Five tips for improving sleep quality
As the nights get darker and autumn approaches, the need to sleep and hibernate seems more delicious than ever. But thinking back, when was the last time you had a good night’s sleep and awoke feeling fresh as a daisy ready to start the day? If you can’t remember, then you are not alone as its now estimated that 1 in 3 people suffer from poor sleep in the UK.
But that’s ok, you can make up for all those lost hours of sleep at the weekends, right? Wrong. Research is now recognising that getting a regular good night's kip is just as important as having a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Catching those Zzzzz’s has never been so important.
What’s more, there is increasing evidence suggesting continuous poor sleep can have serious health consequences. Diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, mental health problems, compromised immune function, hormonal disruption and even Alzheimer’s have all been associated poor sleep quality.
How much sleep do we need?
As a general rule of thumb a regular 7- 9 hours of sleep is considered to be most beneficial to our health. Some can sleep for less and there are now thought to be specific genes, known as the ‘Thatcher gene’, which affect how much sleep we need. It's named after Margaret Thatcher’s ability to run on 4 hours sleep when she was in office. However, for the most of us, 7-9 hours is optimal and if you wake up feeling tired and desperate for midday nap, chances are you need more sleep.
Melatonin is a key hormone involved in sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland and helps us drift off to sleep. At bedtime melatonin is at its highest, and cortisol, our waking up hormone at its lowest. These two hormones work in opposition. When either of them is not working properly or is triggered at the wrong time, we can struggle to get to sleep or wake up at odd times.
Here are some ways to help you on your way to the land of nod.
Create a bedtime routine
This could be as simple as putting on your favourite pyjamas and snuggling under the duvet with your favourite book. Improving sleep by going to bed that bit earlier and creating a restful routine is a sure fire way to get you in the mood for dream time as it activates apart of our brain called the parasympathetic nervous system. This system helps us to relax and feel happy and calm. It also encourages muscle repair, helps clear toxins from the body, replenishes brain chemicals and generally makes us feel happier.
Keep your bedroom at a low temperature
Ideally a room which is 18 degrees or lower helps us get to sleep. People tend to sleep in a warm bed within a cool room. Cotton or linen bedding will also help you keep cool.
Reduce your caffiene
Whilst caffeine may be a saviour to help you wake up in the mornings, it can wreak havoc on sleep quality. The liver clears caffeine from your body. While it is now understood that some are fast caffeine metabolisers and some slow, the harder you liver has to work the less efficient caffeine is detoxified from your body. Caffeine also raises cortisol which may throw off your sleep cycle entirely. Researchers have found that a caffeine may affect sleep quality up to 6 hours before going to bed. So sticking to herbal teas in the evening may be a good idea for improving sleep.
Ditch the blue light
Blue light is a specific short short-wave length light which is emitted from phones, TV, tablets or other electronic screens. It is a light which interferes with melatonin production and increases cortisol production. This, as we have learnt, can then affect sleep quality and improving sleep time. Reducing blue light exposure an hour before bedtime may help to encourage melatonin. It also helps the parasympathetic nervous system, vital to getting that elusive good night’s sleep.
Night night, everyone.