Sleep is your sanctuary
In these strange and unsettling times, we are having to adapt to all kinds of new requirements and a steady stream of news that can raise our anxiety levels and affect our sleep patterns.
Healthy sleep is fundamental to our immunity, mental health, metabolism, mood, relationships and our ability to focus and stay fit. It also acts as an anchor to good routines, increases our ability to cope emotionally, function effectively and stay healthy in confinement.
During this time of working from home and homeschooling, most people will be repurposing their home to function differently. This includes turning bedrooms into offices, using bedrooms as escape rooms to go online, watching box sets, socialising and getting some space. This (necessary) repurposing can have deep effects on sleep quality as the mind begins to associate the bedroom with stimulation and activity, rather than rest.
In order to ensure we get a sleep life balance, we need to take care and maintain the bedroom as a sanctuary for sleep even if there are other demands on the space during the day.
Everyone, from children to older adults will benefit from practising good sleep habits, so considering how, when and where we sleep is important in order to minimise the impact of altered routines on our sleep. This practise, known as ‘sleep hygiene’ starts with having a calm and uncluttered bedroom free from distractions.
“Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.” The Sleep Foundation
“Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices and habits that are necessary to have good nighttime sleep quality and full daytime alertness.”The Sleep Foundation
How can I improve my sleep hygiene?
One of the most important sleep hygiene practices is to give yourself enough time to get a full night of sleep. Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. However, there are recommendations that can provide guidance on how much sleep you need generally. There are active steps and decisions you can make to improve your sleep, these are our TOP TEN.
TOP TEN TIPS ON SLEEP HYGIENE
1) Light up your life
Ensuring adequate exposure to natural light. Exposure to sunlight during the day, as well as darkness at night, helps to maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle. To kick start your natural circadian rhythm you should be aiming to have at least 30-45 minutes of natural light per day. Artificial light is no substitute: even on a cloudy day the outside can be many times brighter than the best-lit rooms. Current UK guidelines allow an hour of outside exercise every day. If you can take advantage of this with a walk, run or cycle then it will promote better quality sleep at night (as well as boosting your Vitamin D). If you are not able to do this, sit within two feet of a window for as much direct exposure to natural light as possible. In the evenings, keep artificial lighting levels as low as possible (using side lamps and dimmed overhead lights). Stop using devices with blue light 2 hours before you sleep. Glasses that block out blue light can also help.
Exercising to promote good quality sleep. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can drastically improve nighttime sleep quality. But for optimum results you should be aiming for 10,000 steps a day or as many as you can manage under lockdown. For the best night’s sleep, avoid strenuous workouts close to bedtime (it raises adrenaline levels, inhibiting sleep onset). The best time to exercise differs from person to person depending on your natural circadian rhythm. We will be covering circadian rhythms and optimum routines in an upcoming blog.
3) Limit stimulants and alcohol
Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine close to bedtime. It is recommended that you avoid alcohol at least 3 hours before sleep, and moderation is key. While alcohol is well-known to help you fall asleep faster, it inhibits deep sleep, disrupts sleep in the second half of the night as the body begins to process the alcohol and frequently causes you to wake up dehydrated. Caffeine should be avoided 8 hours before you sleep – it has a half life of 6 hours and even if it doesn’t inhibit sleep, it postpones sleep onset, reduces overall time asleep and affects sleep quality.
4) Regulate bedtimes
Establish a regular sleep routine for all the family. Late bedtimes cause social jetlag where you are out of sync with the rhythms of the day. Regularity is key. Sleeping in or catching up on sleep denies your body the essential sleep phases that serve to repair, cleanse, process memories and re-reboot different parts of your brain and body. Sleeping irregular hours will result in you feeling lethargic and fuzzy-headed. Although teens often sleep and wake later than adults, it’s important that they keep regular schedules too. For the first few days, set an alarm and wake up at a consistent time, and aim to sleep within a 45 minute window every day.
5) Eat the right foods
Steer clear of foods that can be disruptive right before sleep. Heavy or rich foods, fatty or fried meals, spicy dishes, citrus fruits, and carbonated drinks can trigger indigestion. There are also some foods that actively encourage sleep onset, length and quality. Check out our Sleep Snack Hacks blog for foods which actively promote and support sleep.
6) Nap but don’t over-nap
It can be tempting if you are at home and bored to nap. But limit daytime naps to 30-45 minutes and avoid napping after 3pm so as not to affect your night’s sleep. Napping does not make up for inadequate nighttime sleep. However, a short nap of 20-30 minutes can help to improve mood, alertness and performance.
7) Introduce relaxing routines
Establishing a regular relaxing bedtime routine. A regular nightly routine helps the body recognize that it is bedtime. This could include taking a warm shower or bath, reading a book, or light stretches. When possible, try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before attempting to sleep. It can also help to write down what you plan to do tomorrow (did you know you solve problems when you sleep?). And also try putting a notebook by your bed so if you wake up with something on your mind you can write it down and ‘release’ it, allowing your mind to let go and fall back to sleep more easily.
You already know it and it has never been more important than now. Consuming media at bedtime can increase anxiety. Picking up devices when you wake up during the night will either stop you or dramatically impair your ability to fall back to sleep. Reading the news in the morning before you get out of bed often increases anxiety and sets the tone for the day ahead. Turn off your mobile, tablet or laptop. Charge them somewhere else (even looking at your phone across the room can stimulate the brain) and give yourself a break.
9) Optimise your sleep environment
Ensure your mattress, pillows, sleepwear and bedding are comfortable and optimised for sleep – using natural breathable materials to promote temperature and moisture control. Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping (around 16 to 18 degrees is optimum) and keep the room well ventilated. Block out all distracting noise and eliminate as much light as possible. Consider black out blinds, eye masks, earplugs and cover LED lights on alarms and other machines and gadgets. And stick one foot out of the covers. Studies have proven it works!
10) Preserve the sanctity of your sanctuary
This is a tough one at the moment, but try to reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Try not to use the bedroom as an office, workroom or recreation room. One practical solution could be to work in the kitchen, sitting room or someone else’s bedroom other than your own, to ensure that when you return to your own bedroom, you are leaving work and activity behind you and mentally preparing to sleep. If you have to use your bedroom as an office, covering up your workstation in the evening can help dissociate work and sleep.