Life can be unpredictable. From our careers to our social lives, there are many things suspectable to change. However, one thing we can, and should, keep constant is our sleep schedule. Sticking to a regular bedtime routine, and ensuring we get enough sleep, can improve both our energy levels and our mental health.
With long work hours and early mornings, the average UK adult gets around 5.78 to 6.83 hours of sleep a night, yet it’s recommended that we get 7 to 9 hours. While many people seem happy with fewer hours of sleep, research suggests that only 3% of the world’s population are able to function on just 6 hours. Without a good schedule that allows for an adequate amount of sleep, you’re likely to suffer from the side effects of sleep deprivation, including:
- A weakened immune system.
- Difficulty coping with stress.
- Lack of motivation and concentration.
- An increased risk of depression.
- An increased risk of health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes and diabetes.
To create a sleep schedule you can stick to, you need to start with a good base. Make your sleep environment as relaxing as possible with pressure-relieving latex pillows, a latex mattress suited to your way of sleeping, good air quality, and a lack of clutter. Then, it’s a matter of getting your body used to a new schedule.
Train your brain with gradual adjustments
It’s nearly impossible to revise your bedtime routine overnight. If you tend to go to bed late your body will be used to sleeping that time, so small, consistent changes are necessary. Over the course of a few weeks, gradually make your bedtime 10-15 minutes earlier every couple of days, slowly making your body used to this new sleep schedule.
Making a new sleep schedule is only beneficial if you stick to it. It’s important to give your body the chance to adjust to any new internal timings and being consistent is part of this. While this may be easy during the working week, sticking to your new schedule over the weekend is equally important. Avoid sleeping in or taking any naps, as this can negatively affect your body’s internal clock and make it harder to wake up on Monday morning.
Don’t press snooze
It’s tempting to catch a few extra minutes of sleep each morning, but this can actually cause havoc for your body clock. When you hear your alarm, your brain begins to prepare your body to wake up. By pressing snooze, you’re signalling to your brain that this wake-up time was wrong, and you should actually be asleep. Your brain then begins to prepare for sleep, and when your alarm goes off a second time, your brain is confused to what state your body should be in (awake or asleep), resulting in a foggy-headed feeling called sleep inertia.
This lack of clarity in terms of sleep schedule can lead to you to feeling tired during the day but not at bedtime. To prevent this, set your alarm at the time you need to get up and try to avoid staying in bed.
Exercise during the day
Anxiety, stress and depression can impact both our ability to fall asleep and it’s overall quality. Medical help, from prescription medication and therapy, can be necessary when dealing with depression and anxiety, but exercise can be a helpful addition to your day-to-day life.
Exercise has been proven to boost your mood and help break the cycle of negative thoughts that can lead to anxiety. The NHS recommends adults doing ‘150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every week’, although they state that even a brisk 10-minute walk can be effective in helping you relax. Time your exercise carefully and avoid strenuous activity right before bed, as an elevated heart rate can make it harder for you to fall asleep.
Avoid technology in the evenings
We all know that blue light from phones and televisions affects our sleep, impacting the amount of melatonin our body produces. This results in us feeling alert when we’re trying to drift off, making it harder to stick to a set sleep schedule. It’s recommended that you stop looking at screens an hour before you go to bed. If your phone acts as your alarm, make sure to set it beforehand, and consider putting it on ‘do not disturb’ so you’re not interrupted by texts or calls.
Make your bedtime routine a relaxing one
While it’s important to avoid screens before bed, there are other factors that can make our brains more alert. Stressful conversations, heavy exercise, and work before bed can stop us from fully relaxing, making it harder to fall asleep. Taking a bath, meditating, and listening to relaxing music, are all simple ways to unwind before bed, putting you in the mood for sleep.
Eat and drink carefully
Alcohol, as well as food and drinks high in caffeine and sugar, can affect your sleep, giving you a temporary energy boost just as you want to relax. Instead, stick to water or caffeine-free teas during the lead up to bedtime, and avoid drinking anything half an hour before you go to bed to avoid waking up in the night.
If you feel a lack of sleep is affecting your mood, energy levels and overall health, creating and sticking to a sleep schedule could make a huge difference. While everyone’s internal body clock is different, they can be trained to fit your life, helping you get a longer, better quality night’s sleep.