Sleep is an important tool for improving performance and returning the body to its best possible state. However, these days, modern distractions like smart phones, tablets, social media and Netflix can so easily infiltrate our evenings, hindering our bodies ability to sleep.
A lack of sleep can cause a wide array of issues, yet many are not aware of how far-reaching these can be. A poor mood, inhibited decision-making, low energy and memory problems can all be the result of a lack of sleep. Additionally, recovery from training can be slowed, and studies have shown that injury rates may increase by up to 60% for those averaging just five hours of shut eye, compared to those who manage nine hours.
So, what makes sleep good? And how do we prepare our bodies for sleep?
Great sleep takes skill, and it’s a skill that takes time to develop. One can’t simply walk into the bedroom after scrolling emails or Instagram and expect to have the best sleep of your life. You need to build a routine, stick to it and continue to work on it.
This skill is based on key factors like how organised you are leading up to bedtime, your body temperature and your hormone levels. Let’s have a look at each of these in more detail.
Organising Your Night-time Routine:
To dial down the stress in preparation for sleep, try to organise yourself as much as possible before bed. To do this, it helps to work backwards. Think about the time that you need to get up in the morning, and then calculate the time you need to get to bed to fit in 7 – 9 hours of sleep.
From here, build in an evening routine. Aim to switch off any electronic devices, such as the TV, at least 30 minutes before bed. If you have difficulty getting to sleep, also try to avoid foods and drinks high in caffeine and sugar, such as chocolate, coffee and black tea. Pick up a book, practice a meditation or write out a to-do list for the next day.
It can also help to prepare anything you might need in the morning – perhaps this is your gym clothes, your work bag, or maybe you like to put your coffee mug out ahead of that 6am caffeine fix. During this time, try not to watch the clock too much. If you know your bedtime is approximately 30 minutes away, there’s no need to check the time every five minutes. Take it slow and try not to put too much pressure on yourself.
At first, these steps may feel trivial. But as time goes on, you will realise you feel more at ease. Just like any new habit, it will take some trial and error to get it right. Slowly, your body will adjust, and all of these activities will cue sleep.
Having a hot shower before bed can raise the core body temperature by 0.1 to 0.2 of a degree. This heat causes the body to switch to cooling mode and begin the processing of balancing its temperature.
Make sure you wear lightweight and breathable clothing to bed and ensure your room as at a comfortable temperature for you. Generally, this is between 18 – 21 degrees Celsius.
Hormone Level Optimisation:
Melatonin is the key factor in the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is responsible for regulating the circadian rhythm which is our ‘body clock’ so to speak. It is also responsible for blood pressure regulation.
The hormone Melatonin is secreted when we enter a dark room and go to sleep. It is the key active hormone that allows the body to rest and is secreted from the pineal gland and spread around the body via the bloodstream and cerebrospinal fluid – a liquid around your brain and spinal cord. Soon, the spread of melatonin reaches your vital organs and causes the brain to reduce its normal function.
The number one cause of a delay to the melatonin release is the blue light found in smartphones and electronic devices. A 2015 study (Analysis of circadian properties and healthy levels of blue light from smartphones at night, Oh, et al.) found that melatonin levels decreased by 7.3% - 11.4% when in a dark room and even higher when in a light room. This has a lasting effect on the time it takes to get to sleep. The national Sleep Foundation stated that this delayed secretion in melatonin delays REM sleep and also reduces REM sleep overall.
While a lack of sleep during the night can encourage many to nap the next day, if you are a light sleeper, napping will counter the body clock and restart our body’s processes. Napping may work for those who have no trouble sleeping, however if this is something you struggle with, it’s best to limit your naps and avoid upsetting your natural body clock. Additionally, try to stick to the same bedtime and wakeup every day of the week. By not letting yourself sleep in on a Sunday, you will soon wake up bright-eyed and early on a Monday, ready to tackle the week.
By taking all of these factors into account, you will fast become a master of your sleep routine. In turn, you will experience immense boosts to your mood, energy levels and decision-making abilities. So, when the sun does down tonight, think – is this Netflix show you are watching something that you would wake up early for? If the answer is no, go to sleep.
If you are not willing to wake up for it, why would you stay awake for it?
- Oh, J., Yoo, H., Park, H. et al. Analysis of circadian properties and healthy levels of blue light from smartphones at night. Sci Rep 5, 11325 (2015) doi:10.1038/srep11325 https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/why-electronics-may-stimulate-you-bed