by Antonella De Giuli
Everyone knows there is an art to living well. Huge industries are based on optimizing the human experience: there are tips and tricks and routines to make us healthier, help us manage our time better, improve our quality of life, and just get more out of our finite days on this earth.
However, one of the most impactful health habits is often overlooked: the power of sleep.
Many people consider the time spent sleeping useless, lost moments which could be used for more important activities. Who hasn’t wished for just a few more hours in a day? 24 seems an unreasonable limitation. Certainly, how could we waste them sleeping? No wonder people say “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” the world over.
Reality, however, paints a different picture. Science has long told us that in order to work well, we must rest well first. Good sleep has been shown to increase creativity and attention, sharpen memory, and improve the ability to solve complex problems. In addition, it also helps to prevent weight gain, lowers stress levels and reduces the risk of developing anxiety and depression. Rather than a waste of precious hours, a good night’s sleep tonight is an investment in a fulfilling life tomorrow.
Sleep, if you must, but sleep well
Both the quantity and quality of rest are essential for our health. As a basic guideline, aim to be asleep at least seven to eight hours before you plan on waking up. While this may seem simple, it is nonetheless a necessity to keep our body running smoothly and to have the energy to face the day before us.
Where possible, try not to eat too late (no later than 8 or 8:30) and try to go to sleep after having finished the digestive process. Difficult as it might be, try to keep your coffee intake down- two or three cups over the course of the day is a reasonable limit.
And don’t drink alcohol in the later evening, as it inhibits our ability to reach the deep, restful stages of sleep.
Perhaps most important is the last hour before bed. As you wind down, progressively reduce the stimuli for our brain to help prepare it for rest. Keep your sleeping environment quiet and dark; light signals to our brain that it must be alert, and noises disturb our sleep, making it light and fragmented. Avoid staring at the TV, computer, or a tablet during this time, as the blue light emitted by LCD screens interferes with the production of melatonin, the brain’s “shut-down” chemical. Electronic devices should be off, or even in another room if necessary. This means cell phones too- resist the temptation to read emails or check social media in bed, as you will unknowingly be keeping yourself from the very rest you seek.
Instead, you can rediscover the pleasure of reading a good book (not digital, of course), have a good chat, try meditating, or go out for a walk. Try to find something you enjoy that doesn’t require much mental effort which you can use to end the evening positively. Finally, before turning off the light, try thinking of a positive event that happened in our day; find a single moment, whether it seemed major or not, that made you happy, and rest easy with gratitude for the memories of today, ready to make more tomorrow.
“Success is being able to lie down every night with a peaceful soul” – Paulo Coelho
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