To sleep, perchance to dream. For many of us, getting a good night’s rest is one of our favourite things. Just think of those rare occasions when you get a lovely Sunday morning lie-in. What heaven.
But in reality, that snuggled-up rested feeling is often a far-off fantasy. Because for most of us, our bed is where we toss, turn and curse the world for our inability to drop off.
Poor sleep is something that plagues people throughout the modern world. And scientists have shown repeatedly how chronic poor quality sleep can have a negative impact on both physical and mental health.
Everyone from your mum, to your doctor, to your local candlestick maker (more on him later) can give you advice on how to sleep better. Still, sometimes you’ll want short ‘n’ fast tips that’ll stick in that brain of yours. So here are four weird ones that I’ve assembled, all of which have the benefit of being backed by science. Phew.
Eat a kiwi fruit (or two)
Yep, that’s right. The secret to a good night’s sleep could be New Zealand’s most famous export – if you forget Hobbits – and the furriest member of the fruit bowl: the humble kiwi.
Researchers in Taiwan have found that eating a kiwi, or even better two kiwis, an hour before hitting the sack increases the chance of a good night’s sleep.
The exact reasons for this aren’t known, but it could be something to do with the high levels of serotonin and anti-oxidants present in the potassium-rich superfruit.
Luckily, I can’t get enough of the furry green fellas.
Tense your muscles
Huh? But aren’t I too tense already? Don’t I want to relax?!
Yes, you do want to relax – and tensing your muscles actually helps you to do so. Known as Progressive Muscle Relaxation, it’s a century-old method that helps you catch the express train to Snoozeville.
It works as a more active version of the body scan many of you might know from mindfulness meditation; only in this case, instead of just thinking about each part of your body, you systematically tense and release each of your muscle groups in turn.
Start with your toes and work your way up the body to your face, tensing each area for five seconds and then slowly releasing the clench for thirty seconds.
Like counting sheep or back from a thousand, the method works by calming a racing mind and distracting you from your inability to sleep. Plus it has the added benefit of physical relaxation. Bonus.
As with anything new, this technique takes a little time to master – but soon a little clenching and relaxing will have you and your tired muscles melting away into your mattress
Dunk your face in ice-cold water
What, first tensing and now dunking?! “You’re mad!” I hear you say.
Really, I’m not (Ok, maybe just a little). Again, this tip might seem counterintuitive but bear with me. For a lot of us, the reason we can’t drift off to sleep is due to an overstimulated brain. We’re still running the problems and concerns of the day through our mind. It can be hard to shake this, leading to inevitable tossing and turning.
Dunking your face into a bowl of ice-cold water triggers an involuntary physical phenomenon, known to scientist types as the Mammalian Dive Reflex. Which instead of shocking you awake, in fact lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, effectively distracting you and de-stressing you.
And so it seems, a little cold water helps to wash the day’s worries away. Yay!
Light your home with candles
Romantic, certainly. A fire hazard, possibly. Good for getting to sleep, most definitely.
When you are struggling with sleep, blue light is your enemy. Our bodies are conditioned to react to blue light as we would to daylight. And for countless generations, daylight hitting the cave entrance meant time to rise and shine, for that’s when the day’s hunting and gathering began.
We may think of ourselves as more evolved than our ancestors, but in reality when it comes to sleep we aren’t. Our circadian rhythms are important and far too often we ignore them.
Any artificial lighting – from bright fluorescent lights, LED lights, TV screens, laptops and mobile phones – all give off this dreaded blue light. And as a result, all are the enemies of sleep.
So, why not try to match what’s happening outside? When the sun sets, don’t flood your home with bright lights; instead, switch to some nice ambient lighting. Take a trip to that local candlemaker I mentioned earlier, or a few subtle and subdued side lamps will do the trick.
By reducing your exposure to blue light in the evening, your body will get the message and start to switch into sleep mode before you even head into the bedroom.
So there you have it, my four weird tips to a better night’s sleep. Some may be a little unconventional but why not give them a go? You have nothing to lose, apart from a bad night’s sleep!