How to improve your sleep

Here’s what you need to know:

1) Exposure to the blue light emitted by electronic screens inhibits the production of melatonin and disrupts sleep patterns

2) Exposure to some natural sunlight during the day, and particularly in the morning, is important in the body’s circadian rhythms. 

3) Melatonin down regulates body temperature, and so you can help yourself feel sleepy by ensuring a cool room and by raising your body temperature during the day through exercise.

4) Establish a sleep routine so your body knows when it is time to sleep

Sleep is hugely important to high performance. To work hard and play hard we need to sleep hard. It is also an area with which many people struggle; insomnia is an ever growing problem. This blog will offer tips on how to maximise your sleep and allow you to wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to perform. Anna has already offered advice on relaxation techniques to use to allow you to wind down before bed, and so here I will offer some other tips to aid rest.

Melatonin is one of the key hormones which controls the circadian rhythm of our bodies and helps us to regulate our sleep. This is so important to understand because one of the primary causes of insomnia is the manner in which modern life styles disrupt natural melatonin production. To achieve easy sleep we want to maximise our natural melatonin production.

Melatonin is known as the hormone of darkness; it is darkness which stimulates its production. Problems have, however, arisen due to people working in doors all day and exposing themselves to artificial light long into the evening. This creates a situation where the body has constant low level exposure to blue light waves (the ones which primarily regulate melatonin production) throughout much of the day and long into the night, disrupting out circadian rhythm. To maximise our sleep and properly reestablish our natural circadian rhythm it is necessary for there to be a drop in melatonin production during the morning and a significant raise after sun set.

This problem has two aspects. The most important is becoming aware of and controlling our exposure to blue light in the evening and through the night. Clearly it is impractical to simply sit in darkness after sunset but there are three important ways in which we can aid our body’s natural production of melatonin:

  • The first and most straight forward way to improve sleep efficiency and quality is to allow half an hour of relaxation time before bed during which you are in very low light conditions. My preferred method is to substitute watching television in the late evening for listening to the radio or an audiobook. If you have time to unwind before bed, try and do so without too much exposure to artificial light.
  • The second straightforward fix is to use the app f.lux (http://justgetflux.com/) which you can set to decrease the amount of blue light electronic equipment emits after sunset.
  • Thirdly it is also beneficial to try and sleep in a room which has as little as possible artificial light in it; nothing confuses the body and disrupts sleep like being exposed to light all night long.

Becoming aware of the importance of light to my sleep and applying these recommendations I have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes me to fall asleep and dramatically improve the quality of my sleep.

The other side of this problem is to try and increase our exposure to light during the day. A key message here is to get outside when you can. A sunrise jog or a walk at lunch can do wonders for your sleep by suppressing melatonin during the day, thereby making its rise in the evening have a more pronounced effect. By being exposed to more sunlight during the day you make the blue light limiting measures you take in the evening more effective and improve sleep quality.

Another important aspect to consider with sleep is body temperature. Melatonin serves to lower the body temperature. It is therefore important that the room you sleep in is relatively cool at night. Furthermore it can be beneficial to raise the body temperature during the day to make its drop at night more pronounced. Exercise is particularly beneficial to this end, as it will raise the body temperature for a number of hours. A warm shower or bath an hour or two before bed can also aid this process. Thus by raising our temperature during the day and allowing it to fall at night we allow melatonin to serve it s natural function of facilitating deep and restful sleep.

Finally it should be noted that our bodies are creatures of habit. Establishing a healthy and consistent sleep routine can improve both the time it takes to fall asleep and the quality of sleep. By going to sleep at a similar time of the day every day, consistently limiting exposure to blue light and ensuring a cool bedroom the body will learn to associate these conditions with sleep and prepare itself accordingly. If the body already knows that it is time for sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow you will be able to fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply. These recommendations can help you to sleep as hard as you work and come back each day feeling ready to perform.

Alex

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