The Secrets to Good Sleep

Sleep is the best meditation, and simplest medication for better health. Here’s how you can school yourself back to life-enhancing sleep.

By | May 5, 2021

Between work and laundry, bills and kids, family obligations and whatnots, 24 hours in a day is just not enough. So who has time for sleep? Why dedicate a third of your already too few hours in a day to this one thing? Well, let me tell you why getting eight hours of slumber was one of the best things I ever did for myself.

With WFH and lockdowns making personal lives a blur, it’s becoming all too common that we slog our time away well past our usual working hours and then Netflix well into the night. Besides having bosses messaging me at odd hours, I’ve spent most of the last three years turning to sleep training experts like Gina Ford and Taking Cara Babies for my toddler—being a working mum means putting everyone else’s needs first. But after increased migraines, a brain MRI, and trips to a neurologist later, I realised that it wasn’t just my baby who needed sleep training. I did, too.

Perchance to dream. Photograph: Kevin Laminto/Unsplash

Why sleep matters

Getting enough sleep is as much a human need as eating and breathing. While, yes, I’d admittedly spent numerous nights in my 20s partying well into the twilight hours and rocking up to the office at 9am fresh as a daisy, there’s no question that there’s only so much of that the human body can take (Read: it doesn’t happen anymore once you’re in your 30s). These days, I party with DJ Pillow and MC Blankey.

Much like how your skincare routine, firing up your favourite candles, or indulging in a deep-tissue massage are all forms of self-love and self-care, sleep is too. There’s really not much to it. No other activity delivers so many benefits with such little effort.

Restless sleep can rob years off your life. Photograph: Annie Spratt/Unsplash

To put things simply (but somewhat scarily), sleep deprivation can lead to memory issues, trouble focusing, weakened immunity, weight gain, or even mood changes over time. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, as long term lack of sleep can lead to chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. So, please, keep those nights of wanton hedonism to a day/night where you can ensure no lost slumber.

Those precious eight hours is how long it takes for your body to restore itself. As you snooze the night away, you may be powering down, but your brain stays busy overseeing biological maintenance. Miss out on these service sessions, and, like a car, your body is headed for a mental and physical breakdown. Speaking of which …

Why eight hours?

Believe it or not, but missing out on even an hour of sleep can make you noticeably sluggish. That one hour affects your ability to respond quickly and think clearly. While sleep needs vary from person to person, most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep.

Both undersleeping or oversleeping are bad sleeping patterns. Photograph: Mister Mister/Pexels

So, that eight-hour average people always talk about? It’s just a ballpark figure. Your minimum can be determined by age (here’s a nifty chart), but the main way to figure out precisely how many hours works best for you is based on how you feel when you get up and for the rest of the day. You should feel energetic as soon as you wake up, not experience daytime drowsiness, and not have to rely on caffeine to carry you through the day.

Quantity and quality

Hours aside, the quality of sleep you get matters just as much if not more. Of course, if you’re suffering from debilitating issues such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, or other conditions hindering you from getting adequate rest, you need to seek help from a medical professional. If you’re a healthy individual, don’t short change yourself by skimping on the Zs. Here are some tips for improving your quality of sleep:

Start a routine: Having a sleep routine teaches you to unwind and eases you into sleep. You can do this by kicking back with a face mask, sipping chamomile, or reading a book.

Put the phone down: As much as we all love and are guilty of falling down a social media rabbit hole in bed just before sleep, as much as you can, put the phone down. Your screen emits blue light which suppresses the secretion of melatonin by your body. At the very least, change the settings on your phone to night mode if you’d really like a late-night scroll.

An average person spends between 30 mins to two hours on their devices before sleeping. Imagine how much quality sleep you’re missing out on! Photograph: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

Set clear boundaries: Now, this is a doozy. Especially when a lot of us are still working from home. While it’s okay to work from just about anywhere in your house, it’s imperative that you try not to bring work to bed. We mean this literally. Not everyone has the luxury of a home office or the space for it, but at the very least, treat your bed as a sanctuary of rest.

WFH still involves getting out of bed. Photograph: Vlada Karpovich/Pexels

Go to night school: By this, we mean learn how to sleep again. As mentioned, while infants and toddlers have Gina Ford for sleep training, we have Richard Wiseman. His book, Night School: Wake Up To The Power Of Sleep, is a useful, witty, and interactive tome that lets readers in on the truth about the sleeping brain. From dreaming to napping, Night School covers it all. Cop a copy right here.

Pop a pill: A melatonin supplement is a great short-term or occasional answer to ensure better, deeper sleep. Your body naturally produces melatonin, and unlike other sleep medications, you’re unlikely to become dependent.

Sunlight has major effects on your sleep quality by regulating your circadian rhythm, melatonin production, and sleep cycles. Photograph: Becca Schultz/Unsplash

Hide from the sun: When working on the layout of your boudoir, try to ensure you’re not directly in the line of sunlight. If that can’t be avoided—or you just have an amazing view—then consider investing in some blackout blinds or curtains. The last thing you want is for the sun to stir you before you’re actually ready to get up.

Make a switch: Swap that cotton pillowcase for a silk one. Getting enough hours of sleep is already one way to ensure healthy skin, but switching to silk will ensure no more skin-damaging tugging and even a less frizzy mane. Now that’s turning great sleep into beauty sleep!

Great bedding is the beginning of beautiful sleep. Photograph: Autri Taheri/Unsplash

Tengku Zai

Tengku Zai

Kuzai, as she's known in inner circles, has been in publishing for well over a decade, managing the beauty sections of Elle and Harper’s Bazaar Malaysia. The mother-of-one and wannabe runner also suffers from an extreme case of wanderlust and really just works to eat, shop, travel, and support her cheese addiction.