You only have to see how far our routine has deviated from ‘nature’ to see why our sleep is disturbed so much – yes, the 21st century habits that make up our bed time routine are sabotaging our sleep!
300 years ago, man (and woman) would go to sleep when the sun went down and would awake as it rose bright and early the next morning. The room in which they tucked themselves in would be cool and aired and have no major distractions. The result? They’d get to sleep quickly and awaken in the AM feeling refreshed.
Now, the UK is one of the most sleep deprived countries in the world. Many people complain of not enough, or getting poor quality, sleep, but it’s likely it’s caused by actions that we can easily amend. Some elements of sleep loss can be changed by changing habits, while others can be changed by altering the environment.
HOW YOUR BEDTIME ROUTINE IS SABOTAGING YOUR SLEEP
If you are having problems with your sleep, take time to reassess these everyday occurrences before you next rest your head.
Is technology ruling your life? The fear of not being ‘connected’ is one possessed by many but for some this fear can turn into an obsession. Before everyone had mobile phones, nobody batted an eyelid when you were unreachable for a few hours. However in this day and age it’s almost demanded that we are contactable 24 hours a day. And because of this, it’s safe to say 99% of people never switch off their phone. If somebody texts you at 3am and you are awoken by a ‘ping’, chances are you instantly feel compelled to reply.
Adding flame to the fire, light from our devices is ‘short-wavelength-enriched’ meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than normal, natural light. This blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and although some devices claim to have a night mode (which is supposed to emit less blue light), nothing beats not using it altogether. It’s time to turn it off or leave it in another room, way out of earshot at night.
Many sleep experts suggest that any screen of any size in the bedroom is a barrier to a good night’s sleep, so its not just phones that are the issue! Whether it’s catching up with the latest box set on Netflix on your tablet or watching late night rubbish on the TV that’s up on your bedroom wall, your brain and senses are all being over-stimulated past bedtime. Your brain needs time to slow down and relax before it can sleep – you wouldn’t expect your body to be instantly ready for sleep after a 10k run – and removing screens from the bedroom will help create a more restful sleeping environment.
TURN IT UP, OR DOWN
Poor temperature control contributes to poor sleep quality on a number of levels, for example you could be overheating because of excessive exercise too close to bedtime. Changing your mattress and pillow or adding a mattress topper could help, or you could invest in specialist heat responsive bedding (such as DermaTherapy Bedding) which wicks away moisture from the sleep surface and gives you the benefit of a cleaner, drier, sounder sleep.
LATE NIGHT SNACKING
If you eat too much or eat certain foods too close to when you’re tucking up in bed, your sleep may be affected. Spicy and acidic foods like citrus and tomatoes may be especially bothersome, while alcohol, chocolate, and even peppermint may also worsen heartburn and reflux. It’s pretty clear that caffeine should be avoided too, but it’s not just in tea and coffee – think fizzy drinks too. While some foods are risky before sleep, others can be comforting. A warm glass of milk before bed shouldn’t just be for young children – it can help you relax and mentally prepare for sleep as part of a regular bedtime routine too.
NO ROUTINE AT ALL
The body’s natural circadian rhythm has controlled our waking and sleeping cycles since the dawn of time but modern lifestyles means that not only are people not getting enough sleep but they’re getting the wrong type of sleep at the wrong time of the day too. Introducing a routine can help the body restore its rhythm. Try to go to sleep at the same time each day and keep your waking time constant through the week and weekend. A sneaky few hours extra in bed on a Saturday or Sunday will not help in the long term.