How to get good sleep

With growing distractions and increasing stress, the world is sleeping less and less. But without sleep, there is no good life.

There's a very popular shonda rhimes show called grey's anatomy. You might have seen it. A medical drama about a group of doctors at a hospital. These young, extremely good-looking doctors are running around the hospital, fighting to get their hands on the most complicated surgeries in a bid to become world-class surgeons. There's just one problem. They don't sleep. In many episodes, they are found declaring sleep is for the weak. Or I’ll sleep when I am dead. Or snooze you lose. The doctors don't want to lose. It's understandable.

However, what isn't understandable is why these people who supposedly spent at least five years in medical school haven't learned the value of sleep. Popular culture has time and again undervalued sleep. Successful people on tv are always burning the midnight oil, pulling all-nighters, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and making what essentially is their somnambulism appear cool. Anything but sleep, they seem to be saying.

And there are few ideas propagated by pop culture that are as harmful as this one. Any good doctor will tell you sleep is as important as food. Here's why.

Why sleep matters

How often has it happened that you were unwell, you slept, and woke up feeling better? Like someone rebooted your body's system. How many times have you 'slept on a pending decision' and woken up to a more decisive mind? It's not without reason. Sleep affects your ability to think, react, work, learn, and retain things. Sleep affects your health - body, and mind. However, sleeping has become one of the most difficult things to do. India, today, is the second-most sleep-deprived country in the world. And rising stress, the growing number of technological distractions (laptops, smartphones), and poor lifestyle choices are all contributing factors. When you miss out on sleep, say instead of eight hours you only sleep for six, those two hours per day make up for a sleep debt you owe your body. It's time you start paying your dues. It's time you started taking sleep seriously.

So you understand the value of sleep. You even want to sleep early. And yet, sleep is elusive. Here are a few things you can do to get good sleep.

Maintain sleep hygiene: it means being strict about your routine. Set a timetable for yourself. You will go to bed at a certain time. You will wake up at a certain time. You won't be 'binging' on content close to bedtime. The laptop, phone lights are enemy number one of sleep. Read a book instead.

Stretch: sleep is dependent on a variety of factors. Your physical activity is one of them. If your body isn't tired physically, sleep will be hard. So, inculcating a workout in your daily routine will help you. And stretching before going to bed will relax your body as it prepares for sleep.

Say no to coffee: or anything caffeinated. It's the thing you drink to stay alert, you need the opposite of that at bedtime. Drink warm milk or chamomile tea. They will calm you down and help you to sleep.

Music: nothing energetic. Something calming, relaxing. Something that won't agitate or unsettle you.

Meditation: mindfulness is at the center of your wellbeing. If you aren't emotionally stable, if you are overthinking, anxious, worried, you can say goodbye to sleep. But how is it possible to not worry? This is why you need to learn to calm your mind. Tell it who is in charge. And meditation helps you get there. You can access the mindfulness app headspace which offers guided meditation courses that can help you calm your mind and sleep well.

Swimming: you can swim your way to sleep. Other than being an excellent cardio workout, you must have noticed the calming effect water has on the body. How heavy with sleep you feel after a good swim. A swim before bedtime would mean you are sleeping like a baby, as they say.

Other hacks: you could try taking a warm shower before going to bed, it is supposed to relax you. You could try aromatherapy (lavender, sage) candles. Or you could gently massage your temple with essential oils such as lavender and chamomile. You could try wearing socks to bed. There are certain breathing exercises, such as the 4-7-8 method, that are also worth trying.

Sleep is important. There's no way of living a good life without it. So the next time you feel like skipping it, remember the nursery rhyme you were taught as a child. Early to bed and early to rise, makes a person healthy, wealthy, and wise.

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