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Top tips for getting to sleep

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Top tips for getting to sleep

Rachael Mackenzie World thai boxing champion

By Rachael Mackenzie

In my last post I shared with you my top reasons for making sleep a priority for me and my family. With work, after school clubs, sports and a never ending to do list it’s not always  easy, but a few simple tools can help…and you might not like them all, sorry!!

1)Get rid of the tech (and yes I mean ALL tech) from bedrooms

I remember as a teenager watching “Prisoner cell block H” late in to a Friday night on my  tiny, grainy bedroom TV. The beauty of TV in the 90s was that once Prisoner had finished there was literally nothing else on. Today we have a never ending stream of interest across  a whole range of media and children with tech in their bedrooms score lower in exams and report increased sleep disturbance (which might explain my French A level).

Only 15% of our teens achieve the required amount of sleep as a result of prioritising tech use, the stats for adults are not much better. 90% of people are exposed to technology for the hour
before bed.

For couples, not having a tech in the bedroom, perhaps inevitably, leads to more sex and improved satisfaction within the relationship.

Once technology creeps in to the bedroom and become the last thing you (or your child) does before sleep your brain creates a neural link between tech and sleep, making the transition to a tech free zone something that is going to require some tough love.  “Its’ only a video of cats” ……electronic insomnia is set to be one of the primary problems of  health and productivity.

Technology impacts not only on the amount of sleep we get but also the quality and biological processes occurring during sleep.  The blue light from technology inhibits the production of melatonin (the hormone triggering sleep), and even with a blue light filter our response to social media and engaging TV shows alters our production of dopamine and serotonin making us feel more awake and inhibiting the release of melatonin. Not only does tech impact on our ability to get to sleep, but even if we’ve created a neural pathway associating Instagram with sleep, the quality of our sleep is affected resulting in less time spent in the phase of sleep responsible for learning and immune response.

Ready for battle? If you’ve got kids who already have tech in the room it’s time to start weaning them off it. Buy an alarm clock so their phone is not their alarm, gradually increase the time between tech and sleep, work towards moving all of their electronic gadgets out of their room but most importantly lead by example. Is that video on Facebook really worth knocking up to 12 years off your lifespan?

2) Set a routine

Routine is king, it takes away decision making at the end of our day when our will power is all but used up and it helps keep our internal clock in order. Keeping this regular routine helps with managing our metabolism, cognitive processes and ease of falling asleep. Work
backwards from the time you need to get up, ideally aiming for
90 minute cycles of sleep. Full 90 minute cycles will help you to wake feeling refreshed. So if you need to be up for 6;30am, a bed time of 10 pm gives you a window either side of sleep for the drifting in or out of the cycle and the optimal 5 cycles of sleep.

3) Get your environment right

A dark room, as dark as possible, with a comfy bed, not too
warm and quiet.  A warm bath before bed helps to trigger a drop in core body temperature, a signal to our brain to start the sleep cycle.
Get clutter out of the bedrooms, studies suggest that environmental clutter delays sleep onset, possibly because the brain is stimulated or stressed by the space.

For children’s’ bedrooms, keeping toys away and tidy promotes a calm environment for sleep, without the lure of lego to stimulate wakefulness. Even small standby lights are shown to negatively impact on sleep quality so take a look around, what can you move out of the bedroom to make it a sanctuary?

4) Write out the worries

Going to bed with lots on your mind stimulates our brain to worry that we will forget things that are important. This triggers us to stay awake or become more restless during sleep. Simply by writing down our thoughts, maybe making a list or just scribbling down the words keeping us away, allows our brain to let go of that fixation. If you really want to up your happiness game, you could try not only writing down the things you need to remember but finishing the day with a gratitude practice. Today I am grateful for……

5) Get rid of the caffeine

Studies have shown that consuming caffeine six hours before bed delays sleep time by an hour.
We know that caffeine is a stimulant but its effect on the sleep cycle is more complex than that as it has an impact on a number of neurotransmitters. The key message is cut out the caffeine after lunch.

6) Exercise daily

Morning exercise in particular is shown to improve the quality and duration of sleep, but all exercise improves the amount of time spent in the deep restorative phase of sleep, the duration of sleep and the
ease at which you fall to sleep. It doesn’t matter what the exercise is, so long as it makes you a bit out of breath.  There are lots of other tips and tools out there if you or your family are struggling with
sleep, but it starts with these basics.

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