Do a straw poll of your friends, colleagues, family…. chances are, they’re tired, exhausted, stressed, anxious? Sleeplessness is rife and things are only getting worse. With our lives increasingly hectic, and the fact that we’re only a Whatsapp or email away at all times (not to mention the growing addiction to box sets and past-bedtime Instagram scrolling), the lines between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ are blurred. We’re constantly plugged in and mentally drafting an email when really, we ought to be tucked up and dreaming of George Clooney feeding us grapes as we bask on a lounger in Bali.

A modern epidemic, few of us manage to squeeze in the optimal eight hours’ shut-eye (more on this later), with most of us going to bed much too late, waking up in the night or, having difficulty nodding off full-stop. And it isn’t just our mood and productivity affected by a lack of ‘proper’ rest (mental health is closely linked with sleep and R&R), but skin will quickly show the signs of restless nights or fitful slumber. Which is why we’ve decided to highlight the impact of sleep with our January campaign - #SleepingBeauty – and help you to reclaim a ‘healthy’ sleep pattern.

Renowned physiologist and sleep specialist {Dr Nerina Ramlakhan PhD} has worked with the Nightingale Psychiatric Hospital in London for over a decade – informing and evolving their sleep, energy and physical health programsmes to promote patients’ mental wellbeing. A contributor to numerous prestigious publications, as well as a frequent guest expert on TV and radio, Nerina extols the importance of sleep as a means to restore and maintain equilibrium – both physically and emotionally. So, who’s better placed to help us to help you to achieve better quality Zzzzs?

In her book, Fast Asleep, Wide Awake, Nerina accuses the “increasing pressure at home and work [as well as] the drive for sustained performance and technological demands” for the spiraling sleep epidemic. “For most of us, the time when we are most likely to attempt to recover energy is when we sleep [but] often, by this time the body’s energy deficits are such that a night of sleep may not be sufficient to ‘repair’ the damage done by the day’s stresses and strains” writes Nerina, who works with her clients to implement strategies proven to regulate cycles and combat the common disruptions.

“We can make better use of our sleeping time by managing ourselves better during the day and preparing our minds just before going to sleep” writes Nerina, who suggests the following ‘rules’ for optimising sleep quality and managing fatigue – based on her own in-depth knowledge of the architecture of sleep patterns and human circadian rhythms.

{1} Take regular breaks during the day

“Regularly seeking rest and recovery throughout the day is one of the most effective ways of improving sleep quality.” Sounds great but… practical? “Even a break of 3-5 minutes can be sufficient to enable the body to renew energy” so get up, grab a drink of water, eat a piece of fruit, stretch your legs or step outside for some fresh air. And always take advantage of your lunch break - take 20-30 minutes and try to limit digital stimulate during this window.

{2} Follow a regular ‘wind down’ routine

Just like our animal counterparts, humans respond well to ‘rituals’. Establishing nightly habits – such as a relaxing bath, a facial massage, reading a book or listening to soothing music – can ease the transition and help you feel calm. Try to adhere to ‘good’ habits and postpone your bedtime if necessary – “you are more likely to feel rejuvenated if you have had five or six hours of efficient sleep than seven or eight hours of shallow, restless sleep.”

{3} Manage your work/home boundaries

A degree of ‘unburdening’ once you get home can be helpful – and is often unavoidable but, “try not to let the work talk spill over into your whole evening and bedtime.” Give your mind scope to ‘switch off’ so you don’t hit the hay feeling anxious or energised.

{4} Minimise stimulants

Yep, caffeine is notorious for compromising quality of sleep. “The half-life of caffeine is approximately five hours” writes Nerina, “which means that it can take up to ten hours to completely remove all of the caffeine from your body if you drink a cup of tea or coffee.” Limit caffeinated options to the morning, then increase your intake of water, herbal tea and dilute fruit juices to help ensure your sleep is deep and rehabilitative.

{5} If you wake during the night…

Try not to look at the clock (it’s bound to make you panic) and instead, lie on your back and systematically relax – from toes, all the way up to the top of your head – breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Treat it as a chance to get some rest – rather than a means to get to sleep. Sleep is almost always more elusive when it’s actively pursued…

{6} Create the perfect ambience

“Keep your sleep environment free of clutter and junk. Don’t bring work into your bedroom and keep the laptop out of bed.” Keep the room cool – open your windows to let the air circulate – and try introducing some ‘white noise’ (a fan or a familiar, low-level playlist can override disruptive background sounds).

{7} Modify your mindset

It’s paradoxical but true, that the pursuit of ‘good’ sleep can inhibit achieving it. Try shifting the goalposts from ‘sleep’ to ‘rest’, says Nerina: “Tell yourself the night before a big event ‘it doesn’t matter if I don’t sleep tonight, I’m just going to use the time to rest’ – it’s a bit of mental trickery but you’ll be surprised how quickly you then get to sleep – particularly if you use the technique regularly.” It’s also a myth that you need to have eight hours sleep – “sleep requirements vary from person to person and for most of us, living in this age of ‘information overload’, the challenge is to achieve efficient deep sleep rather than a certain quota of hours.”

{8} Get some exercise

“Regular exercise is one of the most effective ways of reducing stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), which is a great way to maximise sleep quality.” Avoid team sports in the evening and instead, try to get 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise – swimming, running or cycling – 3-4 times per week.

So there you have it. Given that we (ought to) spend approximately one third of our lives asleep, implementing all – or only some – of these techniques should help your body, mind (and SKIN!) achieve the necessary rest they need. It’s believed that the brain ‘files’ the day’s information then cells’ carry out their essential repairs while you’re dreaming, so make this year you rekindle your love for your duvet and practice good sleep strategies. You’ll concentrate better, your brain will become more agile, you’ll feel more optimistic and – if you still need convincing – you’ll quickly recover your get-up-and-GLOW.

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