Sleeping Better

Sleeping Better

Why do we sleep?
Sleep is a vital bodily function which allows the body and brain to recharge. Sleeping is important for memory retention and to maintain good cognitive function. When we fail to get enough sleep, it can have a detrimental effect on our bodies.

Lack of sleep can:


How does my body know when it’s time to fall asleep?
Your body has an “internal clock” known as your Circadian Rhythm. One of the processes controlled by this “clock” is your sleep-wake cycle. This cycle is closely tied to light. In the day, the light stimulates signals that keep us alert and active and at night the reduced light exposure promotes the production of Melatonin, a hormone which helps us get to sleep and keep us asleep.
Not everyone has the same sleep-wake cycle , 30% of the adult population are known as “owls”, in that they will feel more tired later at night and tend to wake up later in the morning when given the choice, this is even more common in your teenage years. Other people will find the opposite and are known as “larks”. They feel more tired earlier at night and prefer to get up earlier in the morning, which is more common as we get older. This is thought to be caused by genes we inherit.


How much sleep do we need?
The amount of sleep we need changes depending on our age, this typically starts out longer when we’re younger and gets shorter as we age but stays between 7-9 hours for most of our life. The table below is taken from the recommendations.


Age Group Age Range Recommended Amount of Sleep per Day:

Newborn 0-3 months              14-17 hours
Infant 4-11 months                  12-15 hours
Toddler 1-2 years                     11-14 hours
Preschool 3-5 years                 10-13 hours
School-age 6-13 years             9-11 hours
Teen 14-17 years                      8-10 hours
Young Adult 18-25 years       7-9 hours
Adult 26-64 years                   7-9 hours
Older Adult 65 years +          7-8 hours


How do I know if I am getting enough sleep?

Activity trackers and smart watches have been shown to be good at measuring time
in bed but poor at measuring the quality of sleep.

A simpler way is to ask yourself:
● Could you fall back asleep at 10am or 11am?
● If you did not set an alarm in the morning would you sleep past it?
● Could you function well without caffeine before noon?

If the answer to the first 2 questions are yes, then you are likely not getting enough sleep.
If the answer to the third question is no, you are likely using caffeine to self-medicate your lack of sleep.

What can I do to improve my sleep?

1. Try going to bed and getting up at the same time every day. It takes more than one or two nights to catch up on reduced sleep. So a lie in on the weekends might not be enough to catch up on sleeping poorly throughout the rest of the week.
2. Exercise can be great for increasing your sleep pressure (the desire to go to sleep).
3. Avoid caffeine after noon. Caffeine has a half-life of 6 hours, meaning a cup of coffee at 4pm is the same as having half a cup of coffee at 10pm.
4. Do not smoke. The nicotine in cigarettes act as a stimulant making it harder to get to sleep. Smokers can also be woken up earlier by nicotine cravings.
5. Avoid large meals and drinks just before bed. This can lead to indigestion which can interfere with sleep. Drinking too much before bed can lead to frequent awakenings to urinate.
6. Naps can be very useful in the early afternoon, but naps after 3pm can make it harder to sleep at night.
7. Relax before bed. Reading, listening to music or meditation can be a good way to relax before going to bed.
8. Thermal dump – Taking a hot shower or bath before bed can be a useful way to reduce your core body temperature which helps your body prepare for sleep. This is because our bodies will naturally drop about 1°C during sleep, when you get out of the hot water more of the blood will rise to the skin’s surface (this is why your face gets red when its warm) which means heat is lost more quickly, leading to a drop in core body temperature.
9. Make your bedroom a hibernation station, create an environment which is cool, dark, and quiet.
10. Reduce your screen time before bed, because the production of melatonin (the hormone which makes you tired) is tied with darkness. Blue light especially has been shown to delay the production of melatonin so downloading blue light filter apps such as “Twilight” can be helpful. Also using lamps and smaller lights in the evening can be a good way of reducing light exposure.
11. Getting exposure to light when you wake up can be useful in making you feel more awake, ideally outdoors with sunlight.
12. Do not lie in bed if you’re feeling awake, get up and do some relaxing activity such as reading and return when you feel tired. Clock watching can cause sleep anxiety by making us feel more stressed and less able to relax, to prevent this turn clocks around so they are not easily seen.


Further resources: