World Sleep Day’s Theme for 2022 is …… Quality Sleep | Sound Mind | Happy World

It’s World Sleep Day on Friday March 18, with the theme: Quality sleep/Sound mind/Happy world. This message couldn’t come at a better time for a world that has been mentally assaulted over the last two years, with the situation exacerbated by the Russian / Ukraine Crisis. Most of us have experienced higher levels of stress related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the knock-on effects.

Clearly, quality sleep is no magic wand, but the laddering effect is real. The first rung of the ladder is restorative sleep, which is quality sleep. This is the single most effective thing you can do for your body and brain health each day. If you can think clearly, objectively and make good decisions (considering your impact on others) then you experience the benefit of having a sound mind. Emotions are certainly contagious, so the laddering up effect would be a vastly different world… a happy world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that approximately 2/3 of adults throughout developed nations are not getting enough sleep, and that societal lack of sleep is a global health epidemic.

Research shows that insufficient sleep (less than seven hours a night) has a devastating effect on brain health, and is linked to Alzheimer’s, depression, bipolar disorder, cancer, diabetes, infertility, heart attacks, weight gain and obesity and suicide. Suicide among young people (aged 15 -29) is increasing dramatically, and the fourth leading cause of death after road injury. The WHO’s goal is to help the world reduce the suicide rate by 1/3 by 2030. Every year, more people die because of suicide than HIV, malaria, breast cancer, or war and homicide.

Even though people initially thought that 2022 would be a kinder year, people seem to be frazzled on all levels. Their brains are simmering or idling like a car on ‘uber stress, anxiety and overwhelm’.

A key problem is hybrid working

 Hybrid working, in the office and at home, is here to stay. As a result, time in traffic has now become extra screen time, and by my own local and international observations screen-facing time is up by about 55%-60%. A South African IT executive at one of the multinationals I work with says the number of MS Teams meetings has increased from 1.5 million minutes a month to over 100 million minutes.

 Here are some Quality Sleep | Sound Mind ideas

  1. The 2-by-10:

At the start of each day: plan! Look at your diary, and plan around your commitments. Set an alarm for every 90 minutes to walk outside and look skyward or to the furthest tree. Stand there, breathe in deeply and then do 10 squats, or more. Make sure you are away from your screen and outside for two minutes. Hence the name 2-by-10.

  • Magic sunset light for five minutes

 Our eyes are an extension of our brain. Research shows that five minutes of sunset light will buffer for our eyes (and our retinas) against the harsh, bright lights in our homes at night. Artificial light stops our brain producing enough melatonin, the sleep hormone, which helps us to fall asleep easily. Get outdoors for five – 30min as the sun sets.

  • Wear blue blocker glasses after sunset

Your body is an ecosystem, and your hormones and other systems are regulated by an internal 24-hour clock, called your circadian rhythm. When we lived in nature on the savannahs 1000s of years ago, we’d go to sleep after sunset. Now we are ruled by our TV, our phone and computer screens. Plus, our ceiling lights are also vampires of good quality sleep. Our eyes are sensitive to these blue, bright lights, which are the same short-wave length light that brightens the midday sun, and they suppress melatonin release in our brains. This disrupts our circadian cycle, and we miss the sleepiness cue and battle to feel drowsy enough to go off to sleep. Wearing blue blocker glasses, such as TrulyBlue, will helps address this problem. These specially designed anti-reflective lenses help reduce glare for a more comfortable and relaxed vision as well as protect your eyes against blue light.

  • Bring down your stress by doing by NSDR

 Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) sounds counter-intuitive, but even if you have seven hours of good quality sleep at night, your stress levels during the day can rocket. In addition, you need NSDR ‘tools’ in your resilience toolbox to reduce stress. You could be firing on all cylinders midday, mid-afternoon or just before bed. But then you need to calm down (and there’s lots of science behind this) to make sure that you are not overtaxing your body systems, including your adrenal glands. NSDR can take the form of prayer, meditation, yoga, lying on the grass watching the clouds, and or just simply doing good, deep breathing exercises. There are various apps you can use, if you are that way inclined: Headspace, Calm, BrainTap, Reveri. All of them are superb and are sciencebacked.

I use BrainTap and Reveri interchangeably and love the time-efficient one-minute sessions on Reveri. I sometimes use these to focus before a difficult task. The great benefit of NSDR activities is that they boost your neuroplasticity, which is how your brain cells ‘fire and wire together’. This helps cement our learning from the day – and this happens only during NSDR and not during your sleep at night. Find ways to integrate 10, 15 or even one minute of NSDR during your day.

  • Drop your body temperature.

Your body temperature peaks mid-afternoon and then starts dropping to prepare for sleep. Of course, for many people, we only go to sleep long after sunset. It’s good idea to warm up before bed by having a hot bath or shower, or even a sauna if you are fortunate to live close to the gym or have one at home. After this, your body’s systems kick into play and your body temperature drops 1 to 3 degrees. This is a great enabler for quality sleep.

In addition, your bedroom should be really cool at 16-18°C. If you heat up during the night, stick your foot or hand out and the receptors on the palm of your hand and arch of your foot will go to work and cool your body back down again.

  • Magnificent magnesium

Magnesium is responsible for over 300 biochemical processes in your body, including deep sleep and reducing stress. The top nine signs that you are deficient are:

1. You experience muscle cramps or twitches

2. You are tired most of the time.

3. You struggle to get through a workout.

4. You are frequently constipated

5. You have high blood pressure

6. You have trouble falling asleep

7. You have serious chocolate cravings

8. Your heartbeat is all over the place

9. You feel like your mental health is suffering.

Studies say 20% to 75% of adults are not meeting their recommended daily intake of magnesium. Try these options daily, as recommended by eatingwell.com:

• Cooked spinach: 78mg

• Pumpkin seed kernels: 168mg

• Dry-roasted almonds: 80mg

• Dry-roasted cashews: 74mg

• Soya milk: 61mg

• Cooked black beans: 60mg

• Dark chocolate: 50mg

• Peanut butter: 49mg

• Wholewheat bread: 46mg

  • Good sleep starts the minute you wake up

While you are sleeping, your brain is busy with its chores, including detoxing. This results in your brain going from a ‘plump, juicy grape’ at night, to a shrivelled raisin in the morning. So, don’t dehydrate it even more with caffeine; have water or rooibos tea upon waking.

If you delay having caffeine until two hours after you wake up, you’ll notice that you are less likely to have that mid-afternoon slump.

  • Move more

Exercise is imperative for a good night’s sleep. If you feel allergic to the idea of exercise, try reframing the word and calling it ‘movement’. A 20 to 30-minute walk in the morning is best as it is very good for your retinas to be stimulated by the early morning sun. Remember: your eyes are a protrusion of your brain.

If it’s impossible to do a 20 to 30-minute walk your morning ritual, then a lunchtime or afternoon walk will do.  Make exercise, including other forms, a ‘must do’ daily.

  • Mattress madness

You wouldn’t drive your car for 20 000 km without an oil change.  But many of us sleep on our matresses for seven or eight years, which is the equivalent of 20 000 hours.  Imagine your body weight indentations on your mattress, plus decades worth of sweat, dead skin and saliva.  In addition, if you’re waking up with back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain or leg pain, your mattress may not be supportive enough for you.  Buy a new mattress every seven to eight years.  Buy a new pillow every two years!

  1.  Consistency wins the day

Many people work long hours during the week and then think they can make up for that lost sleep on weekends.  The 24-hour body clock regulating your hormones and body systems detests this, and as a result your immune system may take a knock.  Aim to go to sleep at the same time every night, and similarly, wake up at a similar time each mornin

Here are some ‘quick’ reminders:

1. Avoid napping during the day (unless it is a 20-minute powernap).

2. Your bed should only be used for sleeping, sex or reading (a paper novel)!

3. Try to avoid being overtired.

4. Do NOT watch TV, read off your mobile phone, or be on your computer 60-90 minutes before bedtime. You should NEVER work (on your phone or laptop) in your bedroom.

5. Turn off the bright lights in your house at night — replace these with low lights and /or red-light bulbs in your lamps (especially if you are getting up for small children at night).

6. Avoid excessive alcohol ingestion before bedtime. Alcohol should be used for ‘celebration’ and not ‘obliteration’.

7. If you are going to bed at about 10pm, stop drinking caffeine at 2pm. This includes coffee, tea, green tea, chocolate, and many carbonated soft drinks. Caffeine has an eight-hour half-life in your body.

8. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods four hours before bedtime. A light, healthy snack before bed is fine.

9. Make your bedroom your sanctuary and keep it uncluttered. Invest in comfortable bedding and lovely silky nightwear.

10. If you don’t have block-out curtains, sleep with a sleep mask on

If you are wondering about the number of hours that you should sleep per night, here is the range:

• Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours

• Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours

• Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours

• Older adults (65+): +/- 7 hours

Please note: you are NOT unique! Your brain will suffer if you are sleeping a minute less than seven hours a night. Alzheimer’s starts 20 years before you find that you ‘lost’ your house keys by putting them in the fridge!

Lastly, be self-compassionate.

Choose one or two ideas and implement them for three to four weeks to ensure that your new habit becomes your daily ritual. Make it easy for yourself. Once it’s engrained as a habit (much like brushing your teeth twice a day), then pick another idea to integrate into your life.  Buddy up with your family members, or friends.  Accountability partners make forming new habits far easier.

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