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Why We Sleep

8 tips from neuroscientist Matthew Walker for better sleep

With his book Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker reveals the phenomenon of sleep - he explains why we sleep, how we sleep and why healthy sleep is the basis for our physical and mental well-being. The expert promises us better sleep with these eight tips:

„we have to make sure
to get between seven
and nine hours of sleep
every day."

1. Consistent sleep routine

For a healthy sleep rhythm, it is vital to stick to fixed times for going to bed and waking up, both during the week and on weekends. After all, the notion of "catching up on sleep on the weekend" sounds tempting in theory, but doesn't work in practice. The truth is we have to make sure to get between seven and nine hours of sleep every day, and always at the same times. The regularity of our sleep routine is just as important as the amount of snooze we get. If you have a tendency to forget to go to bed on time - to maintain this rhythm, the sleep expert recommends using a sleep alarm clock. After all, we set our clock to wake up - so why not use it as a reminder it’s bedtime?

2. Sunlight in the early morning

A significant regulator for our 24-hour rhythm is our body’s consumption of daylight: At what time our eyes absorb how much light determines (in addition to our body temperature) when we feel awake and when we feel sleepy. If possible, for a healthy rhythm, we should get up around sunrise and take in at least half an hour of direct daylight (without sunglasses and not just through the window) within the first 90 minutes after waking up, and in the evening, before going to bed, we should avoid artificial light sources of any kind. Instead, light a few candles: Their weak though warm light are not only cozier, but will not throw our rhythm off.

 3. No afternoon coffee

Coffee and certain caffeine-containing teas, which has a half-life of about four hours. A cup of coffee or black tea consumed in the early afternoon can make it difficult to fall asleep late in the evening. That's why Matt Walker recommends limiting caffeine consumption to the morning, so that you can fall asleep faster in the evening and stay sound asleep. Even if one can fall asleep despite having consumed coffee late in the day, the caffeine may prevent the body from going into deep sleep. Though you might have the feeling that you have slept, your body and mind will not have achieved full restoration.

4. No alcohol

Besides caffeine, alcohol should also be avoided in the evening. The feeling that a glass of wine relaxes us and makes it easier to fall asleep is deceptive. While alcohol may help us relax, it interrupts our REM sleep, which is an essential part of our night's rest. This is because the events of the day are processed during this phase of sleep. People who don’t get enough REM sleep show increased irritability and anxiety, and a rise in emotional stress. Therefore, getting sufficient REM sleep every night is vital, and we shouldn’t deprive ourselves by consuming alcohol.

5. No workouts in the late evening

It is scientifically proven that physically-active people tend to have a better quality of sleep. However, there are windows of time in our 24-hour rhythm that are particularly good for working out, and times in which sports activity are detrimental to sleep. This is because while our core body temperature needs to cool down by about one degree for ideal sleep, sport stimulates circulation and causes our temperature to rise briefly. Matt Walker recommends avoiding exercise in the two to three hours before bedtime. 

6. Early dinner

In addition to caffeine and alcohol, however, large meals should be avoided late in the evening to avoid indigestion and digestive problems. If you eat a large dinner late at night, you end up activating your digestion, which raises body temperature and makes it difficult for the body to wind down and sleep.

7. Warm shower in the evening

Speaking of lowering body temperature: Matt Walker recommends taking a hot shower shortly before bedtime. In the attempt not to overheat, the body reacts to the warm water by lowering its temperature. This is ideal for unwinding and to get sleepy the natural way. Though keep in mind that a lower room temperature is also conducive to sleep. Have the window slightly ajar or briefly air out the room before going to bed.

8. Relaxation before bedtime

To give the body and mind the time to slowly shut down and fall into sleep mode, you should indulge in calming and decelerating activities in the evening. These include reading, listening to music or meditation. You should actively stay away from computers, TVs and cell phones, as the light from these devices can interfere with this process. In short, better to reach for a book than your phone. 

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