You’re probably aware that getting the recommended minimum of 8 hours sleep per night will help your body to rest, repair and make you feel refreshed for the day ahead. What you might not be aware though is the impact that an early night has on your body’s ability to facilitate this.
Have you ever heard the expression “getting to sleep an hour before midnight is worth 2 hours sleep after midnight?” Well, apparently this old wives tail holds a significant amount of truth.
See, our bodies had been running as “cavemen” for a few thousand years prior to our rapid evolution in lifestyle over the past few hundred, which hasn’t left much time for our bodies to catch-up in terms of evolution to modern day life; essential, we’re still cavemen living in a modern day world.
Now with that in mind, it’s no wonder that our bodies still run on the same body clock (circadian rhythm) that they have done for the majority of our time on this planet.
This means that your body releases the chemicals to stimulate and relax your brain accordingly and there are a few things you can do to ensure that you get the right quality as well as quantity of sleep.
1 – Aim to sleep for around 10.30pm
Yes I know, this seems impossible in modern day life and I love my late nights too, but our bodies are designed to wake/rest in correlation with the day/night pattern that averages at 10.30pm throughout the year.
From this point your brain expects to release certain repair and recovery chemicals for your body and mind at certain points. So, getting to sleep much later can significantly impair this. Your body physically repairs itself from 10pm, so any time after this when you are not asleep you will miss out on that repair process.
2 – Limit stimulation after 6pm
This means you should try to avoid caffeine and stimulants (ideally from 2pm onwards), exercise (with exceptions) or any mental stimulation (anything that will evoke a high stress response such as work or high octane television), and try to wind down as the evening progresses.
If this is unavoidable then you can try using herbal teas, such as camomile or peppermint, to aid the relaxation process. You can also try supplementing with magnesium: the mineral of anti stress.
3 – Turn the lights down in the evening
Remember how I said your mind/body operates very similar to cavemen? Well, your body responds to light as if it’s sunlight – which your brain interprets as wake up time – and produces cortisol to stimulate you.
Gradually, reducing your exposure to light before bedtime will help encourage your brain that it is nearing rest time. It is important to make your room like a bat cave: this means turning off all electromagnetic devices, such as phones, WiFi and TVs.
Believe it or not, the little red dot on your TV gives off enough light to prevent you from going into a deep sleep.
4 – Avoid eating too close to bedtime
Sometimes, digesting food is a demanding task for your body that will require some stimulation. So, try to have your last meal around 2-3 hours before bed.
This might not suite your lifestyle, but you could be an individual who will suffer from poorer sleep if you go to bed on an empty stomach, so try it both ways and see which one gives you the best sleep.
5 – Turn off all “electromagnetic pollution”
This includes WiFi, mobiles, televisions, and tablets/computers in the room you sleep in. Yes, you might want to look at that Caribbean holiday you’ve been planning or you’re texting your friend, but these are going to have a negative affect on your sleep.
You’d be surprised how much this can affect your quality of sleep, and remember the effect that light has on your brain’s response system: even your smartphone gives off enough light to keep your brain active.
6 – Exercise each day as early as possible
Studies have shown that exercise boosts your energy levels for a number of hours after workout, which we could all do with throughout the day. Yet, once your body realises it’s time to rest (when you start to wind-down) it has to compensate in order to recover and you will require a deeper, more fulfilling sleep in order to do so.
You can also try light forms of exercise like Tai-Chi as cortisol dampening exercise to lower your levels and aid your sleep.
7 – Avoid napping during the day
Daytime napping for prolonged periods can seriously affect your circadian rhythm. Yet, a fifteen minute power nap can help restore your energy levels, stimulating your brain and body, and providing you with a boost of energy for several hours.
Anything longer than fifteen minutes and your brain will produce too much melatonin (the chemical responsible for sleep) and you will likely feel groggy and be tempted to oversleep.
A good idea is to give yourself a 30-minute window (15 minutes to relax and 15 minutes of actual sleep) and see how you feel. If this isn’t an option, try and ride out the day while your body adjusts to your new body clock (which it eventually will) in order to avoid restlessly trying to sleep later at night.
8 – Get tired before going to bed
The longer it takes for you to sleep once you are in bed, the more difficult it can be.
What’s the key? Well, you should monitor what time you start to feel tired and aim to reduce it to an earlier time each night through the methods explained above.
Going to bed with your mind and body stimulated can often lead to restless attempts to force your body into sleep, rather than allowing it to happen when your body feels ready.
9 – Try supplementing with magnesium
Most people have chronically low magnesium levels, which affect’s your body’s ability to produce the hormonal response needed to shut off and rest.
Magnesium has been proven to have many benefits, not only on sleep but also on stress, digestion and bowel movement; but, always check with your GP before taking supplements.
10 – Take your time & don’t expect it to happen overnight
Expecting for your sleep pattern to change immediately is an ambitious goal and will likely result in a few nights of tossing and turning, clock watching, and staring at the back of your eyelids.
Ensuring that you get up early in the morning (ideally around 6.30-7am, or gradually earlier each day until that time), avoiding oversleeping or overnapping during the day, and aiming to get to bed earlier (the eventual goal being 10.30pm), will give your body time to realise that this is the wake/sleep cycle you intend to follow.
This process WILL take time, but be consist in your efforts and your body will have no choice but to adjust accordingly.
Hope this helps and remember that recovery is important, no matter what your fitness goals. Here’s to you feeling more refreshed and energised when you wake up in the morning.