How can something that should be so natural, be so hard to achieve? It is the nightly target that I never seem to reach – the magical eight hours of sleep that health professionals say we should all be having.
I know the benefits of a good night’s sleep: afterwards I feel recharged in body and mind, with more creative brainpower at work and more energy/patience for chasing my two-year-old daughter around. But how can I make these energy boosting nights of slumber a more regular occurrence? Well thanks to a late Christmas present (to myself), I now have the means to put some internet tips to the test.
My fancy new smart watch gives me a daily report on how well I’ve slept, detailing an overall nightly total separated into light and deep sleep periods. Deep sleep is especially crucial, as this is the time of night when your body repairs, grows and detoxifies; and when your brain organizes memories and balances mood.
To get to the bottom of it, I decided to test five pieces of online advice to see what effect they have. Can I improve on my average nightly total of 7.5hrs including 1.5hrs deep sleep?
Reduce your screen time
The Telegraph suggests that artificial light emitted from our electronic devices can reduce the production of melatonin, the hormone that makes us feel drowsy. I am skeptical, but keen to be convinced, so at 8pm I put my phone in the kitchen and settled down with a book. The result: As I lie in bed, my mind isn’t racing. I feel very relaxed and fall asleep within just 15 minutes.
Deep Sleep: 1h 19m
Total ZZZZs: 7h 43m
Take a magnesium supplement
“Magnesium has a critical role in sleep”, so says The Sleep Doctor. This naturally available mineral is associated with more than 600 reactions in our bodies, including those responsible for calming body and mind. To aid a good night’s slumber, I knocked back two submarine-sized capsules an hour before bed. As a result, I am super-drowsy when bedtime arrives and fall asleep as soon as my head touches the pillow, plus I clock up some valuable extra deep sleep minutes.
Deep Sleep: 1h 53m
Total ZZZZs: 7h 44m
There is nothing worse than lying in bed trying desperately to sleep, with a motorway of thoughts running through your mind. The world’s most popular meditation app Headspace tells me that meditation can improve the quality and efficiency of sleep – helping you to fall asleep faster and have better quality sleep. I plug into an episode of their ‘Meditation for Sleep’ series which isn’t intended to help me drop off, but rather aims to train my brain to relax by focusing on the present. The result:
Deep Sleep: 1h 35m
Total ZZZZs: 7h 44m
Medical information hub WebMD suggests that drinking caffeine even six hours before going to bed can have a disruptive effect on your sleep. This test seemed the perfect motivation to tackle my coffee addiction and whilst it was hard to survive the four o’clock slump, I undeniably felt more tired getting in to bed. I didn’t clock as much deep sleep as I normally get, but did finally achieve the magic eight hours.
Deep Sleep: 0h 58m
Total ZZZZs: 8h 09m
Increase your daytime exposure to sunlight
This is all about our circadian rhythms – the natural cycle that controls when we feel alert and sleepy. Health and wellbeing website Healthline says that exposure to bright daylight improves daytime energy, as well as nighttime sleep quality and duration. My office is a bit gloomy, so I borrowed a ‘desk sun’ from a colleague, replaced lunch in the office with a walk outside, and I cycled to and from work. By the time evening came I found myself to be incredibly tired and took myself off for an early night.
Deep Sleep: 2h 05m
Total ZZZZs: 8h 50m (!!!)
All scientific experiments (perhaps also even the not-very-scientific ones) need a conclusion, so mine is this: The ‘magic bullet’ I was looking for doesn’t seem to exist. I was impressed by the impact of the magnesium supplements and I am in no doubt that the combined effect of making these changes has given me the best week of sleep I’ve had in ages.