Sleep is central to good health, but with routines disrupted throughout the pandemic and endless temptation of Netflix, the art of 7-9 hours uninterrupted deep sleep is being lost. It impacts our energy, appetite, hormones and concentration, so here are some tips to restore your natural ryhthms, and feel free to reach out for a free 30 min call if you need further advice.
1. Help set your circadian rhythm Exposure to daylight in the morning helps set our circadian rhythm, our 24-hour body clock, so we are more likely to feel tired in the evening. Short wave, blue light is the strongest regulator of this body clock, with disruptions leading to brain and mood dysfunction and disruption of appetite. Early exposure to light will suppress melatonin production, keeping us alert during the day, allowing for the gradual rise of this sleep-inducing hormone at night.
Follow a regular sleep schedule; going to bed and waking at the same time each day, including weekends will also support the circadian rhythm.
2. Disconnect from technology 90 minutes before bedtime
Blue light from TV, laptops, and mobiles can prevent the production of melatonin, induceing restful and quality sleep. Staring at screens in the evening can also overstimulate the brain, which confuses the circadian rhythm, when it intuitively
knows it’s time to wind down. Alternatively, blue light blocking glasses can also help, see this recent review
3. Create a night time routine A warm bath, reading or listening to music, dimming the lights, essential oil diffusers and candles using lavender, rose and bergamot, can all promote relaxation.
Journaling or reflecting on the day can also help; writing down any worries or action points for the following day can improve rumination. A note pad by the bed to write down things you don’t want to forget as you’re drifting off, or on waking through the night. A gratitude journal; 3 things you’re grateful for can help shift us from negative thinking, and may seem tricky at first, but simple things such as gratitude for a roof over your head and food to eat can be a starting point.
4. The bedroom environment Our core body temperature also cycles in sync with our circadian rhythm. The bedroom being too hot can interfere with deep sleep (whereas cold generally doesn’t), an ambient temperature between 16-21°C is recommended, with a bed temperature around 32-34°C.
The bedroom should be dark for sleeping, black out blinds or an eye mask can help. A good quality mattress, gravity blankets or white noise machine to drown out external unavoidable noise may also help. No screens or phones in the bedroom please!
5. Caffeine & water Caffeine is a stimulant, blocking the sleep pressure hormone adenosine, found in tea, cola and chocolate as well as coffee. It can also last up to 8 hours in the body, depending on your metabolism so it can help to reduce your intake, replacing it with decaffeinated or herbal teas, or start with replacing caffeine after midday.
It’s important to keep adequately hydrated, drinking 1.5-2 litres a day, but waking up through the night to urinate is common, and disturbs deep sleep. Where possible, drink the majority of your water evenly spaced out during the day before 7pm.
6. Ditch the booze
Alcohol initially promotes the calming neurotransmitter GABA promoting feelings of relaxation, and being drunk will have a sedative effect for about 4 hours, after which noradrenaline will kick in, explaining why you might wake up fitfully through the night and find it hard to get back to sleep. The booze may initially make you sleepy, but will disturb your deep sleep which helps consolidate memory.
Snoring is often worse after alcohol as it relaxes the muscles at the back of your mouth and throat, and can develop into sleep apnoea, where your brain is temporarily deprived of oxygen, and likely interfering with the sleep of your partner!
7. Sleep supporting food Eating close to bedtime may disrupt the ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system, so ideally give a couple of hours between eating and sleeping. However, depending on your metabolism, a light snack before bed may help if there are blood sugar issues, to avoid a low sugar level waking you up through the night.
Kiwis, tart cherry juice, malted milk, nuts (for their micronutrients) or porridge oats, with a sprinkle of cinnamon (which can help regulate blood sugar and aid digestion) are foods to experiment with. Avoid spicy and fatty foods which are more likely to cause reflux.
8. Exercise Exercise has been shown to help insomnia, daytime drowsiness and depression. Leading a sedentary lifestyle with little aerobic exercise is likely to affect the quality and quantity of sleep.
However, avoid exercising two hours before bed which can raise cortisol levels, and may prevent winding down.
9. Herbal supplements There are a number of supplements targeted at insomnia and sleep promotion, the main active ingredients being magnesium glycinate, ashwagandha, valerian, Lemon Balm Hops, L-tryptophan and L-theanine. It is always recommended you take advice from a professional to ensure no adverse reactions to existing medications, and take into account personal history.
Herbal teas such as Pukka Nighttime or Chamomile may also have a soothing, calming effect.
10. Don’t lie in bed awake If you’re still awake after staying in bed for more than 20 minutes, get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy. The anxiety of not being able to sleep can make it harder to fall asleep! Meditation apps such as Calm or Headspace often have specific sleep stories to help you drift off.
References Okamoto-Mizuno, K., & Mizuno, K. (2012). Effects of thermal environment on sleep and circadian rhythm. Journal of physiological anthropology, 31(1), 14. https://doi. org/10.1186/1880-6805-31-14.
Jakobsen, L. (2015) How to Know if Weighted Blankets Really Work and if research supports the use of weighted blankets. Available at: http://www. lorasweightedblankets.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ HowToKnowIfWBReallyWorkprintfriendly.pdf (Accessed 11 January 2021). Green, E. (2021) The best white noise machines in 2021. No sleepless nights. Available at: https://www.nosleeplessnights. com/best-white-noise-machine-reviews/ (Accessed 11 January 2021).
Nutt, D (2020) Drink? The New Science of Alcohol + Your Health. London: Yellow Kite.
Dolezal, B. A., Neufeld, E. V., Boland, D. M., Martin, J. L., & Cooper, C. B. (2017). Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review. Advances in preventive medicine.