Posted on 19 March 2016
Hello again! As part of our celebration of National Bed Month, which includes our ‘Great Barretts Bed Trade-In’ sale throughout March, this week I’ll be giving you some top tips on creating just the right environment for that perfect night’s sleep. Why is sleep so important? Deep, uninterrupted sleep not only re-energises the body, mind and soul, it also helps to improve daytime alertness, productivity and performance. Good sleep is therefore a crucial element for health and wellbeing, and is as important as diet and exercise for your health and well-being.
So, assuming your bed is in tip-top condition, what else can affect how you get your all important ‘beauty sleep’? What changes can you make to ensure you wake up feeling rejuvenated and ready for a positive, energetic start to the day? Let’s find out…
Food and drink to avoid at bedtime
Caffeine - whilst a nice cup of tea or coffee before bed sounds good, both these drinks contain caffeine which is a natural stimulate. As such, getting your brain stimulated just before you try to go to sleep isn’t a good idea. It will be more difficult to get to sleep, and it can interfere with your level of ‘deep sleep’. Don’t forget that caffeine can stay in our systems for several hours, so drink something earlier in the evening than you would normally. Below is a table of popular hot drinks showing their caffeine content in mg per ml.
Expresso 1.735 mg/ml
Cappuccino 0.433 mg/ml
Instant coffee 0.2457 mg/ml
Black Tea 0.176 mg/ml
Green Tea 0.104 mg/ml
Hot Chocolate 0.02 mg/ml
Herbal Tea 0 mg/ml
So beware of that Expresso if you want a good sleep! As can be seen, a hot chocolate or herbal tea are perfectly fine alternatives.
Alcohol - Did you know that during the night we usually have on average six to seven cycles of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep? Apparently during these REM periods our brains process the vast amounts of information we've absorbed during the day, which in turn leads to us feeling refreshed in the morning. However, and here’s the really bad news, an evening of drinking leads to you having only one to two cycles. Result - that drained feeling 1st thing.
Certain foods - There’s a naturally occurring chemical called tyramine, which triggers the release of a brain stimulant called noradrenaline. The point is, this stuff is found in lots of common foods such as cheese, bacon, pork, cured meats, nuts, sour cream, yogurt, and (oh no!) chocolate and red wine. Eating any of these just before bedtime will get your brain buzzing. Plus there’s a strong link between tyramine rich foods and the triggering of migraines. Fatty foods will also take a lot of work for your stomach to digest and may keep you up. Finally, be cautious when it comes to spicy or acidic foods in the evening, as they can cause ‘stomach trouble’ and indigestion.
So next time you are out for a meal, with lots of red wine, cheese, maybe a few after dinner chocolates, and then a double expresso - you can look forward to a disturbed night’s sleep and a morning to forget!
Blue light is bad
In our hi-tech lives it is not uncommon to come home after a long day at work and relax by reading an e-book on our iPad, watching some late TV, then catching up on emails and Facebook on the phone at bedtime. Lately, however, scientists have been cautioning against using such light-emitting devices before bed. Why? The light from our devices is “short-wavelength-enriched,” meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light - and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength. What’s worse is blue-light exposure can also stress our ‘circadian rhythm’, which is the body’s natural clock. Studies show that that shifts in this clock can have damaging health effects because it controls not only our wakefulness but also individual clocks that dictate function in the body’s organs.
Keep it regular
I mentioned above about our body clock, known as the ‘circadian rhythm’. Regulating what is effectively your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle is one of the best strategies for achieving good sleep. If you keep a regular sleep schedule—going to bed and getting up at the same time each day—you will feel much more refreshed and energised than if you sleep the same number of hours at different times. This holds true even if you alter your sleep schedule by only an hour or two. Consistency is what’s important. So, try to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. Avoid sleeping in—even on weekends or nights you’ve stayed up late. It can be especially tempting to sleep in on weekends, but even a couple of hours difference in wake time disrupts your internal clock. The more your weekend/weekday sleep schedules differ, the worse the jetlag-like symptoms you’ll experience. If you really need to make up for a late night, opt for a daytime nap rather than sleeping in, but keep it to 20 minutes maximum. This strategy allows you to pay off your sleep debt without disturbing your natural sleep-wake rhythm, which often throws you off for days. However, try to avoid regular day-time naps, and this will certainly affect your circadian rhythm.
Keep it calm
Our twenty first century lifestyles are fast-paced and full of stimulation. Often from the moment when we wake up and check our smart phones, life is non-stop. We put on the radio or television to be given the news as it happens and when it happens, we check our emails constantly throughout the day; we sit at our computers and/or watch television late into the evening. It barely stops and it can be difficult to switch off and wind down, so it’s small wonder that many of us have trouble sleeping. Stress and anxiety is the enemy of sleep. Here are a few relaxation techniques before bed to help you unwind, clear your mind, and get ready for sleep.
Deep breathing. Close your eyes, and try taking deep, slow breaths, making each breath even deeper than the last.
Progressive muscle relaxation. Starting with your toes, tense all the muscles as tightly as you can, then completely relax. Work your way up from your feet to the top of your head.
Visualising a peaceful, restful place. Close your eyes and imagine a place or activity that is calming and peaceful for you. Concentrate on how relaxed this place or activity makes you feel.
Get regular exercise
Lots of research show that regular exercisers sleep better and feel less sleepy during the day. Regular exercise also improves the symptoms of insomnia and increases the amount of time you spend in the deep, restorative stages of sleep. The more vigorously you exercise, the more powerful the sleep benefits. But even light exercise - such as walking for just 10 minutes a day - improves sleep quality. Just keep in mind that exercise is not a quick fix. It can take several months of regular activity before you experience the full sleep-promoting effects. So be patient. Focus on building an exercise habit that sticks, and better sleep will follow.
However… exercise speeds up your metabolism, elevates body temperature, and stimulates activating hormones such as cortisol. This isn’t a problem if you’re exercising in the morning or afternoon, but too close to bed and it can interfere with sleep. So try to finish moderate to vigorous workouts at least 3 hours before your bedtime. If you’re still experiencing sleep difficulties, move your workouts even earlier. For some people, it can take up to 6 hours for the body to fully cool down after exercise to a temperature conducive to sleep.
Keep the noise down
On average, one in eight of us keep our mobile phones switched on in our bedroom at night, increasing the risk our sleep will be disturbed. Whilst we might feel drowsy as we start to fall asleep our brain is still active, and noises or discomfort can disturb us. As we drift into light sleep, an area of the brain called the hypothalamus starts to block the flow of information from our senses to the rest of the brain. But it will still let through noises, which need to be able to wake us up. After about half an hour of light sleep, most of us enter a type of deep sleep called ‘slow-wave sleep’. Our brains become less responsive and it becomes much harder to be woken up. But some things will always get through to disturb us, and missing out on parts of our usual sleep cycle reduces the quality and quantity of sleep
Keep the right temperature
Our core body temperature should drop by half a degree when we sleep, which is about as much as it varies over the day. So as sleep approaches, our body clock makes blood vessels in our hands, face and feet open up, in order to lose heat. But if we get too cold, we get restless and find it hard to sleep. Or if our bedrooms or duvets are too warm, our bodies can't lose heat, which can also cause restlessness. So it’s important to invest is duvets and pillows that will keep you nice and snug throughout the night.
And just in case you are not yet convinced of the importance of sleep, the following can result in poor or disturbed sleep:
Put on weight - a lack of sleep is thought to encourage weight gain. Scientists think it boosts our appetite by increasing levels of hunger-related hormones.
Catch more colds - poor sleep can disrupt your immune system, making it harder to fight off illnesses, like flu. It can also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
Suffer depression - we often feel irritable the day after a bad night’s sleep. Prolonged sleep deprivation could lead to more long-term disorders, like depression and anxiety.
Reduce fertility - it’s thought that a lack of sleep may make conceiving a baby more difficult by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones.