Sleep: Has your regular sleeping pattern been thrown off track?
You may be sleeping more than normal. Maybe you’re sleeping less. Sleep deprivation can greatly affect your performance, alertness, memory, and immunity. There are so many factors that can impact a good nights sleep, and identifying triggers and coping mechanisms can make the world of difference to your health and performance.
Understandably with the stop and start of changed rules, restrictions and working environments, your routine hasn’t really been allowed to get itself in motion, and this has knock-on effects for your sleep too. Here’s some reasons you could be struggling to sleep:
Your body clock is off
Your inner “clock” is responsible for controlling both your body’s temperature and hormone regulation, which are two essential factors that help you remain alert throughout the day, and tired again at night. To align this circadian rhythm (your sleep/wake cycle), your system mostly relies on eating at regular mealtimes and being exposed to natural light. This regularity and exposure has no doubt been effected with lockdowns, particularly going outside, as well as darker evenings.
Increased stress levels
If you are going to bed feeling worried or anxious, you will often find that you will wake up numerous times throughout the night, or struggle to fall asleep in the first place. As a result of this though, your stress levels increase, which increases your stress hormone production, stopping you from relaxing and easing into a restful sleep.
One of the common causes of disrupted sleep is lifestyle choices, including any of the following habits:
Alcohol - drinking alcohol close to the time you want to go to bed can interrupt your sleep later in the night, and can also cause more trips to the bathroom.
Eating - Eating too much, too little, or the wrong foods, within a few hours of bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Lying down with a full stomach can also promote heartburn which you may want to avoid.
Napping - Long naps in the afternoon or later in the day can make it harder to stay asleep at night.
Caffeine - Caffeine (in coffee, tea, and sugary drinks) blocks a brain chemical called adenosine that helps you sleep.
Here are some ways to help improve your sleep quality:
- Create a new routine
Whatever situation you’ve found yourself in recently, routine is important for your body. Establishing a routine will be the key to getting your natural circadian rhythm back on track. You’ll then want to look at your sleep-wake cycle; When you feel tired, go to bed, and try waking up in the morning at the same time, without laying in bed for a few minutes first.
- Keep your devices out of the bedroom (when possible)
Your bedroom is a place for sleeping, so avoid watching TV or working on your laptop here. It’s generally good practice to remove all electronic devices from this area, as electrical devices emit artificial light that negatively influences your sleep cycle because it tricks your body’s circadian clock into believing that daylight has been extended, ultimately affecting your sleep quality.
Doing any kind of exercise and resistance training positively affects sleep, however, the timing of your exercise is very important. Avoid doing any kind of intense exercise prior to going to bed, as exercise alerts your happy hormones and acts as a stimulant, which could in turn make it more difficult to fall asleep.
- Look at your bedtime routine
These days, looking at screens is a habit, especially right before bed, and especially while staying at home. Even though some may find scrolling to be a way to wind down, stopping this screen time at least an hour before bed will help set off your natural sleep hormones. So instead of using your phone, find a different way to relax, such as meditating, reading or journaling.
- Create a restful environment
Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet spaces. While winter nights are darker anyway, exposure to any kind of indoor light might make it more challenging to fall asleep. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, turning the heating down or using other devices that create an environment that suits your needs for sleep.
- Manage worries
As we know, stress negatively impacts many areas of health, one being your sleep. Try to resolve your worries or concerns before bedtime, or write down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow. Stress management can massively aid a proper sleep, so start with the basics, such as getting organised, eating well and doing relaxation exercises such as meditation or yoga.
How long it will likely take to reset your clock depends on what’s causing you to be off, but following a new sleeping routine generally will become natural to your cycle by the second week. If there is an underlying health reason for your disrupted sleep, there may be other methods to use that will improve your symptoms.