An Inconsistent Sleep Schedule
Our circadian rhythm – an important process for regulating sleep – loves regularity, explains Dr Guy Meadows, co-founder and clinical lead of Sleep School. “Establishing a consistent routine helps our brain learn when it’s time to sleep,” he says. “Irregular sleep patterns – common during the Christmas holidays, for example – can disrupt the body’s natural internal clock. This disruption may lead to daytime sleepiness, mental sluggishness, nausea and low mood.” If you don’t have a set sleep and wake time, and recognise these symptoms, Guy recommends tuning into your body, noticing when you naturally feel sleepy in the evening. “You should maintain a consistent sleep schedule by setting a regular sleep and wake time, even on the weekends. Notice when you start to feel sleepy – if you prefer to sleep and wake earlier, do so. If you find it tricky to maintain a consistent pattern, focus on keeping your wake time steady, as this will facilitate better sleep the following night.”
Not Sticking To A Bedtime Routine
It’s not just babies that thrive on a bedtime routine, continues Guy. “Following the same sequence of activities each evening signals to your brain that it’s time to wind down – you’re essentially training your brain to associate certain activities with sleepiness and relaxation,” he adds. “Get into the habit of engaging in calming activities at least 30 minutes before bed – try reading a book, writing a gratitude journal or taking a warm bath. Aim for consistency over intensity – you’re far better off incorporating just one or two habits consistently that trying lots of new habits for short periods of time.”
Looking At Screens
If you’re looking at work emails before bed, scrolling through social media or watching a film on your phone in bed, chances are it’ll impact your ability to fall and stay asleep, says sleep expert Naheed Ali. “In a nutshell, looking at screens before bed stifles your innate capacity to wind down. The alert-inducing blue light emitted by screens clashes with natural melatonin production, essentially telling our brain to stay awake and alert, even as we consciously crave sleep.” Naheed recommends setting an electronics curfew for at least one hour before your bedtime. “During that digital-free transition phase, keep lighting dimmed low to further cue the nervous system that a lower stimulation period has begun.” For Cheryl Clarke, physiologist national lead at Nuffield Health, a dark, tech-free sleep environment is one of the most important things we can do for better sleep. “This is one of the most basic yet effective sleep tips. Your room should ideally be pitch black – even small amounts of light can negatively impact sleep,” she says.
Drinking Alcohol & Caffeine
“While alcohol can initially relax you and help you to fall asleep, it decreases the amount of time you spend in REM sleep, meaning you never reach the deep, restorative levels of sleep you need to wake up feeling refreshed,” explains Lisa Artis, deputy CEO of The Sleep Charity. “Alcohol fragments sleep patterns – you won’t enter deep sleep and you’ll likely wake in the night either needing the loo or a glass of water, as alcohol stops the brain from releasing a chemical called vasopressin, which regulates the amount of water in the body.” If you do fancy a glass of wine, the experts recommend drinking it earlier in the evening to give the body time to process it. When it comes to caffeine, the cut-off point is far earlier, adds Guy. “You should avoid caffeine at least six to eight hours before bedtime. In an ideal world, have one or two caffeinated beverages in the morning and swap to herbal or decaf alternatives from at least 2pm onwards.”
Falling Asleep On The Sofa
However tired you are after a long day, Lisa warns against falling asleep on the sofa if you want to sleep well when you get to bed. “It’s easy to fall asleep in front of the TV, especially as the nights are getting darker, but nodding off before bed diminishes the pressure to sleep, meaning you won’t feel sleepy when it comes to bedtime. Plus, sofa-surfing sleep isn’t quality sleep, so it won’t give you the refreshing qualities you need. If you do fall asleep with the TV on and someone switches it off, or there’s a loud noise, this may trigger a waking, and you may end up feeling groggy and disoriented. In an ideal world, sleep conditions should be consistent throughout the night.” What about napping on the weekend? “Napping can sometimes be beneficial as it recharges the body and improves alertness, but naps should be limited to 20 minutes and taken no later than 3pm,” Lisa adds.
Going To Bed When You’re Not Tired
For many of Lisa’s clients, an obsession with numbers is a big part of the problem. “People fixate on the fact they need to be in bed by, say, 10pm to get eight hours’ sleep if they get up at 6am. But if you aren’t tired, you’ll just end up tossing and turning, which will make you feel anxious about sleep and leave you with negative associations with your bed and bedroom,” she tells us. “Instead, take time to wind down – do some gentle yoga, listen to quiet music or have a bath – so when bedtime comes around, you feel ready to sleep. Plus, eight hours isn’t an exact science. We sleep in 90-minute cycles and need around five cycles to feel refreshed. Work out your ideal bedtime by counting back from when you need to wake up.”
Not Dealing With Stress
All three experts say unmanaged stress is a key sleep disruptor. “When discussing sleep with clients, the first thing to do is to go back to basics – optimise your room environment, remove electronics and establish a consistent bedtime. However, it’s not uncommon for people to struggle with sleep despite these efforts. In these situations, stress is typically at play. Stress, mental health and sleep are closely linked,” says Cheryl. For Naheed, your stress management techniques throughout the day are just as important as what you do in the evening. “Stress will hamper your body’s innate capacity to activate its relaxation and sleep response,” he says. “During daylight hours, the most powerful thing you can do to relieve stress is to spend time in nature. Then at night, soak in magnesium flakes or practise five minutes of breathwork.”
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.