The 2 Fail-Proof Hacks This Doctor Uses to Sleep Well Every Night

Nicole Singh

No matter how many productivity hacks you might have tucked away, they'll all be rendered useless unless you have a good night’s sleep. If that feels like an overstatement, sleep doctor, and author of The Complete Guide to a Good Night's Sleep ($25) Dr. Carmel Harrington, thinks it couldn't be more crucial to your basic daily needs, and that our sleep-deprived generation has forgotten its vital function: "All animals, and all living creatures sleep. The reason we need sleep is because we have unique functions in sleep, that are vital to our survival, in the same way that we perform vital functions when we are awake, that are fundamental to our survival. People have forgotten that the 24-hour cycle is vital to our health and wellbeing, and skipping sleep, means we will suffer."

But, as much as you can will a good-night's sleep to magically happen, it’s evident that a deep slumber actually comes down to thoughtful preparation and consistent sleep hygiene before we hit the sheets. From the two fail-proof hacks that will help you wind down after a stressful day, to the basic facts you need to know about how sleep really works, Harrington shares her knowledge below. Keep scrolling. 

THE MOST COMMON SLEEP ISSUES

"A lot of the focus in the past years has been on sleep disorders like sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and narcolepsy, because they are the things that can be diagnosed, and get treated. But mostly, I send these patients off to sleep labs so that they can do that work there. More and more people these days are recognising that they may not have a sleep disorder, but that they are simply misinformed about sleep. Many people have insomnia, which means: The inability to get to or maintain sleep to the extent that it affects your daytime functioning. Often chronic insomnia is primary, because people are doing something wrong with their sleep, or, they've become so anxious about their sleep that they can't get to sleep."

YOUR EMOTIONS GREATLY IMPACT YOUR SLEEP 

"Our emotional wellbeing is very much affected by sleep. And the sad fact is, if we don't sleep well, our emotional wellbeing will be affected. Often, what happens when we are stressed, is that we haven't dealt with the stress before going to bed, so we wake up two cycles later and start to deal with all the stress, and all the issues when we’re meant to be asleep. So, what happens then is that we become sleep deprived, which makes it hard to reset our emotional regulator in the brain, which is what we do every night when sleeping. And of course, we wake up the next morning and our stress levels are higher, and so our anxiety grows. Every single one of us will suffer from stress, but we have to recognise that this is happening and pay special attention to our sleep, because these are the times that you need the best sleep possible. So those good health habits like relaxation exercises, and exercising throughout the day optimise your chance of a good sleep."

TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP WITH YOUR SLEEP

"In the past, for me to have any insight about how a person sleeps I would need to send them to a sleep lab, and that was a long and involved process. Now, everybody can track their sleep with sleep trackers. And what you can see from these is how you sleep through the night. And many people think they sleep far worse in through the night than they actually do. And it can reassure someone with that data. The other thing is, it educates people, with tips and bits of information about sleep. So, it's a great opportunity for people to have access to something that in the past has been fairly opaque."

 

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU CAN’T SLEEP 

"Something that controls our body is called the autonomic nervous system, and there are two parts to this: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system. So the sympathetic system dominates in our wakeful hours and the parasympathetic operates in our sleep. Often, when you can't get to sleep, your breathing rate is high, your heart rate is high and you’re getting a bit anxious. So, what you need to do, is bring down your sympathetic system, and bring up your parasympathetic system. What you can do is a very simple breathing exercise: You breathe in for one and out for two, and you do that process for a while. As you do that, you will notice that your breathing rate will start to slow down. And when your breathing rate starts to slow down, so too does your heart rate and your blood pressure. And then after you start to feel that your heart rate has gone down, you can do progressive relaxation, and this is where you tense your feet for ten, and then you let it go, and then you tense behind your knee and let go, working your way up the body till you get to your head, and it works a treat for a lot of people, including myself."

PREPARATION FOR SLEEP IS CRUCIAL 

"How you prepare for bed will often determine your quality of sleep. Firstly, you should switch off all technology atleast an hour before bed. You can also have a warm to hot shower, make sure the room that you're in has dim lighting, or candles, because when the eye detects a candle, it's a very powerful message to the brain to relax and to start to produce serotonin—our feel-good hormone, that enables us to relax. in that time, do a relaxation exercise, or, read a book."

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