There is no point making sure your diet is fabulous and you are getting the gym sessions in if you are neglecting your sleep. A good night’s sleep is just as important to our health and there is a wealth of research which shows bad sleep leads to poor brain function, a negative effect on hormones and can impact on almost every part of our body. “Sleep is the brains way of dealing with problems,” says sleep guru Dr Neil Stanley, author of How to Sleep Well. “Good sleep is vital for good physical mental and emotional health. Poor sleep has been linked to problems such as depression, anxiety and stress. Sleep is the only time that the brain gets to do its essential ‘house-keeping’, sleep is about laydown memories of things that have happened during the day and is also vital for processing the emotional component of the day.”
Consider your caffeine intake
Some people feel they are not particularly effected by caffeine, but it is a simulate and for many of is best avoided in the afternoons if we want to get to sleep easily at night. It’s medically termed an ‘adenosine receptor antagonist’ which means is blocks the adenosine, a substance in your body that promotes sleepiness, making it harder to nod off.
Caffeine is a fast working chemical and reaches a peak level in your blood within 30 to 60 minutes but it has a half-life of 3 to 5 hours so remains in your body for quite some time after you drink it. And even if you are someone who can have a post dinner espresso and still go to sleep it can reduce the amount of deep sleep that you get.
Make sure you get lots of daylight in the day
Spending too much time indoors can make it harder to go to sleep at night. Our bodies have evolved their own clock where we are awake in the daytime and asleep when it’s dark. This is called our circadian rhythm and the process affects our brain, body and hormones making us stay awake in the day and sleep at night.
When we spend time in sunlight or bright light during the day we help to support our circadian rhythm, providing us with the cues it requires. This has the knock on effect of boosting our energy levels as well as ensuring our sleep is deep and long. If we haven’t spent enough time in bright light during the day the triggers of nightfall are not as clear.
Time and again scientific research has shown daytime bright light exposure improves sleep quality and duration. It one study of insomniacs being in daylight also reduced the time it took to fall asleep by 83%.
Eat earlier in the evening
When we eat a meal we give our body the job of digesting the food we have taken in which is against the idea of your body winding down and relaxing. Allowing at least 2 hours from eating your last meal and going to bed allows the contents of your stomach to move into your small intestine. When we eat late it also means our blood pressure is less likely to drop overnight, making us more wakeful but also increasing the risk of heart attack.
Keep away from blue light before bed
Just as we need sunlight in the day, at nightfall we need to respect our circadian rhythm and not expose it to blue light. This is a shortwave light which is emitted by electrical devices like your phone or computer and it tricksyour brain into thinking it is still daytime. This then means that signals that the brain sends to the body to get ready for sleep are delayed and you aren’t able to relax into a deep sleep.
Installing a sunset activated blue light filter to your device can help reduce the impact but not using them at all for an hour before bed is the best way of respecting your circadian rhythm and allowing your body to switch into ‘night mode’ and get quality sleep.
Make your bedtime routine enjoyable
Put simply we don’t give enough attention to bedtime. “Sleep has become the thing you have to do at the end of the day rather than something good in itself,” says Dr Stanley. Keeping to a routine can quickly train our brains to expect sleep and prepare for it. Including elements like having a tidy bedroom with a comfy bed and nice PJs makes bedtime something to look forward to. Introducing reading before bed is also a great way of winding the body down, destressing and switching off. If you are home late then going through your routine
Focus on when you are getting up – not to sleep
Even if you are struggling to sleep nodding off and deciding to sleep in late to make sure you have a full 8hours is actually more likely to lead to future sleep issues. “What the body wants is regularity so in fact the best thing you can do is to have a consistent wake time regardless of what time you go to bed,” explains Dr Stanley. “By fixing wake time your body can maximise the benefit form the sleep period. If you feel sleepy during the day then a 20-minute nap can help.” But don’t have more than 20mins and go to bed when you feel tired later in the evening instead.
It’s almost International Sleep Day and we’re going to be focusing heavily on how to sleep. If you’re having trouble, see our guide and find out why inflammation could be what’s keeping you awake at night.