How does your sleep hygiene routine stack up? Find outCredit: Getty Images
Sleep is a basic but essential part of your beauty routine and the great news is that it’s completely natural — and free. A good, deep sleep boosts your immune system, improves cognition and short-term memory, enhances moods, balances hormones and gives your skin a deep radiance that no amount of cosmetics can replicate.
After a good-quality sleep, you wake feeling energised and ready to cope physically and emotionally with whatever the day brings. Great sleep also supports your skin and digestive health.
Conversely, poor sleep can make you feel depressed, forgetful and lethargic. It impairs your ability to regulate glucose and increases the stress cortisol that triggers a rise in insulin and inflammation in the body and contributes to premature ageing.
Light a calming candle or stick of incense, turn down your covers and tidy or de-clutter your room.
In the long term, insufficient sleep can increase your risk of suffering from high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Not getting enough sleep can also increase the rate at which your skin ages as it’s less able to recover from free-radical damage caused by the sun and environmental toxins. That’s because while we’re sleeping our bodies secrete growth hormones that stimulate cellular repair along with the production of collagen production and new skin cells.
There’s a reason it’s called beauty sleep. And it has a huge impact on how you look, feel and function along with your longevity. But most of us are not getting enough (all adults require seven to nine hours a night to rest, repair and restore their body and mind).
Once upon a time, the fading light at sunset would signal your brain’s pineal gland to begin releasing melatonin.
When your internal body clock, or circadian rhythm, is working properly, melatonin levels in your blood rise about two hours before bed and encourage you to start feeling sleepy. Melatonin is also a free-radical-scavenging, anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory hormone that plays a vital role in the repair work that unfolds while you sleep.
When the sun rises and sunlight hits the retina of your eye, your melatonin levels are meant to drop away and be replaced by serotonin, the happy, calm hormone that helps you feel good all day.
Nowadays, our internal clocks get confused and our melatonin and serotonin cycle is interrupted when we fly between time zones, work late into the night and use artificial light, TV screens and other back-lit devices. We also stimulate our brains right up until bedtime with nonstop data and often an addiction to screens and social media.
But, just as you sometimes reset your digestive system with a detox, you can take some simple steps to clean up your sleep routine, stimulate melatonin production (which drops dramatically after the age of 40) and get your circadian rhythm back on track.
Setting up a sleep routine with clear steps to prepare you for bed can help you enjoy deep restorative sleep again and reap the benefits it delivers to your brain, body and beauty.
Step 1: Calm down
If you spend your day on the go, consistently releasing adrenalin and cortisol stress hormones, it’s no wonder your poor mind finds it hard to slow down and stop thinking at night.
To switch your nervous system from a state of fight-or-flight to rest-and-restore mode, try doing one, some or all of these exercises half an hour before bed: meditate for 10–20 minutes, lie with your legs up the wall for 5–10 minutes or practise restorative yoga or deep-belly breathing.
Doing one of these practices during daylight hours can also help stop excess stress building up and interrupting your sleep at night.
Step 2: Practise an electronic sundown
The earlier you put your screens to bed the better your sleep will be. Turn off all devices at least an hour before bed, or by 9pm at the latest.
Switch your phone to airplane mode so you can’t hear incoming messages and remove all devices from your bedroom so you’re not tempted to reach for them before going to sleep or during the night.
Step 3: Stretch
Stretching your tired and tight muscles can help soften the body and prepare it for sleep. If you sit for long periods in front of a computer, your neck, shoulders, lower back and hip flexors are all likely to be tight. Studies have shown that gentle yoga or stretching about an hour before bed can result in better-quality sleep.
Step 4: Spoil yourself
In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s believed the energy in your head needs to descend before you go to bed. So you could try soaking your feet in a hot bath.
Ayurveda prescribes a daily self-massage with cold-pressed sesame oil, starting from the soles of your feel and working up to your scalp to soothe the thousands of nerve endings in your skin. Follow with a hot shower or soak in a warm bath with a few drops of lavender oil or a cup of magnesium salts to relax your muscles.
After cleansing your face thoroughly, gently massage it with a beauty-boosting hydrating formula that supports the repair and rejuvenation process that the sleep cycle brings.
Step 5: Soothe your senses
Ensure your bedroom is quiet and dark. Dim your lights at least an hour before bed. Light a calming candle or stick of incense, turn down your covers and tidy or de-clutter your room so it feels like a relaxing place to retreat to.
Step 6: Make a bedtime brew
This could be a cup of herbal tea such as chamomile, valerian or another sleepy tea blend.
Step 7: Read a bedtime story
Choose a nourishing novel that sets you up for sweet dreams rather than any heavy or disturbing reading material. Alternatively, inspiring biographies or affirmative self-help books can also get you in a restorative mood.
Step 8: Develop a routine
Rest, restore and repeat … Going to bed and rising at the same time every day — even on weekends — will help restore your circadian rhythm to a regular pattern. Studies have shown that people who do a daily workout sleep better than those who don’t.
Things to skip before bed
- Alcohol. Alcohol makes you feel sleepy but results in lighter sleep as it causes the body to release the stimulating stress hormone noradrenaline.
- Sugar. Studies have shown that consuming sugary foods and unrefined carbohydrates before bed can raise your blood sugar levels and interfere with growth hormone production.
- Caffeine. Skip drinking coffee, green tea and black tea after lunch as caffeine can remain in your system for up to five hours after you drink it.
- Overdoing it. Avoiding spicy food, eating smaller portions and eating at least two hours before bed can help you sleep more deeply.
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