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The simplest way to drastically improve your life

Sleep deprivation is the invisible ceiling to how good life can be, writes Graeme Cowan.

A good night's sleep can make problems seem smaller and boost our energy levels. A bad night's sleep is deadly to our resilience, mood, and performance.

In fact, when I recently surveyed 470 people about their greatest challenge to having a positive mood in the last week – poor sleep was rated the #1 culprit! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called sleep deprivation a public health crisis.

So, why is sleep so important?

Research shows that sleeping less than six hours per night increases our risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. From a work perspective, poor sleep has been shown to reduce focus, attention, vigilance, and information recall. Getting a good night's sleep is like hitting the reset button for the brain.

So, what can we do to improve our sleep in this 24/7 world where we are always accessible? How can we enjoy the restorative benefits of regular good sleep? I'd like to propose three tips that can help greatly.

Walk outside for 30 minutes

Just 30 minutes brisk walk (or equivalent) each day can substantially improve our capacity to sleep well. Ideally, this should also be in the sunshine to boost our melatonin levels. A study published in the Mental Health and Physical Activity journal, shows that 150 minutes of exercise per week provided a 65 per cent improvement in sleep quality to 2,600 men and women aged from 18-85.

This is one more reason why incorporating exercise into our daily routine is critical. Just 30 minutes brisk walk before work, at lunch time, or after work – not only improves our mood – it also vastly improves our sleep.

Have a digital curfew

At night, light disrupts our body's biological clock — known as the circadian rhythm. But not all colours of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths — which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times and mood — seem to be the most disruptive at night.

The blue light that is emitted from your smartphone, tablet, and energy efficient light bulbs are detrimental to our sleep. Exposure to this blue light suppresses our melatonin, a hormone that influences our sleep patterns.

Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher, says that too much blue light is one of the main reasons that many people don't get enough sleep.

So, what can we do about this? Turn off all phones and tablets at least 60 minutes before your normal bedtime. Leave phones and tablets out of the bedroom to resist looking at them during the night. Read a paper book or magazine instead.

The latest iOS operating system has an option to vastly reduce the blue light of your phone. Go to settings/display & brightness/night shift – then set the time span you would like this function to operate. There are also apps that can reduce blue light such as "Night Light".

Establish a proper sleeping routine

A bedtime routine, regularly followed, signals to your body that it's time to start winding down, which helps encourage sleep.

Try drinking some warm milk, peppermint or chamomile tea. Try a little bit of meditation or yoga, putting on some relaxing music or some lavender essential oil or pillow spray can all help prepare you for sleep. Avoid upbeat music and stimulants like cigarettes, alcohol and caffeinated drinks. Once in bed, read a paper book or magazine. Try some breathing exercises in bed, which will help clear your mind a little and take attention away from your racing thoughts.

Try the 3, 4, 7 exercise. Breathe in for three seconds, hold for four seconds, and breathe out for seven seconds. Repeat that three times.

This piece originally appeared on Graeme Cowan's blog. 

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“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain