Sleep. We all need it, want it and when we’re not doing it very well, even crave it. When you don’t get enough sleep, you feel lousy – which is your body’s way of telling you that EVERYTHING has been negatively impacted, all your organ systems including your brain and heart.
Poor or inadequate sleep takes a big bite out of how well you learn, how clearly you think, how well you age, how effectively you fend off illness, your mood, your weight and yes, even your sex drive.
So, if you think sleeping badly every now and then is no big deal, think again. Turns out, sleep deprivation is a proven risk factor for Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, stroke, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and obesity. In simplest terms, the time to get your sleep act together is now.
What is it that can make sleep so complicated? There are lots of potential reasons – we recommend reading Dr Frank Lipman’s book “Better Sleep, Better You” to try and understand what’s keeping you up at night and how to overcome it.
Sleep problems: your relationship with light and dark
Despite how important sleep is to physical and mental well-being, you may find it challenging to get enough quality sleep each night. The impact of poor sleep can be felt in all areas of your life. The sleep habits you follow each day – known as sleep hygiene – can have a positive effect on how well you sleep.
Learning how to better manage your light and dark cycles will put you on the path to sleeping easier. Here’s how to start understanding:
Our circadian rhythm
For thousands of years, the predictable patterns of day and night have cued our circadian rhythms – the 24-hour cycles that keep our body’s master clock in synch. Nowadays, artificial light enables us to lengthen our days and shorten our nights. If you’re serious about sleeping better, you’ll need to consider the ways too much light at the wrong time is messing up your night-time mission.
Our body clocks are out of synch
To sleep well, our bodies need darkness, to trigger the brain’s release of sleep-inducing hormones like melatonin. Too bad, that late into the night, many of us have got artificial lights blazing in every room! So, as the sun rises, we’re dragging ourselves out of bed, then jolting ourselves upright with caffeine and sugar to get through the day. Trouble is, all that out-of-synch living sabotages health, not only by interfering with the body’s natural night-time renewal and repair processes but also by encouraging a reliance on unhealthy habits to try to counter daytime fatigue.
Light is important
Think of light exposure as being akin to a cup of coffee – like coffee, a dose of natural, morning light can give you a natural energy boost first thing, the result of light being sensed by your eye’s optic nerve, which helps trigger the release of wakefulness hormones, like cortisol.
But get a blast of artificial light at night, and your brain gets tricked into perking you up, right when you need to be winding down for bed – not unlike what happens when you have that cappuccino too late in the day.
Know your light and dark disruptors
As a species, we’ve gotten very good at believing we get to create our own rhythms but energy slumps, blood pressure spikes, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, decreased libido, increased anxiety, and depression are just a few of the ways that nature, and our circadian rhythms, are telling us it’s time to rethink.
Typically, we fall out of synch because we consistently give our bodies the wrong cues. We commonly create disrupted sleep patterns by:
- Paying more attention to the clocks on our phones than the clocks in our bodies
- Eating the wrong foods too close to bedtime
- Excessive caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake
- Minimal exercise
- Lack of natural light during the day
- Getting too much artificial light
- Not sticking to consistent daily sleep and wake times
- Sleep debt
- Too little or poor sleep
Beware of light at night, especially blue light
Any kind of light in the evening can suppress melatonin production, but at night, blue light – emitted from your screens and TVs – is the biggest offender and you don’t want the stimulating effects at night. So, while things like night-mode settings and blue-light blockers can be beneficial, bringing the brightness way down matters too.
How to improve your sleep
Stress and anxiety can cause disruption in sleep, making it more important than ever to practice good sleep hygiene. When it come to your health, sleep is as important as staying active and eating healthy. Here are 9 tips to get more shuteye:
- Increase bright light exposure during the day – studies show that bright light during the day can keep your circadian rhythm healthy.
- Put down the phone – at least an hour before bed, put all of your electronic devices away. Limiting blue light and media before bed can help calm your mind. Read a good book instead. In the early evening, increase the warm “night mode” setting on your smartphone.
- Watch your caffeine intake – avoid caffeine during the afternoon past 2pm and reduce how much you consume daily.
- Exercise regularly – try to exercise earlier on during the day, as exercise is linked to better sleep.
- Avoid alcohol and heavy meals – these can both disrupt sleep by causing indigestion. Aim to eat two or three hours before bed to allow time for your stomach to digest.
- Make a bedtime routine – a consistent bedtime routine is extremely helpful as it lets your body know it’s time for bed.
- Designate the bedroom for sleep – keep your bedroom as a sleep-only zone, to help your body recognise the purpose of the room and associate it with sleep.
- Create and optimal environment for sleep – try to keep your bedroom dark and quiet. This tells your brain it’s time to sleep.
- Invest in a good mattress and pillow – find a comfortable pillow and mattress for your best sleep.