Tips for Re-setting your Sleep

A good night’s sleep starts from the moment you wake up in the morning. From that time, your body is getting ready to sleep at night. Your ‘sleep-self’ spends its day preparing for its next night time appearance. Here, it is busy on two fronts.

[If you work night-shifts, please translate ‘day’ and ‘night’ into your own schedule.]

 

Your sleep-self is engaged all day in an important job. It is tracking your innate body clock, or ‘circadian rhythm’. This tells your body when to sleep. Another of its essential tasks is to respond to ’sleep pressure’: the cumulative build up of sleepy feelings over time, which eventually sends you to sleep. For better sleep, you need to be aware of both.

    • Circadian rhythm is governed by the rise of melatonin in your system: seee Wikipedia. 
    • Sleep Pressure is governed by the rise of adenosine in your system: online article here

At root, your body knows how to sleep, even if it seems to have forgotten. You may need to work on re-setting your inner body clock, or to actively encourage sleep pressure.  Luckily, there are many things you can do.

 

Re-setting your Circadian Rhythm: Tips

Your circadian rhythm is solar-powered. Ideally, with daytime light and temperatures, your body wants to feel wakeful; and at night, when it’s darker and cooler, your body wants to sleep. If your body clock is out of sync, your sleep-self is confused. It doesn’t know whether to wake or sleep, or when to produce enough melatonin, which sends you the signal, “sleep!”. Here are some tips to support and re-set your body clock.

 

In the morning:

  • Catch the morning light as early as you can in the day. Fling open your curtains! 
  • Take a ‘light bath’, basking in the morning light: dawn is especially potent;
  • ‘What time is it?’ Become skilled in telling the time like the ancients, by looking at the light. Try this several times a day – amaze your friends!
  • Pause frequently to notice your wakeful rhythms, and what ‘awake’ feelings are like through the day;
  • Consider a regular (-ish) wake-up time.

In the evening:

  • Catch evening light as soon as you notice it fading;
  • Take a ‘light bath’, basking in the twilight: sunset is especially potent;
  • Zone in to melatonin – notice how your system shifts towards sleep-mode;
  • Cool your core temperature and relax with a hot bath or shower (induces 10%-15% more deep sleep in healthy adults);
  • Avoid raising your core temperature with strong exercise a couple of hours before you sleep;
  • Wash and/or massage your feet, which which is grounding and soothing, and helps core heat move outward to the extremities;
  • Consider a regular (-ish) bedtime routine.

Your environment:

  • Use low, yellow lighting at night when it is dark. Bue LED light is especially harmful;
  • Read using devices that have white text on black background (settings on Kindle, iPad, smartphone). This is very relaxing for your eyes, and cuts out light sources that confused your body clock;
  • Aim for complete darkness when you going to sleep;
  • Stop using devices for an hour or so before bed – the longer the better. (You can even set a reminder on your device to stop using it!);
  • Reduce your body core temperature by 1°C (cooling communicates night time and helps prompt the release of melatonin);
  • Check your bedroom temperature, ideal is about 65°F/18.3°C (just cool enough for your toes to feel too cool, if you stuck them out from under your duvet). 

 

Tips for Sleep Pressure

Sleep pressure is another body gift, as it gives you sleepy feelings. Ideally, in the morning you have little or no sleep pressure (adenosine) in your system, as you have been sleeping or resting (I hope). Through the day, your sleepy feelings will build until they send you to sleep. Being mindful of sleep pressure, you are more likely to feel its effects at night.

In the day:

  • Notice feeling sleepy feelings, enjoying them as much as you can;
  • Practice ‘feeling sleepy’ meditations during the day;
  • Naps can remind you how to feel sleepy (although they also reduce sleep pressure, so experiment with how long you nap);
  • Notice how activities increase your sleep pressure, whether physical or mental activity, external stimuli, social interaction etc.

In the evening:

  • Grounding meditations are especially useful, and can encourage sleepiness, e.g experiment with:

 

Be warned!

Sleep pressure is like a sleep charm. With enough sleep charm in your system, your sleepy feelings whisk you off to bed, and lull you to sleep. But powerful counter charms can cancel out the magic of adenosine. You need to know what they are! Watch out for substances that block sleep pressure (adenosine) and interrupt sleep in other ways:

  • Caffeine stops you feeling sleep pressure, so watch out for caffeine intake;
  • Caffeine is found in coffee and tea; while ‘hidden’ sources of caffeine include chocolate and cocoa, energy drinks, weight-loss pills and pain relievers;
  • Caffeine stays in your body for about 8-10 hours, with a ‘half-life’ of 5-7 hours (i.e. 50% of it is still in your system); 
  • De-caffeinated coffee/tea still contains 15%-30% of a normal cup of caffeine;
  • Sugars and processed carbs can also block sleep pressure and interrupt sleep in other ways;
  • Alcohol also effects sleep: although alcohol can make us feel sleepy initially, and it disturbs our sleep cycles as it wears off;

 

Please take the long view, and make small changes over time. Nurture and nourish your innate sleep wisdom, and trust that your body really does know how to sleep.

 

 


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