We know that not getting enough sleep can result in seriou health issues. And, we know that things like mental busy-ness, technology and lack of routine can hurt our sleep patterns.
But did you know that clocking sleep hours is in vain if you never make it to dreamland? The good stuff (i.e. when the body goes to work repairing itself) is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
Here are 6 tricks to getting more of that healthier, REM sleep.
1. Fish or Flax. Lure in more REM sleep by taking a spoonful of fish or flax oil right before bed. It encourages the body to release melatonin (the sleep hormone) and helps correct the body's circadian rhythm. Studies show that eating a meal rich in fatty acids and protein will increase your time in REM, so if the idea of slurping fish oil is the stuff of nightmares, just make sure your evening meal has sufficient protein and omegas.
2. Swaddle. Many moms swear by baby swaddling and for good reason – it increases the time the babe spends in REM sleep. As adults, it may seem a bit awkward (or claustrophobic) but the benefits are the same as they are for a baby. Since asking someone to wrap you up at night might seem odd, try techniques that mimic swaddling like pulling your arms into your nightshirt, rolling yourself up in a sheet or (our favourite) sleeping in a mummy-style sleeping bag (preferably in a tent ensconced in nature).
3. Chill Out. Being too hot (or too cold) at night can cause us to slip out of REM sleep without even knowing it. If it were as easy as saying lower your thermostat to 19°F for optimal sleep, we'd be done. However, every body is different – so you need to play around until you find what's right for you. Start at 19, add and remove blankets/clothing until you find that sweet spot.
4. Hot Bath. Take a note from the Japanese who have long believed their 'ofuro' tradition of a hot bath before bed as their ticket to dreamland. Science shows that soaking for 30 minutes will change your core temperature and trigger your body into sleep mode. Plus, with a few drops of essential oil, it will help your mind relax and switch off from the day.
5. Go Vampire. Sleeping in a truly dark and quiet space will increase the amount of time spent in REM. So, as we move toward longer days, consider how to keep the daylight out of your bedroom. But that's not the only light source that can interrupt your dream state. Eliminate as much electronic light as possible. Many electronic devices have a light to show they’re drawing power, so unplug as many as you can (bonus: you might just reduce your electric bill too). Put an end to vampire power and sleep like the (un)dead.
6. Buffer Bedtime. To get enough REM you need to put your time in between the sheets. We spend about 25% of our total sleep time in REM so it's simple math that the more time we sleep, the more REM sleep we get. Here's the equation to consider. You want to aim for 9 hours of sleep (optimally), but there is going to be time in bed before you fall asleep and maybe a bit of time in the morning hitting snooze. So, add an extra hour of buffer time and head to bed 10 hours before you absolutely have to get up. That may sound like an insane amount of time, but as healthy-living habits go, it's got to be the easiest one.
Perfecting sleep might not be on the top of your to-do list but considering the health benefits of getting just a little more REM sleep, maybe it should be.