Our natural sleep patterns are largely determined by the circadian rhythm. This is a term used to describe the internal biological clock that operates on a roughly 24 hour cycle.
Our circadian rhythm affects more than just the rest-wake cycle, but has vast impacts on our endocrine system and hormones.
Some simple changes that can help to re-regulate the circadian rhythms and improve your sleep
1. Avoid alcohol before going to bed.
A lot of people think alcohol helps people to sleep, but in actual fact, it has the opposite effect. Although alcohol helps people to fall asleep, their REM phase is repressed for the first half of the night. During the second half of the night, their deep-sleep phases are repressed, leaving them more likely to wake up with only a few hours of rest.
Furthermore, alcohol inhibits an important neurotransmitter, called GABA. GABA is responsible, in part, for reducing anxiety and helping us feel relaxed. This means the morning after a night on the booze, we often feel tired, frustrated, and anxious. The effect of alcohol on GABA can last long after the alcohol has left our system.
2. Try going to bed at the same time each night.
The circadian rhythm, our internal biological clock, runs on a roughly 24-hour cycle. This means that we have a natural tendency to start feeling tired, and fall asleep at roughly the same time. By having a set bedtime, the circadian rhythm can become re-regulated, allowing for improved cycling between REM and NREM phases during the night.
3. Don’t nap for more than 30 minutes at a time.
The first 30 minutes of our sleep cycle is largely dedicated to light rest, but following this, we start to go into deep sleep. Light naps can help us feel refreshed and reenergized, but longer naps can leave us feeling more exhausted. Furthermore, long naps interrupt our sleep-wake cycle, leaving us lying in bed at night, awake, and unable to fall asleep for hours.
4. Avoid too much caffeine during the day.
This is a big one. Each cup of coffee contains about 40mg of caffeine. It takes the body roughly six hours to break down half of that. For example, let’s assume you have a cup of coffee at 8am. By 2pm, you’d still have 20mg in your system, and by 8pm, you’d still have 10mg, which is unlikely to have any significant impact on sleep.
Now consider having a coffee at 2pm. By 8pm, you’d still have 20mg of caffeine (even more if you’d had a coffee at 8am as all), which could be enough to have poor impacts on rest.
Everybody has a different sensitivity to caffeine, but as a general rule, limit the amount of caffeine consumed during the day, and avoid caffeine after 2pm.
5. Avoid looking at screens for an hour before bed.
Numerous studies have demonstrated our phones have had a number of negative effects on our sleeping patterns and emotional wellbeing.
Our phones can impede on a good night’s rest in several ways. Firstly, they keep us psychologically active, even after switching the screen off. This can keep our mind ticking over as we lay in the dark waiting to fall asleep. The second way is due to the light itself.
Modern phones emit a lot of blue light from the screen, which actively suppresses the melatonin naturally produced by the brain when the sun goes down. When we look at the phone screen, the brain thinks it is still daylight outside, and suppresses the urge to fall asleep.
And finally, the constant alerts and notifications throughout the night disrupt the REM-NREM cycle, leaving us feeling irritable in the morning.
A few simple changes could see your overall mental wellbeing improve through the power of a good night’s rest.