Clean Sleeping | Science or pseudo-science?

‘Clean sleeping’ is the latest buzz phrase, repeatedly in the news since Gwyneth Paltrow wrote about it in her latest book, ‘Goop Clean Beauty’. Like ‘Clean eating’, it refers to a disciplined, regimented approach to the sleep issue. It’s basically old sleep tricks newly packaged, but whereas the jury remains out on the question of Goop’s vaginal eggs, science shows that these do work. So if you have problems getting to sleep – or staying asleep – this may well be the approach for you.

If you can’t sleep you can’t function

Have you ever considered how much time you spend asleep? The answer is a mind-boggling 25 years over the course of your lifetime! Yet in the hurly burly of our stressful modern day lives, juggling work, home, family and friends, one of the first things that flies out of the window is the quality of your sleep.

It’s incredibly hard to function properly in the day if you can’t sleep at night. Relationships and jobs can suffer. Anxiety and depression can set in. A brain that can’t rest doesn’t get a chance to have a break from continual stress hormone overload - cortisol and adrenaline for example - that cause racing thoughts and constant worry.

Deep sleep, however, reboots your body. As you drift off into unconsciousness, your brainwaves change; genes are activated; tissues get renewed, hormones are released or rebalanced, damage cleaned up and sorted. It’s a time for mending, repairing and restoring. If you don’t – or can’t - sleep, you simply miss out altogether.

Are you getting enough?

The answer overall seems to be a resounding ‘no’! Statistics paint a discouraging picture. More than 36% of the UK population struggle with insomnia, and 30-40% of all the issues we go to the GP about are sleep related. Research carried out by Silentnight and The University of Leeds found that 25 per cent of us sleep for five hours or less per night. 7.9 m of us use alcohol to get to sleep at night; 6.8m pop a pill of one kind or other. Very few people successfully manage the recommended 7-8 hours a night of unconsciousness needed for optimal health.

What are the main sleep issues?

Statistics show that aching bones and joints are the number one problems, complained about by 67% of sleep deprived people. 36% cite noise, 34% are disturbed by their partners, and another 34% struggle with their room temperature - too hot or too cold.

Four ‘Clean Sleeping’ Do’s

1. Get yourself into a steady bedtime routine

Go to bed at the same time each night and regulate your body clock. Before 10.30pm is best because the hours before midnight are the body’s most efficient fix and repair time. After that your adrenals kick in with a ‘staying up late’ boost of adrenaline, making it that much harder to sink in to a deep restorative sleep.

2. Cut down on coffee

Give it up altogether if you can, but otherwise, limit yourself to a cup or two before 11am in the morning. Did you know that just like uranium, coffee also has a half-life? Luckily, at only 5 hrs, it’s a short one compared to the expiry of toxic radio-active substances, but that still means that 50% of the caffeine in your afternoon cup is still keeping you wide awake when you want to be winding down. Drink a cup after supper and your chances of sleeping deeply are minimal.

3. Bedroom Basics

It sounds obvious, but we all spend so much time in our rooms, watching TV, working on the computer, playing on laptops and iPads and texting on our phones, that the bedroom is rarely synonymous with sleep. For your brain to relax deeply, remove all stimulants. Take out any electronics, including your bedside clock or radio. If you are supersensitive, even a plug socket too close to your head can affect your rest. If your bedroom is too hot your body will struggle to sleep throughout the night: too noisy, and you will wake frequently throughout the small hours. Consider investing in a white noise machine, or a small fan, to drown out any external sounds.

4. Black it out

Make sure your room is entirely dark. Bright light stimulates the pineal gland in the brain, creating serotonin, which keeps you happy and wakeful. Darkness on the other hand triggers melatonin, which makes you sleepy. Put in blackout blinds if you need to.

What NOT to do if you can’t sleep

*Don’t lie awake worrying, with your thoughts racing round your head repeatedly. Always have a notebook by the side of your bed, and write them down, turning them into a ‘Tomorrows To-Do list’. The act of physically transferring them onto paper seems to give your brain the message – ‘OK – tick. Got the message – will be dealt with in the morning’. That seems to be sufficient – it frees your brain from the responsibility of needing to keep bringing the issues to your attention and you can drift off to sleep once more, unburdened.

*Don’t grab yourself a glass of wine, hoping it will make you comatose. It may briefly achieve its object, but alcohol is a stimulant, and after the initial drowsy response, you will find yourself even more wired than before.

*Don’t turn the light on and start reading your iPad or a book. All you will do is upset the circadian rhythms that are meant to keep you in a state of deep sleep in the middle of the night, making your brain think it’s morning instead.

7 Quick fix sleep techniques that could help you get to sleep in less than 10 minutes

1. Make yourself a cup of Valerian tea

Valerian is nature’s Valium. It should help you drift off in a matter of minutes

2. Get deep breathing

Try placing your hand on your stomach and breathe in deeply, so that your stomach rises. Spend a minute or two focusing on how it moves up and down as you breathe steadily and calmly in and out. Inhale for 3 seconds and then exhale for 5. Whenever your mind starts to drift away and think about other things, bring it firmly back to those rhythmic movements and you will find yourself asleep before you know it. Usually in less than a minute.

3. Practise Yoga Nidra

This is a meditation technique where you consciously relax each part of your body, one area at a time. This refocuses your brain, and relaxes your body, releasing tension and allowing you, within a short period of time, to slip gently back into sleep. Start by relaxing all the muscles in your face and head, including your tongue, jaw, and eyes. Drop your shoulders as low as they’ll go. Then relax your arms, first on one side, and then the other. Move your attention next to your chest, and relax every part of it. Then relax your legs, releasing any muscle tension in your calves and thighs. Once all stress has vanished physically, relax your mind as well. Find your special tranquil place - imagine yourself rocking gently in a rowing boat, on a calm lake under a blue sky, or lying on a white beach next to a turquoise sea. In 5 minutes you should be fast asleep.

4. Invest in a magnesium oil spray

And spray it liberally on your arms and legs before you get into bed (allowing it to soak in first or it will stain your sheets!). Magnesium is excellent for sleep and the oil penetrates rapidly into your bloodstream; far faster as a remedy than swallowing it in pill or capsule form.

5. Open the window or turn off the radiator

Cool is best, because your body releases melatonin at lower temperatures – ideally between 16-18 degrees C. Cold lowers your heart rate and blood pressure sending a message to your nervous system that it’s time to rest and sleep. Too hot a room temperature, however, and your body won’t rest.

6. The Castor Oil pack

Try rubbing castor oil on to the area of skin above your liver, under the ribs of your right hand side. Put a hot water bottle on top and lie back and relax.

7. Eat two kiwi fruits before bed!

A recent study found that eating a couple of kiwi fruit an hour before bed improved both length and depth of sleep.


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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health. 

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