Can't sleep? A guide to getting a better night's rest
Written by M10 - Follow on Google+ | Facebook | Twitter
Some of you may gradually be getting back to some kind of normality in life, and at work. Whereas others continue to work exclusively from home, with daily commutes and office chats now a distant memory.
With this new home-based routine, have you noticed that you feel more lethargic and drained than normal? There are reasons for this!
Read on as we explain why your sleep may not be having the same impact it once was and what you can do to fix it.
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ENDLESS ELECTRIC LIGHT
Since the moment electricity gave us artificial light, we were both blessed and cursed with the power to control our own day and night-cycles. With humans being primarily visual creatures, any alterations in lighting can have a large impact on our brain signalling and more specifically a region of our brain known as the ‘suprachiasmatic nucleus’, that is responsible for controlling our circadian rhythm (or in simple terms – our sleep cycle).
The sleep science bit:
When darkness is identified, the suprachiasmatic nucleus shoots signals to the pineal gland to release large amounts of melatonin - the primary hormone telling our body and brain it’s time to sleep.
As you can imagine, now that light illuminates our lives - from iridescent lamps and street lights to the twice-as-strong LED powered TV and mobile phones we are attached to - our melatonin production is put on pause until our bodies detect a night-time darkness. A delayed release of melatonin isn’t the only problem however, as our ability to fall asleep is directly impacted by the accumulation of melatonin. This means that even when you turn off the devices keeping you awake, it may still take quite some time to gather enough melatonin to lead you into that evening slumber.
The mechanisms that control our desire for sleep are incredibly powerful, and they come in two halves. One is our internal 24 hour clock (our sleep cycle) largely controlled by regions in the brain that regulate our hormones and feelings of wakefulness. In healthy adults this rises and falls like a wave, rising in the morning, peaking in the early afternoon and then gently decreasing towards the evening (see graph below for an illustration of this). The other side of the coin is adenosine, a chemical that feeds your desire to sleep.
The sleep science bit:
Every minute you are awake, adenosine is accumulating a ‘sleep pressure’ within you, that feels like your innate need to get some shut-eye. The longer you remain awake, the more adenosine you will build up. This sleep pressure then resets each time you experience good quality sleep, dropping back down to a low level for the morning.
If you don’t commit to enough time to sleep or aim to improve the quality of it, then you give less opportunity for adenosine levels to drop through the night. This will lead to an ‘additional sleep pressure’ the following day, ultimately feeling more drained, as well as low productivity, poor concentration and waves of tiredness far earlier in the day.
INCREASED ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
Have you ever used alcohol as a ‘winding down’ tool, or as a night-cap to help you drift off to sleep? Well unfortunately you’ve been deceived. Alcohol is known to be a sedative - not to mean that it brings you into a state of deep sleep, more that it douses you out of consciousness by blocking specific receptors in the brain. The morning after, you will likely wake with grogginess that could be mistaken as a small hangover, yet neglect the obvious signs of a poor nights sleep. You would be unlikely to remember the numerous awakenings throughout the night due to the impact of alcohol in preventing deeper stages of sleep, and you could potentially forget even more.
The sleep science bit:
REM is the stage of sleep where we encounter dreams. It’s also the point at which we strengthen neural connections and further enhance learning and memory storage. Studies now show, that this stage of sleep is directly inhibited by the consumption of alcohol, therefore reducing your ability to recollect information from previous days - not good news for students that drink during exam season!
These factors all play a large role in the functioning of our sleep on an average day. Yet the effects of lockdown and trying to get back to 'normality' is still having an impact on each of them; pushing back bedtimes, watching TV and laptop screens all day and drinking each night like it’s the weekend.
If you want to regain your energy, feel happier and less stressed, improve your decision-making and your short-term memory then start with these areas of your life. Develop unbreakable habits, take control of your environment and make the conscious choice to sleep better.