Sleep is a complex & tricky topic, but when we can harness the power of it, it underpins everything else. Especially at the moment with everything that is going on, being well-rested and getting good quality sleep is really important for keeping your immune system strong and resilient.
There is a difference between ‘good’ & ‘bad’ sleep, much of which is dictated by the amount of deep sleep you experience each night, the phases of sleep which allow for quality recovery. Sleep works in cycles, where we fluctuate through the several stages of sleep across a night, spending different amounts of time in each stage. For an average 8 hour night sleep, a healthy adult should be aiming for 1-2 hours of deep sleep in order to feel refreshed when they wake up but also experience the benefits that come with deep sleep. Now there are a bunch of monitors and apps that claim to be able to tell you the amount of time you’ve slept in deep sleep each night, but on the whole, they’re fairly inaccurate. So instead it’s about priming your body with some behaviours and routines that give your body the best chance of getting good quality sleep. You’ll soon know if you’ve had a good or bad night sleep when you wake up! We’ll return to these routines a bit later on.
WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT DEEP SLEEP?!
When we fall into the deep, restorative phases of sleep our brains finally get the opportunity to slow down, recharge the batteries. A whole plethora of cool benefits happen. Our brains and bodies are flushed with positive recovery boosting hormones, like Human Growth Hormone, a naturally occurring chemical in the body that helps repair and strengthen our muscles after the stresses of the day (free steroids!). HGH is released in pulses, during our bouts of deep sleep. The more deep sleep we get the more gets released, and vice versa. It’s one of the superpowers of good quality sleep which is key to muscle recovery especially when you are training hard. Another great benefit of sleep is helping with the production of cytokines, an integral group of proteins which help fight diseases, viruses and infections on our behalf. Less sleep equals less cytokine production which equals a weaker immune system.
TIPS TO GET BETTER SLEEP
But some of us struggle to drop off or get into those deep realms of the sleep. So how do we ensure we get good quality sleep? We’ve worked closely with top sleep expert Dr Charlotte Elsworth−Edelsten and these are 3 of the things she strongly recommends for good sleep:
Light − Our bodies love routines and our internal set of body clocks, known as circadian rhythms, have a series of cues that help regulate them. For our sleep clocks light is a big factor. Both in the evening before bed, but also crucially in the morning when we wake up. Some of you may have heard of melatonin, our sleep hormone. We need it in strong enough doses to get to sleep, and low enough levels to keep us alert in the morning. In the morning we want to rapidly reduce levels of it, to make us feel alert & awake. Direct, natural sunlight contains lots of blue light, similar to what we get from screens, but much, much more intense. It is the best inhibitor of melatonin we can get, so 20-30 mins exposure to this, especially in the morning actually has been shown to help us sleep better at night. Conversely limiting blue light exposure, especially from screens in the evenings is a great way to gently coax melatonin out and induce a swift departure to sleep. Limit screen time around 2 hours before bed. Other general advice:
- Limit the number of lights on in the house throughout the evening. Think of your house like a cave, utilise side lamps, candles, a fireplace if you have one. Turn off any unnecessary lights. This alone can help signal to the body it’s time to get some shut eye.
- lux − A great programme we both use on our laptops. It gradually filters out the blue light later on in the day from your screen, so by late afternoon the screen has a gentle red/orange hue to it.
Again our bodies like routine and going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time has been proven to improve our sleep quality. Especially if you are going to be working from home in the coming weeks, sticking to a routine is so important for getting the best sleep you can. It may seem dull, but your body being able to predict when you’re going to tuck yourself away at night and roll out in the morning is useful information for it to know when to shut down and when it needs to power up. It likes those helpful little cues we can give it.
Another element to think about is actually the time spent in bed, sometimes if you’re having one of those nights where you can’t drift off, lying there, annoyed and pissed off you can’t sleep, worrying about when the world is going to end, before eventually drifting off hours later can be the worse thing for it. When we do this our brain starts to associate bed with wakefulness and it can then become a habit. This also explains why people can find it easy to drift off on the sofa in front of the telly, but as soon as they get into bed they struggle. If this sounds like you try to “Walk it out”, get up temporarily, move around a little, read and then return to bed to try again. This will help break the psycho-somatic cycle some people experience with things like insomnia.
Physiologically our bodies require a drop in core body temperature in order to get to sleep. This involves shunting blood away from our core to our extremities, a process known as vasodilation, in order to get to sleep. So there are a number of things you can do to try and trick your body into this drop if you struggle to get to sleep:
- Showers & baths − Aside from the relaxing nature of both of these they also create the physiological response we’re after. When we get out of a warm shower our body tends to be hot, so it works to cool us down. It does this by drawing blood away from your core, to the surface which then cools the blood, a prime example of vasodilation at work.
- Socks & gloves − Again for those that suffer from cold feet or hands, this can be an easy way to direct more blood away from the core, heat up your extremities which then, in turn, helps to increase vasodilation thus help with drop−in body temp.
Aside from our internal body temperature, the actual room temperature is important. Optimum temperature seems to be around around 17 degrees C for good sleep, so especially in the warmer months a window open or a fan on is a good option.
Give these 3 tips a go, you are able to control all of these elements and they’ll help you get the best sleep you can!