Sleep expert offers her top tips for getting better shut-eye

A good night's sleep can be better than a holiday.
A good night's sleep can be better than a holiday. Photo credit: Getty.

We've just marked World Sleep Day 2021, a time to celebrate all things shut-eye. 

The average human spends about 26 years sleeping in their life, which equates to 9490 days or 227,760 hours. Surprisingly, we also spend seven years trying to get to sleep - that's 33 years or 12,045 days spent in bed.

If you're struggling with your sleep, it can be frustrating at best, debilitating at worst - but there are a lot of ways to help your body get ready for slumber. 

Dr Ann Shivas has a PhD in human nutrition and background in biology, osteopathy and traditional Chinese medicine. 

She's part of the Sleep Loop team which helped to develop No Ugly Sleep - a wellness drink meant to assist with getting sleepy in the evenings thanks to a mix of magnesium and tart cherry.  

Dr Shivas says World Sleep Day is the perfect time to evaluate our routine. 

"Oftentimes we sacrifice our sleep over our 'to-do' list in this busy world. It's time to slow down, add in some self-care and have a look at our sleep," she says. 

She's put together some "tangible tips" to help Kiwis get better rest and show up ready to tackle the next day.

Better your nutrition

Here are some tips to better your nutrition throughout the day to avoid overloading the body with toxins. 

I would recommend trying to stop eating 2-3 hours before bed. We need to allow the digestive system to do its work.  Having big meals before bed could keep our body running on overdrive instead of telling ourselves it's time for recovery and healing. If you haven't heard it already - avoid sugar! It's important to read labels as sugar is sometimes hidden in our food.

A little trick I love to share with my clients is to generally shop around the 'outside' of the supermarket, where there's fresh fruits, vegetables, meats/fish, eggs and a little bit of dairy if needed. This is where we should be focusing our eating to keep us running optimally throughout the day.

If we overload on sugar, it creates an inflammatory response, which is responsible for quite a bit of chronic disease. 

Being social is great, however we do need to avoid toxins like alcohol and caffeine before bed. This creates toxicity in our body, and I am sure we are well aware of that!

Our body needs a good internal environment to flush out the toxins we are putting into it. Since the body’s healing process happens during the evening, it's important to set yourself up for a good night's sleep by reducing or eliminating toxins from your diet.

Give it a try for one week, and substitute for water and have at least 2L a day with some lemon squeezed into it and you'll notice a big difference!

Minimise stress

The difference between feeling stressed and experiencing fatigue are two very different things. Stress plays a role in everyone's life.

It's important to know we can have stress in our days, however many are overdoing it and operating fatigued daily. This is often where I see mental health issues pop up. 

People often reach for a quick-fix in the form of medications or supplements. They do help, but without a plan to change their daily stress levels, they will just keep people on the hamster wheel.  We are seeing this more with changes our world has gone through in the last year.

 One thing we can work on for ourselves is our recovery and sleep. I do use some supplements like magnesium, chamomile tea, vitamin D and lavender essential oils.

There are many studies on how sleep lowers inflammation and helps the body increase immunity, which is likely what the world is looking for in this moment.  

Check your daily schedule 

A consistent schedule that allows you to go to bed around the same time each night will help regulate your body. And yes, even on weekend nights too. 

Along the same vein, I recommend setting and sticking to the same wake-up time daily. Regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend, try to wake up at the same time since a fluctuating schedule keeps you from getting into a rhythm of consistent sleep.

Check your sleep environment

Ask yourself: do you have a set up where you are comfortable sleeping? Have you blocked out noises that might wake you? For example, if your partner disrupts your sleep, then try ear plugs to improve the sleep environment.

Are you feeling too hot while you sleep? Perhaps try a cool shower before bed, or opening the window to allow air flow through the room. We all have different requirements to get into our sleeping slumber. It's very important to recognize your own.  

Breathwork has been found to be beneficial in calming down the body. I really enjoy doing the 4-7-8 breathing technique for about three minutes. I take a deep breath in for four seconds, hold for seconds seconds and slowly let out my breath for 8 seconds.

It takes my brain off my day, puts the focus onto me and allows me to be in the moment calming my body. This is a great technique to calm stress throughout the day as well.   

Educate yourself! 

We have developed a free survey for people to take to start their sleep journey. All of the questions and algorithms created is backed by scientific evidence on sleep. To give you a kickstart, you can get your sleepscore here.

We can personalise deeper, and I believe this is where health needs to go. Getting more data can help you understand perhaps where to start making changes in your day. Applications, I believe, are quite helpful - as long as we aren't obsessing over them!

The same goes for seeing your data after your sleep. Treat the data as a tool to understand yourself. If you don't understand your sleep scores, take your data to a professional to help guide you through it to help you create a personalised programme that suits your specific lifestyle.