Shona Vertue's Sleep Tips

SLEEP

23 October 2019

woman sleeping on a bed

Good health, one night at a time

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Shona Vertue is a personal trainer, yoga teacher and creator of the Vertue Method, which combines weighted resistance training and cardio with yoga and meditation. 

We asked Shona Vertue to explain why sleep is so vital for our health and wellbeing and what she does in her own life to get good quality sleep. Here's what she told us...

Sleep, we have a vague idea about what it is and why it’s important and yet when we embark upon a ‘get healthy’ regime we often spend more time focusing on things like food and exercise. While nutrition and movement absolutely impact our health, a commonly overlooked aspect of health practices is improving our sleep.

As mentioned in my recent IGTV video, sleep impacts our health in so many ways from cognitive function to the efficiency of our immune system. Consequently impacting our ability to both digest our ‘healthy’ food choices and recover from our attempts to ‘get fit’.

Aside from shift workers (and new parents - congratulations but also, sorry), we mostly associate sleep with something we do at night. However, did you know that things you do in the day time can actually impact your ability to sleep at night?

Researchers call our desire to sleep, sleep drive. Our waking state and just as importantly, the things we choose to do in that waking state, impact our sleep drive. Although our sleep drive is internally regulated; it is effected by external factors. This is good news because it means that there are things that you can do in your day-to-day life to improve your zzz’s. I’ve divided these tips into daytime activities vs. night time activities labelling them; The daily rituals and the bedtime rituals. The reason for this is that not everything we do to improve our sleep will occur in the bedroom.

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The daytime rituals

  1. My morning meditation; there is plenty of scientific data that supports meditation as a powerful tool for falling asleep and getting back to sleep. For me personally, the meditation at the beginning of the day actually sets me up for the sleep that night. This is because meditation is a time for consolidation of thoughts. The more I am able to ‘clean’ and process my thoughts each day, the less I have to process that evening before bed. Rumination is usually a sleep killer for me and regular meditation has been a game-changer in my habits to overthink before bed.
  2. No coffee after 2pm: This is massively overlooked because many of us are addicts to not just a hearty cup of coffee (or ten), but the productivity-boosting benefits of caffeine. I use the word productivity lightly because if your caffeine consumption is impacting your sleep, ultimately it’s going to impact your cognitive function and no amount of caffeine can override that. If you’re having trouble sleeping, try this simply trick (and save money on coffees).
  3. Walking: I love to weight train, I love to sprint and I especially love to roll (Brazilian jiu-jitsu) however none of these things are particularly well studied in their ability to induce sleep. According to an article written by the national sleep foundation, Moderate to light exercise (walking) performed before bed showed to shorten the time it took to fall asleep and improve the length of time asleep in chronic insomnia sufferers. Weight training and Running did not.
  4. Stick to a regular sleep schedule: this one actually comes straight from Matthew Walker (Sleep researcher and author of 'Why We Sleep'). When implemented it makes a huge difference. Waking at the same time every day and going to bed at the same time every night is incredibly important to us humans (who are, creatures of habit). He even says; If there is one tip you take from this appendix (in his book) - let it be this one.
  5. Daylight then Darkness: Exposure to daylight affects our circadian rhythms (our 24-hour internal clock that regulates that sleep/wake cycle). Not enough time in the light throughout the day or too much light at night time can impede proper circadian function. I make sure that I get at least 30 minutes of daylight exposure whether that's sitting in a park or going for an outdoor walk every day. Equally, at night I make sure that my sleeping room is pitch black for optimal melatonin production.

The bedtime rituals

  1. Reading from a real book: Nothing helps to relax my eyes more than reading from a real, proper, old school book. If you don’t trust me, how about this; a 2009 study by researchers at the University of Sussex showed that 6 minutes of reading reduced stress markers by 68% (which scored highest across all the stress reducing probed activities tested; including tea drinking, walking and listening to relaxing music).
  2. No phones or blue light: I use the bedtime feature on my iPhone to not only track my regular sleep schedule but also because it reminds me thirty minutes before bed, to begin to prepare for bed and it puts my phone on ‘Do not disturb’ which means I end up with zero interruptions of notifications throughout the night (perfect for anyone working two different time zones!)
  3. Journalling: There is tonnes of promising research on journalling and it’s ability to have a positive effect on a variety of mental health issues, so I would just encourage it anyway, however since doing it before bed it has enabled me to emancipate thoughts that might be running through my mind onto a page, almost feeling as though they are being extracted from my brain. This has been hugely beneficial in helping me sleep during times of emotional stress.
  4. Avoiding large, heavy meals or lots of fluid before bed, which can either lead to frequent midnight toilet visits, impair digestion and ultimately disrupt sleep aka. nocturia (true story).
  5. Give up the night cap (and/or drinking all together): Look, I know many of y’all aren’t going to like this one, but alcohol messes with our sleep in a few different ways. Alcohol is a diuretic so it increases urination, as mentioned above, constantly having to go to the bathroom disrupts your sleep. Even though we may associate alcohol with feeling sleepy, when the alcohol wears off throughout the night, it can actually make you wake up (same goes for nicotine actually, and commonly in smokers, a desire for nicotine can also be enough to wake someone from their slumber).

Look out for the next instalment in the series, on AXA ActivePlus. In the meantime, we have a range of products to help you get off to sleep in our health store, ActivePlus.  Or for more information, tips and tools to help you get a better night’s sleep, why not visit our sleep hub.