Use Science to Become a Sleep Master
Published on March, 16th 2017
By Greg Wells
The other day, a friend of mine who used to work crazy hours told me about his desire to become a true Sleep Master. He had at long last accepted the science of sleep, which I talked about a few months ago in this blog. Exhausted all the time, his health and relationships were suffering and he was making a change.
He now knows that sleep reduces the risk factors associated with heart attacks, strokes and cancer, strengthens the immune system, boosts problem-solving and creativity, reduces stress, builds muscle, regulates appetite, and helps us to manage mental and emotional health challenges.
My friend’s understanding of the facts is awesome. And his sleep-wake balance is a lot better. But we then talked about another challenge he faces every night: not getting into bed at the right time to clock 7 to 8 hours of sleep, but falling asleep and staying asleep throughout the night.
Sleeping soundly gets harder as we age. You may have noticed that you take longer to drift off or wake up more frequently than when you were younger. With age comes wisdom: we have learned from our mistakes. But with age also comes disrupted sleep, which is the last thing we need to stay healthy, succeed at work and be the best for our families.
So what can you do? Below are three science-based methods to become a true Sleep Master and improve your performance at work, at home and with your loved ones.
Set up a routine that starts an hour before bed that allows you to decompress and relax. Many of my clients who have trouble staying asleep are the ones who work or manage the household right up until they collapse into bed. You can avoid this by finding a calming activity you love and doing it before bed.
Ideally, stay away from screens like your TV, computer or smart phone. Melatonin (a hormone that helps regulate sleep) is produced by your pineal gland, which is located deep inside your brain and is very sensitive to light. The brightness of screens stimulates your brain and prevents the pineal gland from releasing the melatonin you need to be drowsy. Read a novel, take a bath, listen to relaxing music. Choose low-stress, non-pulsing light activities. You will enjoy that hour immensely and benefit from a regular daily rhythm.
Staying asleep requires a dark room. Really dark. As in, no hall light outside your door, no light in the ensuite bathroom, and no alarm clock beaming from the table beside you. As indicated above, light in our environment signals the brain to wake up. As the sun rises, our melatonin levels drop and we pop out of sleep.
If your sleep cave is not dark enough, your brain is signalled to wake up. If you get up to use the bathroom in the night, turning on any lights will disrupt your rest. Other small changes in your bedroom can make a big difference: get blackout blinds, switch off lights around you, and cover your alarm clock. If you would like to use a nightlight, find one that emits red light in the night and blue light in the morning. Red light stimulates melatonin production (think sunset) and blue light turns it off and wakes you up (natural daylight contains blue light).
In the evening, increased melatonin levels in the body cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, releasing body heat into the environment. This cooling promotes drowsiness and helps us fall asleep. Basically, a cool environment tells your brain and body it’s time to knock off. So keep your bedroom cool — at about 19 degrees Celsius or 66 degrees Fahrenheit. Being cool should help you stay asleep during the night.
Embracing the science of sleep is one thing. That’s when you accept that sleep is needed to maintain mental, emotional and physical health. Embracing the science of the sleep environment is another. But with the knowledge of both, you’re well on your way to becoming a Sleep Master and living a high-performance life.
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