Sufficient good-quality sleep is a non-negotiable biological necessity—as crucial to our health and overall well-being as exercise, food, and water.
Adults should be getting 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night, while children require 9 to 11 hours. At least one-third of our lives, then, should be spent on sleeping, and yet a majority of us are consistently sleep-deprived.
It’s appalling: we proceed from one day to the next immersed in a fog of sleep deprivation, trying to scrape by with the help of caffeine, but failing to address the root cause of our fatigue.
There is a wealth of scientific research documenting the extremely pernicious ill-effects of not getting enough sleep.
To begin with, sleep deprivation affects our day-to-day functioning, especially in terms of impaired cognition and mood regulation, poor concentration and memory, and a lower sex drive. And, of course, for the beauty-conscious, a lack of sleep negatively affects one’s appearance (the term “beauty sleep” exists for a reason): it is during deep sleep that your body repairs and rejuvenates itself by replenishing its cells and making more collagen so that your complexion improves (the consequences of sleep deprivation in terms of affecting one’s appearance are most obviously evident in the severe eye bags we get after pulling an all-nighter).
No amount of expensive anti-aging skincare and beauty products can compensate for insufficient sleep.
Prolonged sleep deprivation also has a profoundly negative effect on our long-term health: it has been linked to high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer—to the extent that the World Health Organization has classified night-time shift work as a carcinogen (lack of sleep is linked to a reduction in the amount of cancer-fighting cells).
It is no wonder, then, that those who regularly sleep for 6 hours or less per night have a lower life expectancy than those who do get enough sleep—for example, adults who sleep for less than 6 hours per night are 200% more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke as compared to those who sleep for 7-9 hours.
The assumption that older adults require less sleep is also false—those above 65 should still try to get 7.5 to 9 hours per night.
As sleep scientist Matthew Walker notes, “Every disease that is killing us in developed nations has causal and significant links to a lack of sleep.”
In other words, getting enough sleep—and it has to be good-quality deep sleep—is absolutely and unequivocally non-negotiable. It needs to be prioritized.
Thankfully, the concept of sleep hygiene has been getting more attention recently—it refers to a set of habits or practices that will put you in an optimal position to have a good night’s sleep. So which enemies of sleep should you steadfastly avoid if you want to cultivate good sleep hygiene?
Things to Avoid:
- Drinking alcohol at night:
Ironically, many people drink alcohol as a nightcap because of the misguided belief that alcohol helps them to sleep. Matthew Walker points out that alcohol is a sedative, but sedation is not sleep.
While alcohol might make you sleepy, it actually decreases the quality of your sleep quite drastically: it fragments and disrupts your sleep such that you will wake up frequently during the night (even if you don’t remember this the next morning). Moreover, alcohol also inhibits rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is an essential part of your sleep cycle.
- Using your phone (or any other devices that emit blue light) immediately prior to bedtime:
Any kind of light, but especially blue light, suppresses the release of melatonin, which is the hormone that makes you sleepy.
So ditch your phones and laptops (even if they have an ostensible blue-light filter) at the bedroom door (i.e. at least 30 minutes before bedtime) and read a book to unwind instead.
- Consuming caffeine in the daytime (or, it goes without saying, at night):
It’s a vicious cycle: you didn’t sleep well last night so you load up on coffee the next day, but as a result, you don’t sleep well tonight either, so you take more coffee again—and on it goes.
Caffeine actually stays in your system for around twelve hours, so it continues to affect your body even after the initial buzz wears off—even if you manage to fall asleep, you are likely to sleep poorly overall.
- Exercising or doing any other stimulating activities too close to bedtime:
Too much stimulation too close to bedtime can interfere with your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle, such that you might feel wired even when it’s time to sleep.
If you do exercise, do it no later than 3 hours prior to bedtime, because the release of endorphins caused by exercise can prevent your body from winding down. You should also avoid doing other stimulating activities (e.g. checking your email or catching up on work) too close to bedtime, and try not to do them in your bedroom.
If you do, your body will start associating your bedroom with a state of wakefulness—try to make your bedroom a space of calm and relaxation instead.
Things to Do to Improve Your Sleep Quality:
- Keep to a fixed sleep schedule:
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
This will be helpful for those who have trouble falling asleep because sticking to a fixed sleep schedule will stabilize your body’s internal clock—your body will learn to start unwinding itself by a certain time and you will have an easier time falling asleep.
- Exercise regularly (but not too close to bedtime):
Exercise helps to decrease stress levels and promote a calmer state of mind, which is conducive to getting a good night’s rest.
Also, your body temperature rises when you exercise and then falls when you cool down—this drop in body temperature is precisely what happens when you fall asleep, so inducing it via exercise (or by taking a warm bath) contributes to preparing your body for sleep.
That is, it acts as a biological signal for your body to start winding down. Studies have shown that exercise also improves overall sleep quality.
- Eat a light dinner and avoid heavy snacking and excessive fluid intake right before bedtime:
Heavy food intake can cause indigestion, which negatively affects the quality of your sleep.
Drinking too much fluids (especially diuretics like alcohol, which increase urination) too close to bedtime can also disrupt your sleep as you might wake up multiple times during the night to go to the bathroom. So it is advisable that you try to limit your intake of food and liquid at night.
- Meditate before bedtime:
Meditation is an accessible and affordable way to improve your sleep.
It helps to relax the nervous system in preparation for sleep, and may even improve your sleep quality—studies have suggested that those skilled in meditation have enhanced REM sleep and slow-wave sleep, as well as experiencing fewer intermittent awakenings throughout the night.
- Take a natural sleep aid like Ashwagandha:
Perhaps the most efficient way of improving your sleep is to take a natural supplement like Ashwagandha, which has been used for centuries as a sleep aid. Ashwagandha promotes better sleep on several levels.
To begin with, its bioactive compounds help your body to manage stressful conditions and promote resistance to anxiety. An easing of stress will, in turn, indirectly improve your ability to sleep deeply.
On another level, Ashwagandha both induces sleep and enhances sleep quality, as well as increasing the duration of sleep. A recent placebo-controlled study involving 58 participants was done on the efficacy of Ashwagandha as a treatment for insomnia.
Participants were give a daily dose of Ashwagandha root extract for 10 weeks. The study found that this regular intake of Ashwagandha was linked to a significant improvement in multiple sleep parameters—specifically, a reduction in sleep onset latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), and an increase in sleep efficiency, sleep quality, and total sleep time.
Similar results were found in another placebo-controlled trial involving 144 participants who took an Ashwagandha extract once daily for six weeks. Participants who had taken the extract reported a 72% increase in their sleep quality on average—compared to this, patients in the placebo group reported only a 29% increase.
Furthermore, unlike popular sleep-inducing medications like Xanax, Ashwagandha is safe for long-term use because it is non-addictive and does not produce overdependence.
It also has many other therapeutic effects apart from improving sleep quality and reducing stress levels—to name a few, it can be used as a workout supplement because it enhances cardiorespiratory endurance and promotes muscle recovery; it strengthens your immune system; it promotes healthy weight management by speeding up metabolism; and it improves the sexual and reproductive functions of both men and women.
It must be noted that not all Ashwagandha extracts are created equal. It is recommended that you opt for a root-only, full-spectrum extract with an optimal percentage of withanolides (one of the active compounds of Ashwagandha).
The Ashwa Lychee Drink offered by The Purest Co fulfils all these criteria and uses the most established Ashwagandha formulation (KSM-66) available on the market today.
It is also a delicious and more effective alternative to more traditional Ashwagandha products, which tend to be sold in pill or powder formats that have significantly lower absorption rates. More information on how to select the best Ashwagandha extract can be found here.
So if you don’t have the discipline to practice meditation, or if you’re just looking for an efficient and convenient way to improve your sleep, or if you have tried all the above tips and still have trouble sleeping, taking an Ashwagandha extract may be ideal for you.