Knowledge is Power – Getting A Good Night’s Sleep

We all know the importance of a good night’s sleep.

Without it, we break down mentally and physically. We feel sluggish, lack concentration, and develop low mood.

For some of us, falling asleep is as easy as walking, and the main issue we have is the willpower to get out of bed in a morning. In contrast, others amongst us really struggle to dose off in an evening and get a quality night's sleep.

For those that are finding it difficult, here are some tips of the trade to improve your night’s sleep, hopefully helping you awake fully refreshed when morning comes.

Get exposure to bright light during the day

Our body has a natural time-keeping clock known as circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms refer to physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a daily cycle. Biological processes that follow such a clock include brain wave activity, hormone production and cell regeneration.

Circadian rhythms are important in our sleep/wake cycle; being awake during the day and asleep at night.

Natural sunlight helps keep our circadian rhythm healthy. When we are exposed to sunlight, the brain authorises the release of a hormone called serotonin, which is associated with boosting mood and helping a person feel calm and focused. At night, when exposed to darker light, the brain authorises the release of a hormone called melatonin, responsible for helping us sleep.

A lack of sunlight can disrupt circadian rhythms, common symptoms of which include difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. More extreme cases include excessive daytime sleepiness as well as fatigue and exhaustion.

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Don’t consume caffeine late in the day

Caffeine is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug globally. In the UK, we drink over 90 million cups of coffee a day, of which about 70% is instant coffee, with an average of 60mg of caffeine per cup.

Caffeine is found in tea, coffee, cocoa as well as many soft drinks. It serves as a stimulant of the central nervous system, boosting the brain's production of a neurochemical called dopamine, which controls the ability to focus and maintain concentration.

Caffeine consumption should make us feel more awake and less tired. We often consume it when we need to focus on work, or potentially ahead of a workout. Its stimulant properties mean it’s a common ingredient in medications to treat or manage drowsiness.

Caffeine levels can stay at elevated levels in our blood for up to 8 hours after consumption. Therefore caffeine can significantly worsen sleep quality, especially if large amounts are drunk in the late afternoon or evening.

If you are sensitive to caffeine or having trouble sleeping, it’s advised that you avoid drinking coffee after midday levels in the blood are sufficiently low when you go to bed.

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Try to sleep and wake at consistent times

Your body’s circadian rhythm functions on a set loop, aligning with sunrise and sunset or day and night. Studies have highlighted that irregular sleep patterns can alter our circadian rhythm and levels of melatonin, which signal your brain to sleep,

Being consistent with your sleep and waking times can aid sleep quality. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day sets our “internal clock” to expect sleep at a certain time. If possible, try to wake up naturally at a similar time, including on weekends!

When developing your sleep schedule try to avoid going to bed too early (before you’re tired) or too late (when you’re overly tired) as this can make it more difficult to sleep soundly. 

If you keep a regular sleep-wake schedule, you should feel much more refreshed and energised than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times.

Exercise regularly

There are incredible benefits to be reaped from regular exercise, many of which we are familiar with such as weight control, lower risk of heart diseases, muscle build, stronger bones and a lower risk of chronic disease. Exercise has also been scientifically proven to improve our sleep quality.

Whilst the exact link is still to be determined, it’s believed that exercise triggers an increase in body temperature, and the post-exercise drop in temperature may promote falling asleep. It’s also thought that exercise has a positive mental effect, as it de-stresses the mind, making it easier to fall asleep.

In 2013, a poll in the US by the National Sleep Foundation examined the relationship between sleep and exercise. It found that vigorous exercisers were almost twice as likely as non-exercisers to say, “I had a good night’s sleep” every night or almost every night.

However, the jury is still out on the effects of exercise late in the day. Some believe it may cause sleep problems as exercise has a stimulatory effect through the release of hormones like epinephrine and adrenaline.  

However, studies have shown no negative effects. Indeed, the same 2013 study found that exercising at any time of the day appeared to be good for sleep.

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