Sleep Part 2: 7 Top Tips for a good nights sleep

Following on from last weeks blog about the importance of sleep, here are my tops tips for helping you get those all important 8 hours.

  1. Caffeine

Technically, caffine is a drug, it falls under the category of a psychoactive stimulant. It has a half life of 6-7 hours and a quarter life of 12 hours. This means that 12 hours after drinking a cup of coffee you still have ¼ of that caffeine remaining in your system. Caffeine works by blocking our adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a neurotransmitter which promotes sleep and suppresses arousal. Over the course of the day adenosine builds up and we become drowsy. Blocking these receptors inhibits this process for as long as the caffeine remains in the system. Different people process caffeine differently which is why some people say they can have a coffee before bed and still sleep without a problem. Whilst this may be true in some instances, getting to sleep isn’t the only thing that matters. A study investigating the effects of caffeine on sleep found that when participants were given 200 mg caffeine before bed, 20% less deep sleep was recorded than in those that weren’t given caffeine. This is the equivalent to aging 20 years in your ability to sleep (our quantity of deep sleep declines with age). This also suggests that those people who believe they are sleeping fine are still experiencing a detrimental impact on their sleep quality.

The problem is that as we are chronically sleep deprived, we wake up tired and then self-medicate with caffeine in order to function which then prevents good sleep creating a viscious cycle. To break this cycle you might want to try to give up caffeine fully or switch to a decaff variety. At the very least, you should avoid the consumption of caffeine after 12pm to help boost the quality of the sleep you are getting.

  1. Alcohol 

Many people believe that alcohol aids sleep and will have a ‘night cap’. However, alcohol is a sedative not a sleep aid and sedation is not sleep. You may find that you get to sleep more easily but alcohol causes fragmented sleep which means you wake up a lot in the night. You may not remember these awakenings but it will mean that you won’t wake up feeling as well rested as you would normally. Alcohol also blocks REM sleep which is critical for our emotional health. REM sleep is natures natural version of therapy and helps with the processing of emotional events. Blocking this with alcohol causes detrimental effects to our health and wellbeing. If you are drinking in the evening, try to have your last drink at least 2 hours before you go to bed.

  1. Be consistent

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This will make it easier to get to sleep and wake up in the morning. Many of us oversleep at weekends, enjoying the pleasure of a lie in. The problem is that this causes ‘social jetlag’. We shift our sleep/wake cycle much like you would when travelling to a different time zone, then, when you try to get to sleep at your weekday bedtime on Sunday night you are not tired so struggle to sleep. Come Monday morning and you wake up shattered ready to begin the self-medicating use of stimulants to get through the day.

  1. Temperature

Keeping your room cool will help you to sleep better, 18 degrees Celsius is optimum. This is to cool the core body temperature to help you to sleep. Try to avoid exercising late at night as this will impede your bodies ability to cool down in time for bed. If you do need to exercise later, have a hot shower or bath before bed as this will draw the heat out of your core and help cool you down.

  1. Darkness

Melatonin is released as the darkness sets in to signal to your body that it is time to go to sleep. Blue light emitted from phones and televisions as well as bright overhead lighting prevents melatonin from being released. Turning off devices an hour before bed will help you to sleep as well as turning off any unnecessary lighting. Also be mindful of what you are reading and watching, anything too stimulating for the brain will also inhibit sleep.

  1. Meditate

Meditation is a great tool for aiding sleep and there are plenty of sleep specific guided meditations online. Not only does meditation help to quieten down the mind so that we feel calmer and more relaxed when we get into bed, deep breathing associated with these exercises also takes us out of our sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight system) and into our parasympathetic system, which is our restful state.

  1. Get up if you can’t sleep

Our brains are highly associative, if you lie in bed wide awake your brain will associate bed with wakefulness. If you are in bed for 20-25 minutes and struggle to sleep, get up and go somewhere to read or listen to a podcast. Do not check your emails or watch TV. Only go to bed when you are actually sleepy. This is also an important point for weekend, we tend to stay in bed in the morning and watch TV etc, it is best to get up as soon as you wake and keep the bed solely for sleep (and 1 other thing 😉).

I hope these help you to enter the land of nod and get all the amazing health benefits that sleep brings.

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