From body temperature and metabolism to hormone production and feeling alert – your circadian rhythm is responsible for more than just sleep. Personal trainer Luke Easton of LIFT Studios in Fulham reveals 7 practical sleep tips
This article starts with a question, rather than a traditional introduction. Why? Because it’s likely that the majority of the answers to this question will be a ‘no’.
‘Recently, have you had a great nights sleep for at least five nights in a row and felt well rested as a result?’
If you answered no, then, great. If you answered yes, then great. The goal of this article is to provide some useful and practical sleep tips that can be applied to your everyday life.
Helping you achieve a better sleep pattern on a more consistent basis, will leave you feeling well-rested, focused, alert, and ready to tackle your days – whatever they throw at you.
The importance of sleep
Not getting enough sleep is as detrimental to your health as not getting enough food or water is.
Lack of sleep or poor-quality sleep, on a long-term basis, has been shown to have negative side effects on a person’s health. Including the risk of an increase in blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
Some suboptimal sleep risks also include:
- Double the risk of sport-related injury.
- 10-15 per cent decrease in testosterone after only one week of sleep restriction.
- A decreased immune system as a result of less than 6 hours or less per night.
- Making you more likely to catch a common cold.
Without sleep, it becomes more difficult to create pathways in the brain that help us to learn, store new memories, concentrate and be alert throughout the day.
We all have an internal clock that drives our sleep and wake routine, this is an internal process that cycles approximately every 24 hours called a Circadian rhythm.
The Circadian rhythm directs a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones.
Typically, most people wake up around one to two hours after sunrise. At this point Adenosine (the chemical responsible for sleep drive), is very low, meaning you will feel less sleepy, but this is only if the person has had enough quality sleep.
Adenosine builds up throughout the day and is at its peak when you feel sleepy
Upon waking, the system generates an internal signal in the form of hormones (cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline), to kick start the day.
These are hormones that are usually associated with stress, however, in this instance, the same responses are needed to awaken the body: by increasing your heart rate and tensing the muscles to get you moving about.
The release of these hormones also sets the timer in the body and nervous system to dictate when melatonin (the sleep hormone) will be released later on in the day.
This will start the process of getting ready to sleep, usually after around 12 to 14 hours of being awake, or the first dose of cortisol in the morning.
Adenosine builds up throughout the day and is at its peak when you feel sleepy. Sleep and repeat.
Getting this cycle set and as regular as possible should ensure a good quality sleep. So here are my top tips to help program your sleep, wake cycle and optimise your sleep…
Tip #1 Expose yourself to light as soon as you wake up
There are cells in your retinas (eyes) that react to different types and intensities of light, sending signals to the brain that let it know when it is day or night, depending on what they are exposed to.
Therefore depending on when you expose yourself to daylight can delay or advance your sleep cycle. Bright light is what you need in the morning and daytime to regulate your circadian rhythm.
As mentioned earlier, we generally wake up around one to two hours following sunrise. Research suggests that if you get as much sunlight as you can, first thing in the morning when the sun is still rising, (not midday when the sun is directly above us) your internal sleep clock will kick-start.
Get yourself outside for around three to ten minutes. It is possible to get the same effect from sunlight through windows, but it will take around 50 times longer, you will get a lot more if you get yourself outside for some morning sun.
Bright light is what you need in the morning and daytime to regulate your circadian rhythm
In terms of numbers (and you can try this for yourself, using an app called ‘Light Meter’ to read light strength) you will notice that your TVs and computers will only produce around 1000lux.
However, the sun will produce around 100,000lux. Furthermore, if you’re wearing sunglasses or use blue light blockers (which some people do as they’ve been told light is bad for your eyes), take them off. Unless of course, the light intensity is too much for you and is causing discomfort.
In contrast, in the hours leading up to bedtime, you want to have minimal light exposure. Especially between the hours of 11pm and 4am.
If the circadian rhythm is disrupted with exposure to light, it can alter the function of brain regions, suppressing melatonin levels that involve regulating emotions and mood.
So what you can do in terms of light management?
- Dim light below eye level
- Not be on your phone in bed, and/or watch tv. However, if watching tv in bed is what you do to wind down, then we suggest that you either get some blue light blocking glasses and/or turn the brightness down on the screens.
Its typically the overall intensity of the light that is most important, rather than the type of light that has the biggest impact on sleep.
Try Lumie Halo, £144 – Ranging from a soft, warmer light (think gentle sunrise light) to a bright sunlight (just as it would happen during the day with the sun getting brighter).
There is also an option to set it to an afternoon and evening light (think sunset light), that will help you feel relaxed, allowing your body to work with the natural circadian rhythm, which significantly improves your mood and sleep quality.
Note: always avoid looking at anything bright enough to hurt your eyes, cause your eyes to water and cause you to blink more often than usual.
Tip #2 Improve your sleeping environment
Room temperature may be a key player in a good night’s sleep. A poll survey conducted by a national sleep foundation found that 80 per cent of people noted a cool room temperature was important for good sleep.
In fact, the optimum room temperature was around 18.3 degrees. This can have some variance depending on your preference but anywhere between 15.6 to 19.4 degrees seemed to be a happy temperature to sleep in.
80 per cent of people noted a cool room temperature was important for good sleep
Keep the bedroom dark. You can do this by having properly-suited black-out curtains or blinds, wear an eye mask whilst in bed, and avoid time on your phone or watching TV just before bed.
Sometimes it may not be possible depending on your home environment, but keeping the place where you sleep as quiet, dark and cool as possible is ideal for an undisturbed nights sleep.
Tip #3 Make your bed as comfortable as possible
Realistically, if we go by the numbers that we sleep, eight hours per night, and there are 24 hours in a day, that would equate to spending 1/3 third of our lives in bed.
So, why would you want to spend 1/3 of your life uncomfortable? If you have the finances, then make sure you invest in a comfortable mattress and pillow set.
Beds tend to last a while, so if you look at it on a long-term basis, a comfortable mattress and luxury bed sheets are a cheap investment for what you get.
If you don’t have the financial means, aim to use what you have and make it as comfortable as possible as you can.
Tip #4 Don’t consume caffeine after 3pm
Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain, temporarily delaying the need for sleep which is why when some people consume caffeine, they do not feel as sleepy.
Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain
If you are a frequent coffee drinker, reduce your overall caffeine intake in the day and aim to not consume any after 3pm, especially if you find you are particularly sensitive to caffeine.
Tip #5 Create a bedtime routine
routine that have shown only positive results when working with clients.
Creating some sort of bedtime routine has shown only positive results when working with clients. Start your routine 30 minutes before bed, to get your mind and body prepared for sleep.
This could be having a shower and reading in bed, listening to music, or moisturising with a relaxing cream. Try Olverum Body Cleanser, £26.50 – scented with an aromatic blend of essential oils to help you unwind.
Plus, going to bed and waking up and the same time every day (+/- 1 hour), has also been said to have a positive influence on the Circadian rhythm.
Try also Olverum Restful Sleep Pillow Mist, £26.50 – to help promote a tranquil mind and restful sleep, essential for maintaining mood, metabolism and memory.
Tip #6 Practice meditation and relaxation techniques
These practices can be useful if you find yourself feeling anxious when sat with your thoughts at bedtime, or thinking about your daunting task list ahead.
Breathing practices have a vast amount of positive research into getting the body into a more relaxed state. This can be as simple as spending five to ten minutes breathing whilst in bed.
Take a deep breath in through your nose, with the aim of filling up your lungs with no space left (around 5 seconds), then hold your breath for five seconds, then breath out through your mouth, with the focus of completely emptying your lungs (around 6 seconds).
Currently, there are some great apps such as Headspace, that can take you through some guided meditation to get you into a calm and meditated state.
Tip #7 Try not to eat too much right before bed
Try not to overeat before bed, view your hunger satisfaction on a scale of one to ten. You want to aim somewhere between five and seven.
Being hungry is certainly a strong enough reason to keep you up at night, so, if you are on a diet to lose weight, try to keep your calorie deficit at a reasonable drop and nothing extreme. I suggest no more than a 20 per cent deficit at most.
you are less likely to experience deep, well-rested sleep after consuming alcohol
Unless this is something you’re used to and your sleep isn’t negatively impacted, avoid spicy food before bed.
Alcohol is an interesting one from an anecdotal standpoint, giving you a sleepy and relax feeling when you drink before bed, so you might feel it’s helping your sleep quality and duration.
However, research has shown over and over again, that you are less likely to experience deep, well-rested sleep after consuming alcohol.
Sleep tips summary:
- #1 Get outside and get as much sunlight as you can (at least 3 minutes, with no sunglasses) into your eyes before 11 am.
- #2 Minimize light exposure at night, especially between 11pm and 4pm.
- #3 Make your sleep environment as comfortable as possible.
- #4 Manage caffeine consumption, no caffeine after 3 pm.
- #5 Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends) +/-1 hour.
- #6 Practice meditation and relaxation techniques.
- #7 Eat to a satisfactory level, not over or undereating.
- #8 Be aware that alcohol might help you fall asleep, but hinders your quality of sleep.
Applying one or two of these practices could make an immediate improvement to your current sleep routine. See how you get on for at least seven days, and if overall you feel that you are seeing noticeable improvements in your sleep, then keep going and add one or two more things from the list above.
But you have to keep in mind that you are making changes for the long-term health of your sleep, so if things aren’t happening immediately, be patient and be consistent.
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