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Woman enjoying sound, restful sleep

How to have a restful night’s sleep

Getting up in the morning without dragging your heels might seem like a dream but it’s totally achievable. Here’s our advice for rediscovering a restful night’s sleep and starting the day on the right foot.

Restful sleep: definition

Restful sleep can be defined as good quality sleep that makes you feel sufficiently well-rested and ready for the day ahead, as soon as you wake up.

How well you sleep at night is intrinsically linked to sleep structure or architecture. This is divided into four or six sleep cycles of around 90 minutes, each of which consists of three stages: light sleep, deep sleep and REM sleep (1).

It’s during the deep sleep stage, when the brain is least active, that the body fully recovers from accumulated fatigue. This represents 20%-25% of total sleep and occurs predominantly during the first half of the night (2).

If this stage is missed, or it’s too short, we’re likely to feel knocked for six by signs of fatigue from the moment we get up: struggling to keep our eyes open, yawning repeatedly, stiffness, brain fog …

What are the benefits of restorative sleep?

Restorative sleep is essential for good general health. It’s associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, stronger immunity, and a balanced nervous system, and it boosts our memorisation and learning abilities (3).

How much restorative sleep is enough?

It’s estimated that adults need an average of 7 to 9 hours’ sleep a night to restore physical and mental abilities (4). However, individual needs vary widely: some people will need longer, while others recover more quickly. More than the duration, it’s actually the quality of sleep which is important.

How to have good quality sleep

Improving your sleep naturally is perfectly possible, as long as you’re prepared to embrace a healthy lifestyle (and adopt some new habits):

  • go to bed at a regular time to resynchronise your biological clock;
  • ban all sources of blue light after 8pm such as tablets, computers and smartphones, as they stimulate the nervous system and make it harder to fall asleep by inhibiting the release of melatonin, the famous ‘sleep hormone’ (5);
  • eat lightly at dinner to facilitate digestion, preferably leaving a gap of three hours before you go to bed (6);
  • avoid stimulants such as tea, coffee, alcohol and nicotine, as well as high-dose vitamin C supplements in the evening (7);
  • take some exercise during the day to stabilise circadian rhythms, eliminate stress and promote synthesis of the ‘well-being’ neurotransmitters (endorphins, serotonin, dopamine) (8);
  • keep your bedroom cool (around 16°C) in order to lower your body temperature more quickly and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep;
  • block out noise and light as much as possible to create an environment conducive to sleep: if it’s impossible to eliminate every such disturbance, wear earplugs or an eye mask (9);
  • invest in good quality bedding: for info, you should theoretically change your mattress every ten years (10).

If, despite trying all these measures, your sleep issues persist, consult your doctor to make sure they are not caused by a more serious problem (such as sleep apnoea) (11).

Sleep before midnight is the most restorative: myth or fact?

It’s often said that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth two after. There is some truth in this … and yet.

While we do have more hours of deep sleep at the beginning of the night, this doesn’t depend on what time we go to bed: whether we retire for the night at 10pm or 3am, our first sleep cycle will follow the same pattern.

However, that doesn’t take account of our internal body clock, which is pretty accurate at counting how much time we have left to spend in bed. When we go to bed very late, but are still going to be waking up before too long, it confuses our biological clock ... prompting it to cut back on our deep sleep time.

For the best possible regenerative sleep, following our individual biological clock appears to be better than forcing one on it, even though several studies suggest morning chronotypes (who go to bed early and get up early) have a certain advantage over ‘Night Owls’ (12). Whichever you are, it’s best to give yourself a sufficiently long rest period - compatible with your social demands - to enable you to wake up firing on all cylinders.

What can you do when you just can’t get to sleep?

Do you find it difficult to nod off at night? Difficulty falling asleep is part of the classic picture of insomnia, which is thought to affect more than 10% of Europeans. Before reaching for medication (such as sleeping pills), it’s worth trying some natural approaches.

The first step is to establish a sleep routine. This doesn’t just mean going to bed at a set time (including at the weekend), but also initiating a bedtime ritual – for example, drinking a herbal tea or reading a good book (13). By repeating these little steps, you’re gently conditioning and preparing your body (and mind) for sleep.

Note too that failing to properly manage stress and anxiety keeps the body in a state of hypervigilance, unconducive to entering the light sleep stage (14). Practising meditation, breathing exercises or Yoga Nidra (‘yogic sleep’) at bedtime can help you release any tension and fully relax (15).

If you find yourself tossing and turning in bed, engage in visualisation exercises such as a mental walk: in your head, recreate a favourite walk, focusing on every detail : the path, the trees, the birds ... not only will it stop you ruminating, but you’ll develop a sense of security that will help you fall asleep.

Rediscovering restful sleep naturally: key plants and supplements

Produced by the pineal gland in the brain in response to increasing darkness, melatonin plays a central role in controlling the sleep-wake cycle. When circadian rhythms are disrupted (by jetlag, late bedtimes, shift work...), supplementation with melatonin (available in tablet form in Melatonin 1 mg, or super-convenient spray form in Melatonin Spray) can help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep (16).

Certain plants can also help you sleep more soundly. One such plant is valerian, the roots of which help to maintain good quality sleep (17). Combining it with relaxing plants such as hop, which supports the nervous system through the calming action of its constituents humulone and lupulone, has also been shown to be effective in numerous studies (these two plant extracts feature in the excellent formulation Natural Sleep Formula, which also includes California poppy, rhodiola and tryptophan) (18-19).

In other products, these two plants are combined with melatonin for an enhanced action (one such supplement is Advanced Sleep Formula, an exceptional synergistic formulation featuring valerian, hawthorn, passiflora, hop and melatonin, and also rich in vitamin B6 which helps reduce fatigue) (20).

Sleep gummies are a more recent option, some of which offer not only melatonin and relaxing plant extracts, but also cannabidiol or CBD, one of the most widely-studied compounds in recent years (it can be found in Sleep Gummies, sugar-free, non-addictive supplements in chewable gummy form) (21).

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References

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  2. Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Stages of Sleep. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK10996/
  3. Worley SL. The Extraordinary Importance of Sleep: The Detrimental Effects of Inadequate Sleep on Health and Public Safety Drive an Explosion of Sleep Research. P T. 2018 Dec;43(12):758-763. PMID: 30559589; PMCID: PMC6281147.
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