Sleeping Better

Sleep is vitally important for great health yet in modern times it is common us to sleep less and for our sleep to be of poorer quality. Sleep loss has been shown to cause a number of undesirable hormonal changes and is linked with an increased risk of obesity[1], not only that, those losing weight while sleep deprived can expect to lose less fat and more muscle than if they were well rested[2].

A study by the American Diabetes Association found that the risk of developing type 2 diabetes was significantly increased for those sleeping less than six hours per night but also for those sleeping more than eight hours too. Those who slept seven hours per night on average were found to have the lowest risk[3].

Proper sleep makes it easier to maintain a healthy weight. Lack of sleep reduces the amount of a hormone called leptin whilst increasing the levels of another hormone called ghrelin[1,4]. Leptin is a hormone that helps regulate your weight by making you feel full. Ghrelin is a hormone that makes you feel hungry. Sleeping less stacks the odds against you achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Sleep deprivation can also lead to a number of other health concerns such as irritability, anxiety and depression as well as decreased immunity, fertility and sex drive[5].

Proper sleep is vital for our physical and psychological health, here are the best tips I can share for getting a restful night’s sleep to help you wake up refreshed and ready to seize the day.

Set an Alarm

One of the best things consistent sleep is to set a morning alarm and stick to it religiously – even on weekends[6]. We can not always sleep when we go to bed, perhaps we haven’t had a tiring day or maybe we have other things on our minds; you can’t force yourself to sleep. What you can do is wake at the same time daily and let your body decide when it sleeps. By controlling this one factor, often things begin to fall in place.

Set the Scene

Your bedroom should be quiet, dark and cool to promote good sleep[6]. You might have to experiment a little to find your sweet spot with temperature but a silent, pitch-black sleeping environment is a clear signal to your brain that it’s nighttime and it’s time to sleep.

Reduce Blue Light

Have you ever noticed how the early morning has a blue hue to it? Or how the sunset casts an orange glow over everything? Blue light wakes us up and suppresses our sleep hormones which is fine in the morning but did you know that your laptop, desktop, tablet and smartphone all emit the same blue wavelengths of light?[7] If you can’t ‘switch off’ after work, you may want to turn off your electronics a few hours before bedtime or install a programme like flux which alters the light on your display to a more relaxing hue to promote sleep.

Limit Caffeine after Lunch

We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, it wakes us up in the morning and gives us the energy that we didn’t know we had. If we drink it too late at night it will have the same effects at a time when we need to be sleeping. Caffeine has a half-life of around five hours but this varies from as little as ninety minutes in some to over nine hours in others[6,8] so sensitive people may need to avoid caffeine except in the morning.  Nicotine and alcohol can also negatively affect sleep to a degree.

Get Some Light

To let your body know what night is, you might need to teach it what day is. Lots of us now spent the majority of our waking ours inside, in many cases deprived of sunlight. Although light from indoor lights and computer monitors can wake us up to a degree, it is nothing compared to the intensity of the sun. Getting outside in the sun will help you set your body clock so you can sleep better when the sun sets[6].

Get Some Exercise

Regular exercise can help you sleep better[6], as well as improving a vast number of other aspects of health. Exercise releases stress hormones which stimulate the body so it’s best to exercise earlier in the day

Start a Pre-Sleep Ritual

We all need some time to unwind and relax – set up a routine that allows you to become relaxed before sleep for an easier time falling asleep.

Get Things Off Your Mind

Sometimes it’s hard to sleep if you’ve got things on your mind, the best thing you can do is to get them off of your mind and onto paper. If it’s things that you need to do then you can write them down and stop worrying that you’ll forget them. If it’s a stressful situation that keeps playing over in your head, try writing it out like you would write in a diary – this exercise can help you rationalise the situation and find a more peaceful state of mind.

I personally use blogger, a free blogging platform attached to my google account, to make entries daily which serves as a diary and also a to do list. I find that when there’s a lot going on it can be hard to stay on top of it all which is a quick path to stress and overwhelm. Writing out thoughts and summarising tasks and situations is a good way to get things off of my mind, keep me from overthinking and free up my brain power for what I’m doing instead of what I could be worrying about.

 

ACTION POINT
Optimise your sleep environment and daily routine to get better sleep and better health.
  1. Beccuti, Guglielmo, and Silvana Pannain. “Sleep and obesity.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care 14.4 (2011): 402.
  2. Kollias, Helen. “Research Review: Sleep Prevents Muscle Loss”. Precision Nutrition. Precision Nutrition Inc. [online][accessed 26 January 2017] Available from: http://www.precisionnutrition.com/sleep-prevents-ffm-loss
  3. Yaggi, H. Klar, Andre B. Araujo, and John B. McKinlay. “Sleep duration as a risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.” Diabetes care 29.3 (2006): 657-661.
  4. Spiegel, Karine, et al. “Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin.” The Journal of clinical endocrinology & metabolism 89.11 (2004): 5762-5771.
  5. “Why lack of sleep is bad for your health”, NHS, UK Government 2017[online][accessed 26 January 2017] Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/Pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx
  6. “What is Sleep Hygiene?” National Sleep Foundation, National Sleep Foundation 2017 [online][accessed 26 January 2017] Available at: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/sleep-hygiene
  7. Harvard Health Letter. “Blue Light Has A Dark Side”, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard University 2010-2017 [online][accessed 26 January 2017] Available from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
  8. Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.