When it comes to getting little ones to bed parents know the drill. A good wind down routine and set time for lights out = a great night’s sleep, well in theory. But when it comes to our own sleeping regimes it’s an entirely different story.
Sure we might promise we’ll be in bed by 9 every night, but social media scrolling, a Netflix addiction and an impromptu invite to the pub often puts a spanner in the early night works. Before you know it it’s 2am, you’re manically counting sheep and cursing yourself for not going to bed sooner. Sound familiar?
But did you realise that grown-ups would benefit just as much from a set bed and wake-up time every day just as much as our smalls?
“Maintaining roughly the same bedtime and waking up time each day is beneficial to adult health as it gives us the best chance of achieving quality, rejuvenating sleep,” explains Simon Williams from The Sleep Council.
He explains that it’s all to do with our natural circadian rhythm (body clock) which is a 24 hour cycle that regulates all our biological and physiological processes. Our sleep is largely controlled by this.
“A sleep cycle consist of four stages,” he explains. “Stages one and two are light stages of sleep from which we can be easily roused. Stage 3 is a deeper stage from which we’re more difficult to rouse and we may feel disoriented or groggy if woken from this stage of sleep. Stage four is known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM), which is similar to wakefulness or drowsiness. It is in this stage that we dream.”
According to Simon, each full sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and it is recommended that we get five or six cycles to get a good night’s sleep as getting fewer than this will result in sleep deprivation.
“The benefits of sleep on the human body include improved physical health, improved emotional wellbeing and better cognitive function. It can also have a positive effect on relationships,” explains Dr. Josna Adusumilli, Neurologist and Sleep Disorders Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. “However, if you suffer from sleep deprivation you may start to experience poorer moods, lower energy, increased irritability and poorer productivity at work.”
And aside from feeling grouchier than Craig Revel Horwood, a lack of zzzz can have some potentially serious impacts on your health too.
“If the condition remains, it can suppress the immune system and lead to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. It can also lead to an increase in motor vehicle and workplace accidents. And recent studies have also shown an association between sleep deprivation and obesity – although the exact casual mechanism isn’t clear,” Dr Adusumilli continues.
Not having a regular sleep pattern can have a negative impact on your mental wellbeing too. “The Mental Health Foundation states that there have been numerous links between poor sleeping habits and mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, as sleep is the essential downtime our minds need to handle and process the events of the day. Practicing sleep hygiene will leave you feeling happier and make you more productive on a day-to-day basis,” explains David Brudö, CEO and Co-Founder at the mental health and personal development appRemente.
So why does going to bed at the same time every day help us sleep that much better? Sleep experts believe that by sticking to the same snooze rituals you create a habit that the body then wants to stick to, so it tells you that its tired at the chosen time.
Many studies have shown that this kind of repetition is self-reinforcing, indicating that going to bed and waking at the same time can help people fall asleep faster and wake up feeling more refreshed.
And on the flipside? “Lack of routine causes sluggishness and fatigue and can also lead to weight gain,” explains Sarah Jones the UK’s leading lifestyle and holistic expert.
“Additionally, people who oversleep are more likely to follow poor dietary patterns, exercise less and even suffer mental health problems. If we adopt the ‘routine’ approach it does mean end of weekend lie ins! But we will be less reliant on catching up on our energy all day,” she continues.
With that in mind, here are three simple sleep hacks to help you stick to that new bed time routine. You’re welcome.
Set a nighttime alarm
If you want to go to bed at 10.30pm, set your alarm for 10pm and it’ll remind you to get ready for bed so you’ll meet your nocturnal deadline. Plus if you’re consistent about your bedtime, a morning alarm will become unnecessary, says Sarah Jones. “Getting into regular habits does neurologically programme the mind, making it easier to pre-empt our alarm call,” she explains.
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Introduce a wind down routine
Just as the whole bath, book, bed type of routine helps little ones drift off, sticking to regular bedtime rituals could benefit grown ups too. “We should aim to stick to a good routine at least most of the time, and the phase before midnight is important,” explains Silentnight’s sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.
“Even if we aren’t sleeping, it’s important for preparing the body and mind to rest and relax in preparation for deep restorative sleep. You are more likely to access efficient deep sleep if you allow your body and mind to relax than if you rush to bed feeling anxious - so even delay going to bed if necessary.”
Dr Ramlakhan claims getting into a regular wind down routine will make a huge difference to the quality of your sleep. She suggests reading a book, listening to relaxing music, having a bath with relaxing essential oils such as lavender to help promote sleepiness. “Keep your wind down routine calm and relaxing - choose fiction over work-related reading materials or self-help books.
Enforce pre-bed digital detox
Step away from the smart phone people. “Our circadian timer runs on a rhythm which functions optimally when it works to a regular routine. This rhythm is influenced by the light/ dark levels, which then influence the amount of melatonin we produce,” explains Sarah Jones. “Too many people in today’s busy world try to work against this rhythm, spending too much time in front of screens. The blue light from the devices and the dopamine-induced alertness both disrupt the clock mechanism.”
“If you can, try and switch off from work as soon as you leave the office and avoid checking your emails or social media accounts 90 minutes before going to bed - put you phone, laptop and tablets away!” advises Dr Nerina Ramlakhan.