Sleep is an essential daily ritual but even the best sleepers among us need a few natural sleep aids now and then. Many of us find ourselves sacrificing sleep for deadlines, family, social life and TV mini-series. Nothing shows up quicker in your skin and face that the effects of lack of sleep. Shortened sleep affects everything from our ability to focus, process rational thought and make decisions to processing information, our mood, our memory and what we look like. Lack of sleep has been attributed to increased weight gain, increased inflammation (puffy face), dark circles under the eyes and premature ageing.
But does sleep make us look better? Interestingly some research found that good sleepers feel significantly better about their looks. The well rested have a more positive perception of their appearance. The more sleep we get, the better looking we feel – so it’s true what they say about beauty sleep!
How do we get a good night’s sleep? With our favourite natural sleep aids and a good sleep ritual.
For those of us who are ‘plugged in’ until the moment, or even for moments after, we get into bed, trying to remove all digital devices from your pre-bedtime is the first step in getting a good night’s sleep. Most sleep experts will recommend some or all of the below as a ‘night cap’.
Avoid Digital Stimulants
This is probably the hardest one to adopt. Such are the times that while we may not be plugged into our computer and work, it is likely that we are on our phones and social media. All this light-emitting screen time literally keeps signalling to our brain that it’s not time to rest yet. Try reserving at least 30 minutes prior to bed to dim the lights, shutting off the screens and instead filling the time with your own good night ritual to lull you off to sleep. Keep all devices out of the bedroom. If you use your phone as an alarm, switch it to flight mode so you don’t get notifications all night.
Alcohol may make you feel sleepy, but it actually results in a very restless night’s sleep as the liver goes to work processing the alcohol. As for coffee, stick to morning only. That 3pm coffee that wakes you up and gets you through the afternoon may still be keeping you wired into the evening. Switch to green tea in the afternoon and then drink tulsi (holy basil) and sleep tea blends in the evening. Perhaps not the most obvious choice, but a cup of Reishi Tea before bed may help with sleep. As a natural sleep aid it is a potent anti-stress antidote, reishi helps balance an overdriven hormone system – sip, breathe and relax.
Avoid Large Meals
Stop eating at least two hours before you go to bed. The body needs time to digest your meal before it sets about with repair and regeneration. If you continually don’t feel ready for sleep after eating your main meal at night, switch it to midday and eat lighter at night so digestion is done by the time you are ready for sleep.
Do something after you leave work to unwind. Taking a walk or doing some gentle exercise (not too late into the night) helps clear any cortisol or adrenalin from your day and leaves you feeling calm and collected. One of the best ways to unwind in the evening is with some gentle yoga stretches.
Clear Your Mind
Some people like to start the day with their meditation ritual, others find it more useful at night. You can also split it or simply do it twice either end of the day. Either way, clearing your mind of the day helps eradicate the busy brain that often kicks in as our head hits the pillow. Spritzing before drifting into slumber is a great treat for body and mind – try the Amly Beauty Sleep Mist.
Shower & Supplements
While a relaxing salt filled bath (try the Isla Apothecary Relax and Revive Salts) is an obvious before bed ritual, a quick shower at night might also help many sleep. Not only will you be washing away the day, but add your favourite lavender-filled body or shower oil and these few minutes work as an aroma signal to the brain that you are getting ready for bed.
Magnesium has been shown to help when taken before bed too. It helps activate neurotransmitters that are responsible for calming the body and the mind. Take it in capsule form from Wild Nutrition Food-Grown Magnesium, directly on the skin from Kiki Health Magnesium Spray or mix in water and drink from Lifestream Magnesium.
Calming valerian root and passionflower and anxiety-reducing catnip and chamomile are used in The Nue Co’s Sleep Drops to help you gently power down and relax. It can be added to any liquid when you need a helping hand drifting off.
Natural Sleep Aids
It can be really helpful to have a scent that you use only at night, which signals to the body that you are getting ready for your nightly sleep ritual. Try the de Mamiel Sleep Series, not only does this collection of sleep remedies help you prepare for sleep but should you wake in the small hours, they have a balm for that too (try the Anchor Balm). Our picks for the restless include the de Mamiel Settle Oil to calm a busy mind and de Mamiel Soothe Oil to ease anxiety that hinders sleep. For a pillow treatment use the Therapie Roques O’Neil Sleep Drops that which can be applied to your feet and pop a cotton wool square into muslin bag with a few drops provided and place under your pillow before sleep. Others are useful at night too:
- • Vetiver – a nervous system tonic, so it is great for calming the mind and body.
- • Bergamot – calming and can also help create a feeling of relaxation and reduce agitation.
- • Chamomile – benefits inner harmony, reducing overthinking, anxiety and worry.
The recommended amount of sleep varies between 7 and 8 hours, but more importantly it’s best to understand how you sleep. The sleep rhythm comes in around 1.5–2 hour cycles and sleep specialists recommend you get five of these cycles a night.
If you need to rise at 7am, start your bedtime preparations at 10.30pm to be asleep by 11.30pm, which allows for five sleep cycles. When you are trying to regulate your sleep, the most important part is keeping your get-up time the same for at least a couple of weeks so your body gets into the rhythm. You will then start to feel like going to sleep around the 11pm mark and have no trouble waking up.
If you miss one of these cycles, don’t stress. Give it time and before you know it you will have caught the next sleep wave.
Keep it as dark as possible, slightly cool and just for sleep. Remove the distractions such as TV and phones and save the room for beauty sleep.
Adapted from The Nature of Beauty book by CONTENT founder Imelda Burke.