The Sleep Series – Part Two

How to get a good nights sleep


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!

Good sleep is all in the preparation, start looking at your whole day from the moment you wake up as preparation for your night of sleep ahead. I appreciate realistically not every decision will be made with this in mind all the time but there are a few factors that are worth considering during the day that can impact sleep and help you to sleep better.

Light – The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a “clock” built into our brain that regulates our circadian rhythm. Due to its location just behind the eyes it responds to light and dark and can effect our ability to sleep. One problem we face is that many jobs are desk bound and indoors which means we are getting less and less exposure to natural light. Getting out into natural light for just 10-20mins can have a very positive effect on this response, ultimately helping you to feel sleepy at the right times. If you can create a regular sleep routine alongside this, going to bed and waking up at the same time, you will allow your circadian rhythm to become more in tune with your habits and this will result in deeper more restorative sleep.

Caffeine and alcohol –caffeine and alcohol can have a significant effect on the quality of our sleep. Caffeine can effect our ability to fall asleep and the quality of that sleep and alcohol can effect the restorative quality meaning you may well sleep, but your body won’t be in recovery mode. This means you won’t reap the benefits on sleep and most likely wake up feeling below par and low in energy. It is best to keep alcoholic drinks to minimum when trying to promote good sleep, 1-2 drinks maximum. Caffeine is best kept to before 1pm, that way it doesn’t affect your natural cortisol levels and won’t get in the way of you to falling asleep at night.

Eat and drink moderately before sleep  – Try to taper your water/fluid intake down 2 hours before bed. Getting up in the night to go to the loo will disrupt your sleep and not help you have a continuous 7-9 hours. Equally eating a big meal just before bed will effect the quality of your sleep, so try to have a medium sized meal in the evening.

Go to bed! – One of the biggest causes of lack of sleep is voluntary sleep delay. So many of us push our bedtime back to watch another episode of a box set or finish a film. Research shows that going to sleep before 12am means sleep quality is better and the body is able to recover much more efficiently. Some scientist even say that an hour of sleep before 12 is worth 2 afterwards so hitting the pillow earlier is better.

Minimise blue light – blue light from our phones, laptops and iPads has the same effect on our circadian rhythm as bright sunlight. Therefore if we are looking at these devices until the moment we go to bed when we finally turn the lights out we will still be wide awake and most lightly unable to fall asleep. It is now possible to turn blue light off from your devices with a night mode that can be timed to fit in with your schedule, turn it off 3-4 hours pre sleep. If you have to work on the computer until late at night it might also be a good idea to invest in a pair of blue light omitting glasses, maybe not the next feature in vogue but they completely cut out all blue light and therefore allow you to get the deep restful sleep you need.


A positive sleep environment

The environment we go to sleep in is just as important as our actions before we sleep to allow us to have a good solid nights rest. Below are a few tips of how to make your bedroom a sleeping sanctuary.

Temperature – a bedroom ideally needs to be on the cool side to promote good sleep, around 20 degrees is an optimal temperature.

Create a bat cave – the darker the room the better. This means investing in some decent blackout blinds and curtains, switching off all LED lights or any other light pollution in your room and making sure you either turn your phone off or at least turn it face down so you aren’t disturbed by a text or call.

Try and create a calm and clutter free environment in the room. A room that promotes calm and makes you feel relaxed will help you to switch off and sleep well.

Try and not watch TV in bed – for similar reasons to the effect blue light has on our cortisol levels and sleepiness watching TV in a dark room will not help you switch off. Instead try reading a book, listen to music or stretch.

Use a dawn stimulating alarm clock – you are now lying in your bat cave and therefore waking up to natural light is going to be near enough impossible, plus with dark morning it is also difficult in the winter months. Using an alarm clock that will slowly wake you up with a natural increase in light has been shown to leave people feeling much more awake and alert compared to a jarring alarm clock. It allows cortisol levels are slowly rise which helps us feel awake and switched on in the morning and has been shown to help seasonal effective disorder as well. Similarly to this using a progressive alarm clock that slowly build noise into the room will also help you wake up in a more calm and natural way.


If you just can’t sleep don’t panic!

Although going to sleep in the best form of reaching a restorative state that allows the body to repair and recover, research has now shown that we can still go into restoration mode whilst still awake and therefore still allow the body to recover and repair.

We have all been there, lying in bed unable to sleep and becoming more and more stressed about it. We start looking at the clock every hour calculating how much sleep we might now get if only we could actually fall asleep! If this happens stress will only worsen the situation and lessen the chance of your getting sleep at all so try to relax!

Firstly if you are lying in bed awake try and not look at the clock, this will only cause your mind to start working and heighten stress levels. Secondly focus on slowing your breath down. Work on taking deep breaths lasting 3-4 seconds in and out will not only lower stress levels but will also most likely cause you to fall asleep. If however you still don’t sleep be assured – when we slow the heart rate down and mimic the type of deep breaths taken during sleep our body is still able to get some rest go into a restorative state, meaning you will wake up feeling human and be ready for the day ahead.