The simple fact of the matter is that getting enough sleep has a profound effect on all facets of our health. Newly published research shows that young people who engage in more beneficial sleep habits are incrementally less likely to die early. The data also suggests that 8 per cent of deaths from any cause could be attributed to poor sleep patterns.
So how to ensure you’re sleeping well now? Below, Meadows—whose Sleep School app is also worth downloading—shares his five lessons on how to sleep better with Vogue.
1. Be grateful
“Scientific research tells us that actively reflecting on what we’re grateful for in life helps us have a more positive mindset. This helps us relax, both mentally and emotionally, and can have a very positive effect on our sleep. Taking gratitude can be as easy as spending a few minutes at the end of the day in bed to think about the events, people or places that you’re grateful for in your life that day. Whatever comes to mind, see if you can clearly identify why it is that you are grateful for it, and pause to notice how the feeling of appreciation feels.”
2. Physicalise difficult emotions
“Strong feelings such as anxiety, frustration or loneliness can make it difficult to sleep. Struggling to get rid of them only fuels them further and wakes us up more. At Sleep School we’ve pioneered the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for sleep, which teaches us how to change the way we think and feel about difficult emotions, rather than trying to change them. A simple way to do this is to look at your emotions as they arise in your body and give them physical attributes, such as a shape, size, weight, colour and texture. For example, you might say, ‘My anxiety feels like a cold black knot tightening in my stomach.’ Describing your emotions like this works to defuse the power they have over you, and your sleep.”
3. Take a power nap
“If you had a poor night’s sleep, or simply need a post-lunch energy boost, then try a power nap. The ideal duration is between 10 and 20 minutes—any longer and you’re likely to enter deep sleep, meaning you’ll wake up feeling groggy. The best time to nap is between noon and 3pm, as this is when we all experience a natural dip in our alertness levels, making it easier to drift off. For the best results, find a quiet and comfy space to lie down or sit.”
4. Calm the mind
“A busy mind is the most commonly reported factor preventing us from falling asleep. Research shows that when we try to block out our thoughts, they come back stronger and in greater numbers. At Sleep School, we teach clients how to do the opposite, to notice and let go of thoughts, rather than trying to control them. The first step is to anchor the attention in the present moment by noticing the movement of the breath. Then when the mind wanders, which it will, you acknowledge this fact before returning your attention back onto the breath. Brain imaging research shows that repeatedly noticing the breath and letting go of thoughts strengthens a part of the brain responsible for calming down mental chatter. Aim to practice for a few minutes every day, as well as when you get into bed and turn off the lights.”
5. Improve lifestyle habits
“Live a healthy lifestyle that promotes sleep. For example, aim to drink no more than 2 to 3 caffeinated beverages per day, and switch to herbal or decaf alternatives at midday. Be active everyday, opting for aerobic type exercise such as walking, dancing or jogging versus weight training or sprinting. Aim to leave at least two hours between your workout and bedtime to allow your core body temperature to cool. Try to stop drinking alcohol two to three hours before bedtime, and have days when you don’t drink at all. Alcohol can block the highly restorative Rapid Eye Movement (REM) phase of sleep, leaving it fragmented and unrefreshing. Make your evening meal the healthiest and smallest of the day, and aim to leave between two and four hours between eating and sleeping.”
This article first appeared in British Vogue.