the no-sleep nightmare



Hey there,

Forget what they say about resting when you're dead, getting enough sleep is everything. And if you're not getting the right amount regularly, well, death could come faster than it should.

The truth is, there's nothing quite like sleep. Its restorative effect on the body and mind are unmatched by anything else. While we sleep, the body is busy removing toxins that build up in the brain, reinforcing memory and reversing the effects of fatigue.

It follows then that when we're sleep-deprived, we're pretty much off our game and sooner than later, it shows.

In the immediate, lack of sleep can make us irritable, forgetful, less creative, prone to bad judgment and stressed out. Over time, the effects of sleep deprivation may escalate to tremors, susceptibility to obesity and type 2 diabetes, a weakened immune system and even decreased testosterone.

It's frightening, really, and it's time we fixed it. Let's figure out how to wake from this nightmare together.

A Case Of The Blue

At its worst, smartphone addiction could derail your hopes and dreams, but that's a whole other conversation about long-term risks. The clear and present danger to your dreams is blue light from your phone and other devices with digital screens.

Blue light is basically visible light, naturally present everywhere around us during the day thanks to the sun. In the positive, it keeps us alert, gives us good vibes and helps our bodies regulate sleep patterns.

Then there's artificial blue light, which is pretty much the same thing as the natural kind except that a lot of us are overexposed to it. This overexposure has been linked to the eye strain, headache and exhaustion you sometimes feel after hours of binge-watching Netflix.

Speaking of dreams, exposure to blue light at night messes with the body's production of melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep and wakefulness. And you know the damage sleep deprivation can do to your mood and productivity.

Overexposure to blue light is like being under the sun all day and all night, but even the sun sets and so should your phone, in a manner of speaking.

Thankfully, there are a few good apps that filter the blue light from digital screens, helping them ‘set’ with the sun.

Some Android phones have a night mode option but if that’s missing, Twilight (free, Android) works like a curtain. Plus, it doesn't have annoying ads.

If you use an iPhone, there's a blue light filter called Night Shift built into your device. Pull up Control Center, then force tap or long press the Brightness slider. Look out for the Night Shift switch, turn it on and schedule it to run automatically at night.

And for your computer (Windows, Mac, even Linux), there's f.lux

Some dreams have nothing to do with sleeping though, so you should still cut down on the time you spend glued to your phone and computer. Disconnect to connect with the parts of your life that aren't digital.

Dream Foods

Almost any food, from beans to pounded yam, can bring you to a full stop if you eat enough of it, but there's a world of difference between being knocked out during the day and eating your way to a good night's sleep.

If rest is what you're looking for, you should be looking away from dinners dominated by heavy starch toward healthier options like bananas (which contain tryptophan, a natural sedative), oatmeal (rich in melatonin, the sleep hormone and good for your digestive system) and green vegetables like spinach and fluted pumpkin leaves (ugwu to the rest of us) which are both packed with calcium, eventually turned into melatonin by the body.

Switch up your meal plan with more sleep-inducing foods.

Resting Places

Social jet lag is making you tired, alcohol and sleep make a bad cocktail, there's power in power naps, the science of sleep is fascinating, this is the point of sleep (in case you're still not convinced) and listen, you may need more than eight hours.

Brewed And Stirred

If insomnia has bothered you enough for you to mention it to a few people or look up remedies, you may have been introduced to liquid sleep aids like chamomile tea, warm milk and maybe even alcohol.

A couple of those remedies actually help and one really doesn't (you know which), but there aren't many natural nightcaps for sound sleep as potent as valerian tea.

A bit of history here, the sleep-inducing effect of valerian has apparently been known since the time of the Romans and the Greeks. Later uses of the herb include prescriptions for convulsions, cough, pains in the head and get this, bubonic plague. Talk about being a poster child for herbal medicine. The herb's reputation got a bit dented in the 19th century, but it was back in business during World War II as a relief for the stress from the bombing of London by the Germans.

These days, valerian, sold as a tea or dietary supplement capsules, is mostly used to treat sleep disorders and has been quite hyped as a herbal sleep aid.

Let's pause here for a disclaimer:

Valerian works for sure, but you should know that some members of the medical community are not exactly enthusiastic about it. As with most herbal medicines, a number of doctors have expressed doubt over the authenticity of some products containing the herb and the effective dosage to prescribe. They also have concerns about its side effects and interactions with other drugs.

As far as authenticity goes, Jumia (another disclaimer: I don't get paid for these links) sells a recommended brand of valerian tea. One pack is good for sixteen cups or about two weeks of assisted good sleep. Speak to a doctor first though. Nothing beats professional advice.

Side note: Swap coffee for water. When you're dehydrated, you get tired and there's nothing quite like water to refresh you.

Rock-a-bye Baby

Calm is one of two fantastic apps that have helped me with meditation.

Besides teaching meditation techniques for relaxing and getting better sleep, Calm features music, nature sounds and bedtime stories to get you in the mood for rest.

The app (Android, iOS) is free but its premium features will cost you. (How much is a good night's sleep worth to you?)

Strictly for natural sounds, Rainyscope is an entirely free alternative.

In case you’re not keen on trying new apps, I made a playlist featuring a number of songs that have been scientifically proven to be some of the most relaxing in the world, including one that clocks in at eight minutes - bear with me, it's worth it.

Listen on Deezer or Spotify.

Breathe easy.