If sleep was a supplement, it would be illegal.
Some suboptimal sleep risks:
Double the risk of injury (1)
10-15% decrease in testosterone after only one week of sleep restriction (2)
A decreased immune system as a reuslt of less than 6 hours or less per night (3)
Making you more likely to catch a common cold (4).
This article starts with a question, rather than a traditional introduction because it is very likely that the majority of the answers will be a ‘no’, which it makes it far more interesting and allows you to try things and see if it actually makes a positive impact and isn’t just a fad…
Question: Recently, have you had really great sleep for at least 5 nights in a row and felt very well rested as a result?
If you answered no, then, great. If you answered yes, then great. The goal of this article is to provide some useful and practical sleep tips that can be applied to your everyday life. Helping you achieve a better sleep pattern on a more consistent basis, leaving you well-rested, focused, alert, and ready to attack your days!
If you’re only interested in the how and not the why then please scroll down to the tips...
The importance of sleep
Not getting enough sleep is as detrimental to your health as not getting enough food or water. Without sleep, it becomes more difficult to create pathways in the brain to learn, store new memories, concentrate and have alertness throughout the day. Lack of sleep and/or poor-quality sleep, on a long-term basis, has been shown to have negative side effects on a person’s health. Including the risk of an increase in blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, and obesity.
We all have an internal clock that drives our sleep and wake routine, this is an internal process that cycles approximately every 24 hours called a Circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms direct a wide variety of functions from daily fluctuations in wakefulness to body temperature, metabolism, and the release of hormones.
Typically, most people wake up around 1-2 hours after sunrise. At this point Adenosine (the chemical responsible for sleep drive) is very low, meaning you will feel less sleepy, but this is only if enough quality sleep has been had.
Upon awakening, the system generates an internal signal in the form of a hormone(s) (cortisol, epinephrine, and adrenaline) to kick start the day. These are hormones that are usually associated with stress, however, in this instance, the same responses are needed to awaken the body: by increasing your heart rate, tensing the muscles, and get you moving about. The release of these hormones also sets the timer in the body and nervous system to dictate when melatonin (the sleep hormone) will be released later on in the day. This will start the process of getting ready to sleep, usually around 12-14 hours of being awake, or the first dose of cortisol in the morning. Adenosine builds up throughout the day and is at its peak when you feel very sleepy. Sleep and repeat.
Getting this cycle set and regular as possible should ensure a good quality of sleep. So here are our top tips to help program your sleep/wake cycle and optimise your sleep:
There are cells in your retina (in your eyes) that react to different types and intensities of light, sending signals to the brain letting it know when it is day or night, depending on what they are exposed to. Therefore depending on when you get your light can delay or advance your sleep cycle.
As mentioned earlier, we generally wake up around 1-2 hours following sunrise. Research suggests that if you get as much sunlight as you can, first thing in the morning when the sun is still rising (not midday when the sun is directly above us) your internal sleep clock is properly kick-started (5). Get yourself outside for around 3-10 minutes to get the light in. It is possible to get the same effect from sunlight through windows, but it will take around 50 times longer, you will get a lot more if you get yourself out for some morning sun. In terms of numbers (and you can try this for yourself, using an app called ‘Light Meter’ to read light strength) you will notice that your TVs and computers will only produce around 1000lux. However, the sun will produce around 100,000 lux. Furthermore, if wearing sunglasses and blue light blockers is what you do in the mornings because you have been told that light is bad for your eyes, take them off. Unless of course, the light intensity is too much for you and is causing discomfort. Bright light is what you need in the morning and daytime to regulate your circadian rhythms.
In contrast, in the hours leading up to bedtime, you want to have minimal light exposure. Especially between the hours of 11 pm – 4 am. the circadian rhythm is disrupted can alter the function of brain regions, suppressing melatonin levels and involve regulating emotions and mood (6). Sometimes this can be quite difficult to do, but what you can do in terms of light management is have: dim light below eye level, not be on your phone in bed, and/or watch tv. However, if watching tv in bed is what you do to wind down, then we suggest that you either get some blue light blocking glasses and/or turn the brightness down on the screens. Its typically the overall intensity of the light that is most important, rather than the type of light that has the biggest impact on sleep.
Note: always avoid looking at anything bright enough to hurt your eyes, cause your eyes to water and cause you to blink more often than usual.
2. Improve your sleeping environment
Room temperature may be a key player in a good night’s sleep. A poll survey conducted by a national sleep foundation found that 80% of people noted a cool room temperature was important for good sleep. The optimum room temperature was around 18.3 degrees. This can have some variance depending on your preference but anywhere between (15.6 – 19.4 degrees) seemed to be a happy temperature to sleep in (4).
Keep the bedroom dark. You can do this by having properly-suited black curtains/blinds, wear an eye mask whilst in bed, and avoiding any time on your phone or watching tv. Sometimes it may not be possible depending on your home environment but keeping the place where you sleep as quiet as possible for an undisturbed night of sleep.
3. Make your bed as comfortable as possible
Realistically, if we go by the numbers that we sleep 8 hours per night, and there are 24 hours in a day, that would equate to 1/3 third of our lives. So, why would you want to spend 1/3 of your life uncomfortable? If you have the finances, then make sure you invest in a very good mattress and pillow set. Beds tend to last very well, so if you look at it on a long-term basis, it’s a very cheap investment for what you get. If you don’t have the financial means, aim to use what you have and make it as comfortable as possible as you can.
Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors in the brain, temporarily delaying the need for sleep which is why when some people consume caffeine, they do not feel as sleepy. If you are a frequent coffee drinker, reduce your overall caffeine intake in the day and aim to not consume any after 3 pm. Particularly if you are very caffeine sensitive to it.
There are two types of routine that have shown only positive results when working with clients: Creating some sort of bedtime routine that starts 30 minutes before bed, to get your mind and body prepared for sleep. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (+/- 1 hour).
6. Practice meditation and relaxation techniques
These practices can be useful if you find yourself being anxious when sat with your thoughts at bedtime, and/or thinking about your daunting task list ahead. Breathing practices has a vast amount of positive research into getting the body into a more relaxed state. This can be as simple as 5-10 minutes of breathing whilst in bed: take a deep breath in through your nose, with the aim of filling up your lungs with no space left (around 5 seconds). Hold it for 5 seconds. Then breath out through your mouth, with the focus of completely emptying your lungs (around 6 seconds). Currently, there are some great apps (like: ‘Headspace’) that can take you through some guided meditation to get you into a calm and meditated state.
7. Nutritional interventions
Try not to overeat before bed, view your hunger satisfaction on a scale of 1-10. You want to aim somewhere between 5-7. Unless this is something you’re used to and your sleep isn’t negatively impacted, avoid spicy food before bed. Alcohol is an interesting one from an anecdotal standpoint, giving you a sleepy and relax feeling when you drink before bed, so you might feel it’s helping your sleep quality and duration. However, the research has shown over and over again, that you are less likely to go into a deep, well-rested sleep (4). Being hungry is certainly a strong enough reason to keep you up at night, so, if you are on a diet to lose weight, try to keep your calorie deficit at a reasonable drop and nothing extreme. We suggest no more than a 20% deficit at most.
· Get outside and get as much sunlight as you can (at least 3 minutes, with no sunglasses) into your eyes before 11 am.
· Minimize light intake in the nighttime, especially between 11 pm - 4 pm.
· Make your sleep environment as comfortable as possible
· Manage caffeine consumption properly. No caffeine after 3 pm.
· Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day (even on weekends) +/-1 hour.
· Practice meditation and relaxation techniques
· Eat to a satisfactory level, not over or undereating.
· Be aware that alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it hinders your quality of sleep.
Applying one or two of these practices talked about in this article might make an immediate improvement to your current sleep routine which is great. See how you get on for at least 7 days, and if overall you feel that you are seeing noticeable improvements in your overall sleep, then keep going and add one or two more things from the list. But you have to keep in mind that you are making changes for the long-term health of your sleep, so if things aren’t happening immediately, be patient and be consistent.
1. Milewski, M., Skaggs, D., Bishop, G., Pace, J., Ibrahim, D., Wren, T. and Barzdukas, A., 2014. Chronic Lack of Sleep is Associated With Increased Sports Injuries in Adolescent Athletes. Journal of Pediatric Orthopaedics, 34(2), pp.129-133.
2. Leproult, R., 2011. Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men. JAMA, 305(21), p.2173.
3. Prather, A., Janicki-Deverts, D., Hall, M. and Cohen, S., 2015. Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep, 38(9), pp.1353-1359.
4. Sleep Foundation. 2021. The Best Temperature For Sleep: Advice & Tips | Sleep Foundation. [online] Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/bedroom-environment/best-temperature-for-sleep#:~:text=The%20best%20bedroom%20temperature%20for,for%20the%20most%20comfortable%20sleep.> [Accessed 21 February 2020].
5. Dijk, D. and Archer, S., 2009. Light, Sleep, and Circadian Rhythms: Together Again. PLoS Biology, 7(6), p.e1000145.
6. Bedrosian, T. and Nelson, R., 2017. Timing of light exposure affects mood and brain circuits. Translational Psychiatry, 7(1), pp.e1017-e1017.
7. Pacheco, D., 2020. Alcohol and Sleep | Sleep Foundation. [online] Sleep Foundation. Available at: <https://www.sleepfoundation.org/nutrition/alcohol-and-sleep> [Accessed 21 February 2021].
8. Liu, Y., Croft, J., Wheaton, A., Perry, G., Chapman, D., Strine, T., McKnight-Eily, L. and Presley-Cantrell, L., 2013. Association between perceived insufficient sleep, frequent mental distress, obesity and chronic diseases among US adults, 2009 behavioral risk factor surveillance system. BMC Public Health, 13(1).