Although weather is the default small-talk conversation starter, sleep comes in at a close second. Whether we can’t get enough of it, can’t make it happen at all, or do it so well we miss our alarm, we all love to talk about what goes on in bed after lights out.
Researchers are well aware of this, because there’s an endless stream of studies focused on how much sleep we really need vs. how much we actually get. Two such reports have emerged in the past few weeks alone.
The popular SleepCycle app conducted a survey into the world’s sleeping habits, and found New Zealanders are getting the most shut-eye than 49 other nationalities. On average, Kiwis managed seven hours and 27 minutes a night; while we Aussies came in at number 5 with seven hours and 19 minutes a night. Well done, us.
Despite passing the minimum seven hour mark (more on that in a moment), it seems Aussies are still massive grumble-bums in the morning. According to the survey, we're the sixth grumpiest wakers in the world — Japan took out the top spot, but this is understandable given they also took out the 'least sleep' category.
On top of that, a new study in the journal Sleep has confirmed what we all feared: that if you don't get at least seven hours of zzzz a night, your health suffers. By examining more than 5300 previous studies, the researchers found chronic under-sleeping — i.e. regularly getting less than six hours of sleep — is linked to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.
To help you deal with that news, we hereby present seven ways to help you get to sleep tonight.
Yoga helps to relax your body and mind and reduce stress levels, so if you're struggling to fall asleep it might be worth getting your 'namaste' on for 10 minutes — and you don't even need to get out of bed to do it.
There are heaps of bedtime routines available for fully-fledged yogis, to those of us who will try just about anything to get some shut-eye. We're particularly fond of this beginner level guide. (Post continues after video.)
2. Breathing exercises
Can't sleep? Panicking about not being able to sleep? It's time to take some deep breaths to calm your body.
Breathing techniques are a cost-free way to induce sleep, and one that's been getting a lot of good reviews is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Dr Andrew Weil, who developed the trick, claims it acts as a “natural tranquilliser for the nervous system” which gets more powerful the more often you practise it. To perform the exercise you exhale loudly through your mouth (and make a nice “whoosh” sound). Then, you breathe in quietly through your nose for a mental count of four, hold your breath for a count of seven, and exhale through your mouth for a count of eight.
3. Pick up a book
It seems all those people who read before bed were onto something — research has found reading can bring down your stress levels by a whopping 68 per cents, and is more effective at calming your body than other popular techniques. You don't need to churn through War and Peace in one night to get these benefits, either. Just six minutes of reading is enough to slow down your heart rate and ease muscle tension, which will make falling asleep much easier. Another good reason to tackle that 'To Read' list of yours, huh? (Post continues after gallery.)
4. Switch off
Turns out our bedtime routine of scrolling through Instagram is bad news. Are you really surprised..?
According to Mark Rosekind PhD, former director of the Fatigue Countermeasures Program, “One of the most simple but important reasons technology affects our sleep is cognitive stimulation.” Basically, looking through social media revs up our brainpower, which is the opposite of what should be happening when you are trying to get some sleep.
Research has also found the blue light emitted by tech devices can disrupt our circadian rhythm, and thus our sleep. On top of that, having your electronic devices within reaching distance provides added stimulation. There is nothing worse then being awoken up from a glorious Ryan Gosling dream because your drunk friend decides to send you a 2am text. Not cool.
5. Exercise in the morning
A little preparation earlier in the day could pay dividends after the sun goes down. According to Dr. Scott Collier from Appalachian State University's College of Health Sciences, early morning exercise triggers a 25 percent reduction in blood pressure at night, which is correlated with better sleep. That said, there's nothing to say working out in the p.m. hours can't help you hit the z's, either. So exercise is a winner all-round, really.
6. Play some tunes
Playing some music before you go to sleep can be a great way to wind down and calm your nerves, but choose your playlist carefully: listening to TayTay won’t do you much good. Instead, opt for soothing music or some natural sounds like waves crashing to help you relax. Shake It Off can wait until the morning. (Post continues after gallery.)
7. Grab a pen
Can’t stop thinking about all the things you have to do in the morning? Write it down. This one works a treat for our intern Alison, who says, "As a chronic worrier this works for me — so well, in fact, that I have a permanent bedside notebook specifically designated for late night thoughts."
8. Have sex
If early morning exercise isn’t quite your thing, maybe this will be more up your alley.
A Daily Mail survey found that one in six women had a better night's sleep after some between the sheets lovin’. Women’s Health Magazine also found that sex boosts oxytocin production and lowers cortisol, which is associated with stress. Now that sounds like way more fun then an early morning run, no?
What's your best tip for falling asleep?