Are you struggling to get to sleep or to stay asleep!?
I know how frustrating and isolating it can feel to be wide awake when you know it’s time for bed and to feel like everyone else has absolutely no problems with nodding off. Equally, I know how annoying it can be to wake up multiple times in the night and how much it can influence your mood and energy the next day.
Luckily, I don’t have as many problems with sleep as I used to. But I know that when I get stressed my sleep is one of the first things to suffer. So, when Jeff from Sleep Junkies contacted me about writing a guest post I was happy to collaborate because I certainly feel like I could benefit from some tips to help me sleep better, and I suspect that many of your reading could too. Here’s his advice.
“Going to sleep is easy, right? You just lie down, close your eyes and drift off into the land of bliss.
Well sadly, for millions of people this isn’t the case. Insufficient sleep has become such a big problem that the Center For Disease Control (CDC) has declared it a public health epidemic. A prolonged lack of sleep not only increases the risk of many chronic health conditions – including heart disease, diabetes and obesity – it also affects your mental abilities, performance at work and even your personal relationships.
As many as 1 in 3 people sufferer with a sleep or wakefulness disorder – but how have we got to this situation and what can we do about it?
A sleepless society
Although part of the problem is due to an increase in medical disorders like sleep apnea, many of our sleep problems are caused by the busy, modern lifestyles we lead in the 21st century.
Time is a precious commodity. Whether you have a demanding job, small kids to look after, a hectic social life, or you’re studying, fact is, there never seems to be enough time in the day to get everything done.
So, naturally, for many, sleep becomes a casualty.
Factor in the distractions and demands of a 24/7 always-on digital lifestyle (hands up if you’ve ever checked your Facebook feed in bed?) and it’s easy to see how our modern lifestyles eat into our precious sleep time.
Taking action to improve your sleep
The good news is these types of issues are all lifestyle factors, which means there’s a good chance that there are positive, actionable things you can do to create a better sleep regime and improve your overall health and well being.
So to break things down, I’m going to look at two factors – light and temperature – that can make a huge difference to your sleep health, and provide some simple tips you can put into practice straight away to help you fall asleep faster, sleep longer and deeper, and have more energy throughout your day.
It’s hard to imagine life without artificial lighting, but for hundreds of thousands of years, humans relied solely on the daily rise and fall of the sun as the sole source of light. And like all living creatures, we have an internal clock – our circadian rhythm – which controls not only our sleep timing, but countless other vital functions including hormone production, digestion, cellular repair and growth, and lots more.
So what has this got to do with light? Well, the biggest factor in responsible for synchronising your body clock is exposure to light.
For instance, at the onset of darkness, our bodies start to produce melatonin, a hormone which sets off a chemical chain reaction in the brain that makes us drowsy and ready for sleep. Conversely, sunlight in the morning triggers (via the optic nerve) the production of cortisol, a ‘stress’ hormone, which prompts the body to start preparing for wakefulness.
Exposing yourself to too much light at night (or not enough in the daytime) puts your sleep hormones completely out of whack. Studies have shown that prolonged light exposure at the wrong time of day, as experienced by shift workers, can have extremely serious health consequences in the long term.
Another issue is technology. Smartphone screens and laptops emit light in the blue spectrum, which acts to block melatonin production. You wouldn’t think of making a cup of coffee at 2am, but staring at your computer screen for extended periods at night is not much better if you’re trying to improve your sleep.
So, here are some useful ‘light-based’ tips for sleeping well:
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible: any light in your sleeping environment is a potential hindrance to sleep – even the glow from your alarm clock. Blackout blinds are ideal.
- Limit your screen time before bed: ideally try to switch off all your gadgets an hour before bed as this will help with your melatonin levels. If you absolutely can’t resist the lure of Twitter or Facebook at night, use an app like F.lux to block out the harmful blue wavelengths
- Ditch your alarm clock for a dawn simulator: instead of waking up to an annoying beep, you can opt to wake up with a sunrise alarm clock. These devices gradually increase in brightness, waking you in a more relaxed, gentle way, reducing sleep inertia – that groggy morning feeling
- Bathe yourself in light during the day: just as you need darkness at night, your body clock needs plenty of light during the day. Sunlight, even on a grey day is hundreds of times brighter than indoor light, so try to sit near a window and get outdoors as much as you can.
Ever wondered why you sometimes start to shiver when you get tired? Often this is due to the natural way your body temperature changes during a 24-hour cycle of day and night.
Over the course of a normal day, core body temperature fluctuates by around 2 degrees Fahrenheit. This is completely normal and like light exposure, it’s an incredibly important factor in regulating our sleep.
Body temperature peaks in the early evening, but it reaches its lowest ebb at two points during the 24 hour period – mid afternoon, between 1 and 4pm and around 5am, a few hours before you wake up.
So how can we use this knowledge to improve our sleep? Well, the key here is to make sure your bedroom environment is just the right temperature for sleep. Too hot, and your body will be struggling to lower your core temperature (think sweaty sheets and pillows), too cold, and you’ll start shivering.
Science has determined that the ideal bedroom temperature for falling asleep is around the mid 60’s Farenheit (around 18 degrees celsius), so if you have a thermostat, this is where to aim for.
Here are some more practical tips for getting your sleep temperature just right:
- Take a warm shower before bedtime – it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s been scientifically proven that the cooling-off effect after a warm shower can help prepare the body for sleep
- Use natural fabrics in bed – breathable fabrics like cotton, wool and silk are superior choices for pajamas and night clothes as they help wick away moisture from sweat
- Go hi-tech – if you rely on expensive air conditioning to keep your room cool, a hi-tech bed cooling system like the BedJet or ChilPad could save you money in the long run.
- Go lo-tech – if you’re on a budget, there are lots of alternative ways to stay cool at night like the Egyptian Method or even keeping your sheets in the freezer for a couple of hours before bedtime.
We hope you liked these sleep tips. Remember, if you have a serious problem sleeping you should consider visiting a health professional. Sleep well!”
Jeff is a writer, blogger and musician from London, UK. When he’s not playing my bass you can find him writing about two of his biggest passions – sleep and gadgets!
What did you think of those tips?
I have downloaded the f.lux app on my phone to see if it makes a difference and I think I would be able to fit an evening shower into my routine. I’m not sure about putting my sheets in the freezer though!
For more tips on how to prepare for a good night sleep check out this article.