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20th November 2019 |
8 ways to get a better nights sleep


Written by Ben Mottershead


The other day we attended a lunchtime lecture by Neurologist and Senior clinical fellow, Sleep Disorders Centre, Guy’s Hospital, Danielle Wasserman M.D. During the lecture we learnt about the effect sleep has on our mental health and daily lives.

Danielle began by explaining, "Sleep is a very organised process which occurs in different stages throughout the night and is regulated by our circadian rhythm. Sleep occurs in recurring cycles of 90-120 minutes and is divided into two main types – Rapid eye movement sleep (REM) and non-rapid eye movement sleep (Non-REM)."

Due to it being mental health awareness month, and with sleep being so important to maintaining a healthy mind we wanted to put together some of the key points from Danielle's talk.


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Only sleep enough to feel well-rested the next day


While adults should try to maintain anywhere between 6-8 hours of sleep a night, a myth you often come across is that everyone needs the same amount of sleep. This isn't true. Some people may require much more, or much less depending on their biology. However, adults mustn't sleep less than 6 hours a night as this can cause negative side effects.

According to Danielle and... Science, too little sleep can cause daytime sleepiness and poor concentration, while at the same time too much sleep or too much time in bed prevents you from feeling refreshed. It also resets your biological clock which can cause delayed sleep onset and problems staying asleep the following night. If you've ever struggled to maintain sleep it and keep waking up it could because you're sleeping too much in the week.


Maintain a sleeping schedule


A sleeping schedule is a great way to build a consistent sleep, wake rhythm. A schedule isn't us saying to keep a diary of a key moment in the night. It's making sure you go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night, or at the very least as close to those times as you can.

This includes weekends. If you get up at 7-8am on weekdays, this behaviour should be mirrored at the weekend. While difficult to manage if you're a creative and like to burn the midnight oil, developing a sleeping pattern can help your brain associate times of the day it needs to rest.


Moderate caffeine intake 


Shockingly (not really), even if you don’t feel it, caffeine – whether from coffee, tea, fizzy drinks or chocolate after 2 p.m. disturbs your sleep.

Some of the key measurements we took away from the lecture were:

•1 cup brewed coffee = 100 to 150 mg of caffeine 

•1 cup instant coffee = 85 to 100 mg of caffeine

•1 cup tea* = 60 to 75 mg 

•12-oz drink cola* = 40 to 75 mg

•1 cup cocoa m= 50 mg 

It's worth noting that decaf options also contain caffeine and should be avoided. Instead, you can opt for herbal drinks, water and so on. Drinking caffein in access can also cause side effects such as restless leg movement, twitching and irritability.


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Avoid heavy meals three hours before going to bed but DON'T go to bed hungry


Eating so close to sleeping can cause indigestion or a surge in energy which keeps your brain active and awake. Even a light snack before bed, while helping to eliminate hunger pangs can cause restlessness or arousal from sleep.

As someone who spent many years relentlessly going to the gym, I've found several ways to deal with cravings. The most effective being to drink black coffee or green tea. Both of which help to reduce cravings. Due to how one of the above points is to cut down on caffeine you can instead opt for a herbal drink, which will also help to get rid of those annoying late-night temptations.


Moderate alcohol intake


Ever gone to bed after a night out and woke up feeling like death would be a preferred option? pounding headache, Saharan level dehydration, or just longing to stay in bed forever. 

While alcohol may cause drowsiness and aid sleep onset initially it causes sleep disruption and arousals later on. It also reduces dreaming during sleep and an ability to reach the level of depth within sleep which allows you to have a good nights rest.

It's also being a muscle relaxant. This is why people who snore often snore much more frequently, or loudly after drinking due to the throat muscles blocking the airways.


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Exercise in moderation


Exercise is best carried out around 6 hours before you go to bed and you should avoid heavily exercising twice a day. Undertaking multiple workout sessions a day can make it extremely difficult for your brain to get to the point where it's ready for sleep and causes your internal temperature to fluctuate massively.

Aerobic exercise of at least a 20 minutes duration causes an increase in your core body temperature, followed by a decrease five to six hours later. Sleep onset is most likely to occur as the body temperature decreases, so you better put cut out that 6th set of the day and put those weights down.


Avoid a clock in the bedroom


Clock watching kills sleep and checking the time regularly causes an emotional reaction which trains your 'biological clock' to regular unwanted arousals. The majority of us sleep better when we're not creating additional pressure. Pressures which can occur if you're always checking the time.

If needed turn your alarm to face away from you, so it's out of reach, or don't have a clock in your room at all. Resist the temptation.


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Your bedroom is your sleep fortress


One key task to try and undertake is to only associate your bedroom with sleep, getting dressed, or undressed and sex... but nothing else. You shouldn't be using your bedroom to relax, read, watch TV, work, or eat. While this is extremely difficult if you live in a shared house, or flat you need to be able to associate your bedroom with its primary purpose. Sleep. If you begin to connect it to multiple tasks it means your brain doesn't start to switch off when you enter it. If you do have to use your bedroom for work make sure you're back is facing your bed so you aren't looking at it when working.

While in your fortress you can also use earplugs, eye masks or other objects necessary to help you. Sleep is quietness and making your experience as quiet as possible is advantageous.

Make sure to regulate the room temperature. Fluctuate to high, or too low and it can easily disrupt your sleep.


Helpful resources


Headspace - A meditation App which can take you through guided breathing and mindfulness exercises assisting you in becoming calm and balanced.

SleepioA digital sleep improvement program featuring cognitive behavioural therapy techniques developed by sleep scientist Colin Espie and ex-insomnia sufferer Peter Hames. Currently, Sleepio is only available to NHS patients in Greater London, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire.


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