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by Ross Longmuir
Isn’t it fantastic to wake up feeling alert, strong, energetic and happy? Good quality sleep is essential and better sleep can result in much better health for everyone. After talking to clients and thinking about how to help them to get the best night’s sleep, I have spent many hours over many years reading articles about sleep, watching TV programs and researching conditions myself. The following information is the core of what I believe can help everyone to have the best night’s sleep possible.
There are many aspects that contribute to great sleep and everyone needs to consider multiple factors to get conditions right for their individual circumstances. We need to consider:
Work out how much sleep is best for you, the best time to go to sleep and when to wake up. The amount of sleep that an individual requires varies enormously from person to person and this also varies with age and is dependant on daily activities. A person’s body clock is a permanent lifetime characteristic and is a feature that doesn’t seem to change. Some of us are more morning people and some more evening people. This characteristic is linked to daily physiological cycles and can be measured in fluctuations in our core body temperature and other chemical changes in our bodies. Contemporary conveniences like electric lights and other stimulations can influence our wake/sleep timings. I have worked out that seven or eight hours in one stretch from 11pm or midnight until 7.00-7.30 is great for me. More than 9 hours and I can feel foggy all day and less than 6 can make my day hell, however if I wake up after say only 5 hours, I can still rest and not be fully awake and the next day can work out quite well. You probably have a fair idea what works best for you.
Regular patterns of sleep are most beneficial; so plan a time to go to sleep and a time to wake up that is set. Your body will respond to this pattern and it will become a more automatic thing. For example, many people report waking up just before the alarm time that they set every day. The idea of a “sleep bank” doesn’t usually work. So being short of sleep for a number of days in a row and then having an enormous sleep on one day is no where near as good for you as a regular amount of sleep every day at the same time. Obviously there can be many reasons why our patterns have to change to fit into changing schedules but trying to get closer to a steady routine can only benefit. Studies have suggested that in the historical past people would often wake up in the middle of the night for a while and this was normal. Don’t ask me how this was researched but sounds plausible…. if you go to sleep more closely with the daylight cycles and there is 12 hours of darkness or more in winter. So I guess that even a breast-feeding mother can improve her sleep if a routine is aimed at.
An important trigger for us going to sleep is the release of melatonin that is manufactured daily by our bodies. We use this up every time that you go to sleep and manufacture it a new every day. Sunlight on our eyes helps with the manufacture of this chemical. So particularly in winter consider not wearing sunglasses when you are outside for the short part of the day that you can experience sunlight. For the same reason, try not to sleep during the day if you are not that fatigued, or you want to reset your sleep cycle. Staying awake till your planned bedtime means that you will gain the full strength benefit of the chemical hit that knocks you out. Both sunlight and not napping can help with the resetting of your sleep cycle after changing time zones and the issue of jetlag. If you find that you absolutely have to nap, set an alarm for 20 minutes. Longer than this, your brain goes into a deeper sleep cycle that is difficult to come out of and not feel groggy, and as a result it may be significantly more difficult to stick to regular patterns at your normal bed time. Regular exercise will also help with melatonin production. It doesn’t have to mean a gym session or a triathlon, just a brisk walk to the shops may do the trick. If you are jet lagged, try to look at strong sunlight as soon as possible after waking at your regular time as this will help to get you back into your normal cycle faster.
Please let us know your opinion in the comments section below and obviously when in doubt always seek the advice of a medical professional for a serious condition.
Check back next week for Part 2 of 3!