Modern life is so very hectic and with the demands of work, family and social pressures, these can all take their toll on our sleep quality, as well as quantity. Our circadian rhythms are a natural force our bodies have; our very own internal clock, which tell us to sleep when it is dark and to be awake and active when it’s day. So, with the clocks having gone back an hour at the end of October marking the end of British Summer Time, our own body clock needs adjusting too!
We have two distinct dips in our energy levels which are between 2.00am – 4.00 am in the morning and again in the afternoon. So, it is no coincidence that we feel drowsy mid-afternoon after lunch. Our body naturally builds up adenosine, a chemical which accumulates throughout the day when we are awake. It slows down the activity of our neurons, causing drowsiness and the need to sleep. This, combined with our biological clock, causes our body temperature to dip, signalling the brain that we should sleep. Ideally, we should all have a little snooze in the afternoon, to recharge our bodies but sadly, we rarely get the chance.
However, it is possible to grab 5 or 10 minutes in your day, when you can just sit still. Choose somewhere where you are unlikely to be disturbed and try to close your eyes. The intention is not to sleep but to ‘power down’ briefly. The power of a nap really is amazing and will be the tonic you need to boost your energy, helping you to perform well, avoiding mistakes or confusion. Keeping active is more important than ever as the days become noticeable shorter, so take time out for daily walks, which helps you to adjust and embrace the new season and maintain a good exercise routine, combining aerobic exercise with core work. Pilates is ideal, as it complements all forms of exercise, keeping your core strong, whilst improving flexibility, coordination and strength; all helping you to fall asleep easily and to sleep well. When night time sleep approaches, adenosine which has increased over the day, combined with melatonin released once the sun has set, helps us to rest and sleep. This is why it is important not t have bright lights on at night, watch TV or use devices too late at night, as the light emitted, wakes you up.
Having good sleep posture is vital in maintaining a healthy sleep habit. Regularly sleeping on a good, firm bed, which supports and moulds to your body’s contours, is ideal. Try to avoid falling asleep on your front though, as this position will simply not support the spine and cause back pain and discomfort. In this prone position, you will have to turn your head in order to breath easily but in doing so, you will twist your neck, which may lead to strained neck muscles. The best sleeping positions are on your back or on your side, with your head, neck and spine supported. Try to keep your head on a good firm pillow, tucking it right in, so the weight of your head is properly supported. To ease pressure points in the body, try going to sleep laying on your most comfortable side. As you relax during sleep, the weight of the top leg can pull on the Lumbar muscles, so place a cushion or pillow between your thighs or knees to support your lower back. During the course of sleep, we unconsciously move and change position numerous times in the night, which you cannot control but if you can try to fall asleep in a good position to begin with, you are more likely to wake up feeling refreshed, repaired and better rested.
With the longer, darker nights of late autumn and winter, your body naturally wants to sleep more, so it makes sense to get ready for bed a little earlier. It is of course important to keep active and make the most of the daylight hours but instead of staying up until your usual bedtime, consider retiring just an hour earlier. Try to get the right amount of quality sleep, which suits you but as a guide most of us need between 6-8 hours a day to be able to function well, maintaining good concentration and a strong immune system. Your body will certainly thank you for the extra rest, which gives you more time to repair and regenerate. You will feel so much better and energised in the morning, perhaps even more positive about the forthcoming wintertime!