Hubert Burda Media

The beauty of sleep

Having a good night’s rest depends on how you are resting.

This should keep you up for a while. There is something out there known as sleep hygiene and it doesn’t refer to lolling about on spotless, immaculately pressed high-thread-count silk sheets. Or being perfectly primped, powdered and perfumed at bedtime.

Don’t ask us why but sleep hygiene actually refers to the good habits that you should practise every night in order to fall asleep and stay in that state more readily. Such savoury habits would include sleeping at the same time every night, keeping mobile devices away from your bedside and avoiding stimulants such as tea and coffee.

This, of course, would all be very possible in an ideal world where we don’t have to reply that urgent business email by 1am, check on our fidgety kids every two hours, think about anything at all, or go on a Netflix binge.

For the rest of us, insomnia or just poor sleep quality can be a very real thing. On its website, Singhealth shares that “women, older people and worriers are at higher risk of having insomnia” — so good luck if you tick all the three boxes. It also states that other factors contributing to poor sleep patterns and insomnia are shift work, constant travel (and the jet lag that comes with it), life stressors such as the death of a loved one, and so on. Or it can be something as innocuous as taking too many or/and too-long naps during the weekends to over-compensate for the week’s sleep debt…and then not being able to doze off at night.

You’ll recognise the symptoms when you don’t practise good sleep hygiene. You might jolt awake in the middle of the night, wake up too early in the morning, feel unrefreshed throughout the day and then become all irritable and exhausted.

What’s really happening is, your body clock is sending warning signs that it’s going out of whack. We all have one that regulates our daily temperature and hormone levels. It responds to light so it tells your body when it’s time to sleep at night and when you should be awake at daylight. This is the reason why it’s hard to fall asleep if you keep the lights on and also why we aren’t meant to be nocturnal creatures.

In fact, as early as the 1700s, a French astronomer and geophysicist named Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan realised that the mimosa plant continued to fold and unfold its leaves in total darkness, which meant that it had an internal body clock that determined how it grew, whether there was sunlight or not. Similarly, every cell in the human body is said to have its own body clock, which governs the way our skin repairs itself, for instance. 

But you can mess up your body clock and its functions. First, there’s ageing and with it comes the hormonal changes. As a result, you might find yourself waking up earlier than you would have in your younger days when you could easily sleep past noon.

Other triggers are largely, well, self-induced. If you are a nocturnal creature — and we aren’t made to behave like that — who’s always staying up until 1am or later (blame video streaming and Facebook), you might suffer something known as delayed sleep phase disorder, which will leave you feeling restless and exhausted in the day.

The opposite of this is advanced sleep phase disorder, which affects those who wake up a little too early and who then can’t get back to sleep. Older people and those with physical conditions like chronic aches and bladder control problems tend to experience this. And if you enjoy taking short naps throughout the day — instead of having a complete rest at night — you might have what is known as an irregular sleep-wake rhythm.

These are different forms of circadian rhythm sleep disorders, which reportedly have a negative impact on our skin and even our health. Medical journals have warned that having a disrupted circadian rhythm can increase the risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.

Skincare companies have also done research on how having bad disrupted sleep can cause skin to age more quickly. Cells that are not “well-rested” cannot help skin to repair fully — the opposite of what brands market as the benefits of beauty sleep.

To practise good sleep hygiene and reap all the good stuff that comes with it, turn in at the same hour every night, switch off all lights (though we acknowledge it’s hard to when you are alone in a strange hotel room for the night!), and keep the temperature of your bedroom consistent every day. Also, establish a pre-bedtime routine so your body knows that it’s time to hit the sack: You could hum the same tune nightly, say a prayer or think of a pet’s face. Just make sure you do the same thing every time you are about to fall asleep. 

And don’t bother counting sheep. It never works.