The clocks going back might have brought us an extra hour in bed and a little more light in the mornings, but some research suggests that this twice-yearly event may have a damaging effect on our sleep in the long term.
One of the key ingredients for healthy sleep is the hormone melatonin which helps to regulate our sleep and wake cycles. Typically lowest during the day, melatonin rises at night to promote tiredness and the natural onset and maintenance of sleep. For a peaceful night’s rest it’s important not to disrupt the body’s production of this sleep hormone.
If you struggle to drop off or often wake during the night, now is a good time to review your sleeping habits:
Top 10 tips for better sleep
- Natural light: try to get outdoors during the day – not only does this help to support a healthy circadian rhythm, it can improve energy levels and the quality and duration of your sleep. If you struggle to find time or work irregular hours, you might like to think about light therapy, there are various alarm clocks that replicate sunrise, waking you gradually rather than the sudden jolt experienced with traditional alarm clocks or your phone.
- Avoid artificial light: blue light from laptops and phones have been proven to reduce melatonin production in the brain. Try to limit access to digital screens for at least an hour before bed, and if you have ‘night mode’ which dims blue light and changes it to a more amber glow, use it.
- Exercise: is scientifically proven to improve the quality and length of sleep, so aim to factor in a workout at least 3 times per week. However, avoid high energy routines too close to bedtime or you might feel too wired to wind down in time for sleep, opt for swimming or yoga in the evenings instead.
- Caffeine: the rate at which we process caffeine can be influenced by genetics however the average effect of caffeine lasts for approximately 4-6 hours. Drinking tea or coffee late in the day can stimulate the nervous system and prevent sleep, so switch for caffeine free herbal or fruit teas and before bed try calming camomile or valerian. If you’re particularly sensitive be mindful that green tea, chocolate and energy drinks contain caffeine as well as medications such as cold and flu remedies.
- Alcohol: you might be tempted to have a ‘nightcap’, and while alcohol is a sedative which initially makes you feel drowsy the effects are short-lived. After a few hours the alcohol begins to wear off and we experience a ‘rebound’ effect causing lighter, less restful sleep and often waking earlier than usual. Alcohol also suppresses melatonin production and can block REM sleep (the most restorative form), so even if we sleep for the same length of time, the quality is affected making us feel tired and groggy. If you’re going to drink in the evening, the optimal window is between 5-7pm (happy hour!) allowing time to process the alcohol and limit the impact on sleep.
- Dinner: avoid eating large meals too close to bed time. Feeling full can not only be uncomfortable but breaking down food can also drive up body temperature at a time when it should naturally drop to encourage sleep, the same goes for overly spicy food which can also cause sleep disrupting heartburn.
- Instead, eat a small snack before bed: a balanced protein-rich snack helps to balance blood sugar. Sudden drops in blood sugar during the night can cause your adrenal glands to kick in and produce the stress hormone cortisol, stimulating us out of sleep. Try oatcakes with nut butter and banana which contain ‘tryptophan’ an amino acid (protein) which encourages the production of melatonin.
- Relaxation: a warm bath an hour before bed slightly raises body temperature, which when it subsequently drops helps to send you to the land of slumber. Gentle yoga, meditation or breathing exercises are also helpful.
- If you can’t sleep get up and try again: after 20 minutes tossing and turning, try getting out of bed and find a quiet spot to read a book or try a breathing exercise, but whatever you do – avoid bright lights.
- Don’t clock watch! It will only stress you out and reinforce negative thoughts about not being able to sleep, it’s a vicious circle. Resist the urge to check your phone or even better invest in a regular alarm clock – just be sure to turn it away from you before getting your head down.