Lindsay Twyford TechIOSH offers advice on improving our circadian rhythms through changes to light, stimulation and technology.
1. Set the scene
It is hard to sleep if you’re not comfortable. Making sure the room is a good temperature, the light is low, and noise levels are kept to a minimum. It can help to open the window or turn on a fan to keep air moving through the room and increase your comfort levels. Blackout blinds can ensure light levels are kept low and you’re not disturbed by an early summer sunrise!
Reading a book, meditation, or other calming activities can help our brains to relax and let go of stimulating thoughts, making it easier to slip into sleep.
3. Keep a routine
Our circadian rhythm is our 24-hour cycle and usually consists of around 8 hours sleep and 16 hours awake. There are many factors in our lives than can disturb these rhythms but keeping your sleep and wake times set can help to tell your body when to expect sleep.
4. Go tech-free
The blue light emitted from screens such as phones, tablets, and even the TV can suppress the production of melatonin which is vital for sleep. The stimulation from technological devices can play havoc with our circadian rhythms and make it harder to both fall asleep and stay asleep.
5. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
Processed foods, and those rich in sugar or caffeine can act as stimulants and stop our brain from switching off. Try to reduce your caffeine intake after lunch and make sure your evening meal is a healthy one.
6. Reduce substances
If you use tobacco in any form, quit. Nicotine makes it harder to fall asleep. Use alcohol cautiously. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, so a nightcap may help some people fall asleep. But this effect disappears after a few hours and may even lead to waking up throughout the night. Alcohol can also worsen snoring and other sleep breathing problems.
Exercise is important for maintaining healthy energy levels and making our bodies tired enough to rest. Too little exercise can convince your body and mind that you’re not actually tired. However, don’t exercise too close to bedtime as the positive chemicals released by the brain can act as a stimulant, making you more alert for a period of time.
8. Write it down
Sometimes we just can’t let go of a thought that hounds us, or that list of things we need to do the next day. Keeping a pad and pen next to the bed will let you write down the important things so you don’t have to worry about them and can relax into sleep.
9. See a professional
If it is pain keeping you awake at night, and no amount of relaxation can help then it might be time to see a professional who can help to fix the physical problem and restore your sleep.
10. If you really can’t sleep, stop trying
It sounds counter-intuitive but trying to force sleep when your brain and body aren’t ready for it can stimulate your senses and make it even harder to sleep. Go for a walk around the house, make yourself a hot drink, try relaxing in a different environment, and then try again to sleep. You might save yourself hours of restlessness.
Lindsay is SHE lead for Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL)