As the nights get longer with the onset of autumn, why not benefit from the chance to get better sleep?
The benefits of more sleep
We all know that sleep is essential. It is needed for mental focus and memory, managing stress, maintaining proper body weight, boosting the immune system, and a host of other wellness needs. But did you know that the seasons can affect how well we sleep?
During the colder months, it can feel like we’re spending much more time in bed, warmly tucked up from the outside world. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are getting good quality sleep.
As the days shorten and the nights become longer, our relationship with melatonin, a hormone produced naturally by our bodies that promotes sleep, changes.
We sleep better during the time that melatonin is secreted. And generally, it gets secreted about an hour and a half to two hours before we sleep.
However, as we approach winter, morning light may not be as bright. In other words, that lack of sunlight may suppress daytime melatonin production more than in the summer.
On top of that, the sun sets earlier than in the summer. Therefore, melatonin levels start rising prematurely in the afternoon or evening.
Because of these factors, we don’t get the nice big highs and lows of melatonin secretion. This means we may feel more sluggish and more fatigued during the day, and we also don’t get that extra push at night to help us really power down for bed.
Preparing for better sleep
So, how can you start preparing for the change in your sleep routine as we roll through autumn and into winter? Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a Physiologist, Sleep expert with over 25 years of experience, and author of ‘Tired but Wired,’ relates her non-negotiable routine for better sleep.
Speaking to Wellbeing News, Dr Ramlakham said,
“Sleep is fundamental for our physical and mental health, enhancing all aspects of the mind, body, and soul. When we achieve consistent, good quality sleep, we have the physical and mental ability to deal with the burden of uncertain times. The most common sleep problems are falling asleep or waking between 2 am and 4 am and then struggling to drift back to sleep.”
“Your body needs sleep, just as it needs oxygen and nutrients to function at its best. During sleep, your body heals itself and restores its chemical balance. Your brain forges new thought connections and helps memory retention. Without enough sleep, your brain and body systems won’t function normally. As a result, we experience poor concentration, memory, and decision-making, and increased stress and anxiety.”
Sleep disorders are a very common issue within the UK, with over 13.5 million people suffering. Common causes include unregulated stress and worry, too much caffeine, an irregular sleep schedule, and poor sleeping habits.
Maintaining a routine can result in more consistent and deeper sleep and promote tiredness through an active lifestyle. Dr Ramlakhan comments,
“Creating a sleep-care routine that aligns with your lifestyle and makes you feel relaxed gives you the best chance of achieving a deep and restorative night’s sleep and waking up feeling re-energized. This differs from person to person, but the concept remains the same; develop reliable practices that help you unwind from daily stressors and prioritise sleep.”
Five top tips for better sleep
To help establish a sleep-care routine, Dr. Ramlakhan shares her top 5 tips for better sleep:
1. Routine is key – it’s easy to hit the snooze button and sneak in a few more minutes of sleep, but waking up and going to bed at the same time each day helps to give our internal body clock the consistency it needs to maintain its sleep-wake cycles. Set an alarm for the same time each morning and make waking up at the same time just as important as going to bed at a consistent hour.
2. Shift your mindset – writing down daily gratitude before you go to bed shifts your focus to positive things which have happened in your day. Studies have shown that optimistic people have a 70% lower chance of suffering from sleep disorders and can even live healthier and longer lives than pessimists.
3. Try a herbal remedy – valerian root has been commonly used for centuries for its sleep-inducing properties. It promotes calmness and reduces stress, a common trigger for sleep disturbances. Herbal remedies offer a safe over-the-counter solution to support a restful night’s sleep with less chance of waking in the night.
4. Give your bedroom a digital detox – when we’re tired and ready for bed, the body starts producing more melatonin levels, signaling it’s ready to sleep. But when we get into bed and start scrolling or watching something on a screen, it can prevent us from falling asleep by inhibiting the production of the sleep hormone and increasing levels of dopamine, which is associated with wakefulness. Make sure you dim the brightness, or better still, make your bedroom a screen-free zone.
5. Try a relaxation technique – waking in the early hours of the morning is more common than you think, but there are tricks we can do to stop the body from waking into full consciousness.
When this happens, avoid checking the time on your phone or any electronic device and try this simple relaxation technique: close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing, take deep breaths in and slow breaths out, and lull yourself back to sleep.
Do you have issues with sleep? Will you be trying the top tips listed above? Let us know in the comments.