Over recent months, it’s become pretty hard to pick up a paper or to scroll through the internet without coming across the topic of sleep, and when we consider today’s manic lifestyle coupled with the rise of fatigue related illness, it is hardly a surprise. Conservatively, I would say half of my patients have issues with their sleep routines, and pretty much all would see benefits from improving the quality and/or quantity of their sleep.
Poor sleep and too little sleep have been shown to not only suppress the immune system, but have also been linked to a multitude of health issues and diseases including, increased risk of infection, heart disease, depression, low testosterone levels and diabetes to name only a few. Before it gets to this stage, poor sleep is also responsible for reduced recovery from injury, poor energy levels, chronic pain and turbulent mood patterns. Not to mention how it can influence poor lifestyle and dietary choices as we try by any means possible to ‘charge’ ourselves for the trials of everyday life! I see this vicious circle so often: poor sleep -> increased sugar/caffeine -> poor mood -> decreased exercise -> poor sleep… you get the picture!
So where is the silver bullet?
As usually happens when issues, such as sleep, become popular they become topics for debating, dismissing, sensationalising and ultimately over-complicating! So, before you get tempted to purchase expensive supplements or add in multiple naps, invest in therapy or special lamps, why not try applying these 5 golden rules first and just see if you notice a difference in your sleep? They are all free (ish!) and your body will thank you for trying them!!
The 5 Golden Rules of Good Sleep
1. Is your bedroom quiet?
Now, I know this can be difficult at times and it’s a downfall of living in the big smoke but, do control the control-ables! If there is something you can change to make your environment a little quieter, do it immediately… If necessary, invest in some comfortable earplugs – they make such a difference.
2. Is your bedroom dark?
Not just shady but pitch black dark. If you have leaky blinds or curtains, cover the gaps or install blackout blinds. Street lights and light pollution are another downside to London life but do your best to make it as dark as possible. If this is difficult, purchase a comfortable eye mask.
3. Is your bedroom cool and airy?
Step 3 in making your room like a cave (!), but if you are waking up hot or clammy, cool your room and/or reduce the weight of your bedding. We all like to feel cosy in bed but your body will not appreciate being incubated above your body temperature. Make sure a window is slightly open so that there is fresh airflow, your body will appreciate the oxygen whilst it is trying heal… (Too noisy with the window open? Better get those earplugs!!)
4. Are you over-stimulated?
It is no surprise that studies have shown improved sleep quality when we are not bombarded with electrical and radio waves. DO NOT SLEEP WITH YOUR PHONE. IT IS NOT A TEDDY BEAR. Switch it off and move it as far away as possible. Ideally remove televisions and computers etc, but if not possible unplug them at the wall during the night (standby is not enough). Don’t use the alarm as an excuse to cuddle your smart phone – buy a non-electrical alarm clock and make sure it doesn’t tick too loudly!
In addition to freeing your room of these devices, free yourself as well for at least 45 minutes before you intend to sleep. White electrical light from phones, TVs etc inhibits your body’s ability to release certain hormones that will allow you to feel sleepy. Try and get in the habit of doing something that will wind you down and leave you in a calm state of mind. Avoid at all costs doing those last minute work emails, watching exciting films, or anything that will rev up your brain!
5. Have you eaten well?
It seems we are all open to the idea that our food and drink will influence how energised or lethargic we feel during the day. However, it never fails to amaze me how many of my wonderful patients do not see the link between their 6 cups of coffee and a poor night’s sleep!
To tick this box ensure you have eaten a wholefood diet, free of processed foods and with moderate natural sugars. If you are struggling to sleep well, reduce your caffeine intake to a maximum of 2 cups per day and ensure you have these before 12pm. If you still have issues, eliminate caffeine altogether I’m afraid! (Other key things to be aware of: chocolate (even ‘good’ dark chocolate), teas (green tea, breakfast tea etc), pre-training supplements during the afternoon/evening)
Tip: most of us can understand that if our blood sugar is high then it can affect our sleep but it is sometimes harder to appreciate that if it is low it can also agitate us and disturb our sleep. If you find yourself waking in the early hours, try a small snack just before bed to include a small amount of natural carbohydrate coupled with a small amount of fat or protein. I often recommend ½ an apple with a thumb of cheese or nuts for this. It tends to be just enough to stop your blood sugar dropping during the night – especially if you eat dinner early and go to bed late.
BONUS RULE: the old wives’ tale.
I grew up being told that an hour of sleep before midnight is worth 2 after midnight. As a cocky young’n, I would roll my eyes, seeing through the obvious strategy designed to get me to go to bed early…
It was only many years later that I found out it was true!
Test it for yourself…
Sleep well and thrive!
Get in touch if you would like any help improving your sleep.
Tom Fielding, Hub Director