonin, hormones that help you to sleep.
Most importantly, though: go easy on the size. If you fill yourself up via a large mug, you’ll wake yourself up needing to pee.
And ain’t nobody got time for that.