Resetting Your Sleep Cycle
We all have an inner clock or scheduler that helps us fall asleep at night and wake in the morning. It’s called the circadian clock and is individual to each person, which is why you may be ready for another episode of your favourite box set at 10pm while your partner is fast asleep.
Certain elements of this clock are in our genes, while others depend on natural occurrences like light and the time of day. It’s possible to set your clock through routine, but it’s also possible to knock it out of whack when you travel through different time zones, have a young baby, work shifts or enjoy a few late nights for example.
If your clock and sleep cycle feel a little off-kilter there are a few things you can do to reset.
Here’s where you should start.
What you eat and drink
What you put into your body can have a big effect on your sleep.
Limit your caffeine
Sleep deprivation and too much caffeine go hand in hand. You have a poor night’s sleep, so you need coffee to get through the day, which then impacts your sleep again. It’s a cycle you want to avoid, but always a difficult one to step off.
Try and limit your caffeine intake to before lunch and never have any less than six hours before bed. That includes coffee, fizzy drinks and chocolate.
It’s a common misconception that alcohol before bed will help you sleep. It may make you feel tired and you may even fall asleep initially. However, once it’s metabolised in your system, you’ll wake and struggle to get back to sleep.
Fragmented sleep for one night will upset your sleep cycle. Continual fragmented sleep due to your alcohol intake will completely disrupt your sleep cycle.
Heavy white carbs like pasta, white bread or sugary baked goods are a real no-no, as they reduce serotonin levels (the happiness hormone that increases relaxation) and disturb your sleep. Better options in the evening include:
- Oatmeal – it encourages the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) and reduces your insulin levels which makes you feel tired
- Wholegrain toast – packed with essential magnesium and complex (rather than heavy) carbs
- Green leafy veg – this helps you feel tired and is packed with things like calcium which aid in the production of melatonin
- Fruit – cherries are packed with melatonin, while bananas are full of magnesium which helps the release of serotonin in the body, and kiwis help you drift off easier
- Nuts – almonds, walnuts and pistachios help your body produce melatonin and serotonin, as well as helping you stay asleep once you drop off
What you do on a daily basis
In order to reset and maintain your sleep cycle, you need to practice something called sleep hygiene. In just the same way as you look after the hygiene of your body, you need to encourage good sleep and promote a healthy cycle through the things you do during the day and before you attempt sleep.
During the day
You should do the same things every day and make them part of your regular routine. Whether getting up at the same time, a regular workout or a morning walk, your sleep cycle will be all the better for it.
This one is so important. It’s been shown that people who do 150 minutes of exercise a week sleep better at night. According to the Sleep Foundation, exercise can reduce insomnia by decreasing arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms. It triggers an increase in body temperature, with the subsequent drop in temperature post-exercise, thought to aid good sleep.
That does mean that a more intense workout too late in the day may have the opposite effect, meaning it’s best kept for the mornings, while yoga and stretching are more suited to the evening.
Enjoy a bright morning
Light in the morning tells your body when to wake up. When you first get up, make sure you expose yourself to as much light as possible, whether opening the curtains wide, going for a morning walk, or getting some exercise outside. By doing this, you’re ensuring your internal clock will be in sync with the external 24-hour clock.
Stick to the same schedule
If you wake at the same time each day and also go to bed/sleep at the same time you’ll quickly get into a routine that your body knows, meaning your sleep cycle will become attuned to this. Changing it up too much will do the opposite.
Unfortunately, that means you’ll need to cut out the late nights and lie-ins at the weekend.
A nap in the middle of the day can sometimes feel amazing, and it can actually have a great affect on your sleeping patterns. That’s once you’ve mastered your sleep cycle however, whereas now we’re concentrating on resetting it when you’ve fallen out of sync.
One of the most important ways to reset your cycle is to go to bed (at a decent time), when you’re tired. If you nap in the day you won’t be tired and will end up going to bed too late.
In the evening
Don’t ruin all the good things you’ve done in the day, by disrespecting your sleep hygiene at night. Don’t ignore the following.
Limit your screen time
Ditch the screens in the bedroom completely and limit your time looking at your phone or tablet in the evening. The blue light emitted by electronic devices is counterproductive to your circadian rhythm and will likely disrupt your sleep hormone production. You’ll quickly find that too much screen time will negatively influence the quality of your sleep.
Don’t eat too late
You might eat all the right things, but even so if you do it too late it will have a negative impact. Try and eat more than two hours before bed and only drink water in those final two hours.
Create an ultimate bedtime routine
First off, you’ll need the right mattress for you depending on the type of sleeper you are, as this will keep you comfortable and promote good sleep. Then you’ll need to encourage sleep by adopting the best bedtime routine.
Try something along these lines:
- Do 15 minutes of gentle yoga or meditation
- Drink a warm cup of milk (or something caffeine and sugar free)
- Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible
- Clear your mind of any stresses from the day – you’ll need an activity to help you do this, whether reading, writing or meditation
- Once you begin to feel tired turn off the lights and calmly try to fall asleep – if you can’t, go back to your meditation or sleep exercise
Remember, you need sleep. It boosts your immune system and keeps you well both mentally and physically. A regular and maintained sleep cycle is essential for this.