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In the previous two articles, I’ve written about sleep. Last week, I discussed sleep cycles and what to do if you wake up at 3.00 am, and why it can take 90 minutes (an entire sleep cycle) before you fall back asleep. You can read/listen here.

This week, as promised, I’m covering better sleep hygiene.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

We’ve all experienced the adverse effects of sleep deprivation. It typically includes:

·       Low physical energy levels

·       Low tolerance levels

·       Impaired cognitive performance 

·       Inability to concentrate

·       Impaired short and long-term memory recall 

·       Trouble performing complex physical and mental tasks

·       Inability to control emotions

·       Increased stress levels

In fact, it so completely and thoroughly affects every part of our physical and mental functioning that, throughout time, sleep deprivation has been used as both a torture technique and in cult mind control.

Managing Stress Levels

Most people would agree that increased stress levels affect sleep. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you can lessen your stress, your sleep will improve.

I’ve written extensively in other articles about managing stress. However, here are a couple of favourite simple but effective clinically proven tools:

1. Daylight Exposure

Getting enough daylight (not through windows or staring directly at the sun) is critical to a healthy sleep/wake cycle. This is because when natural sunlight hits the back of our eyes, it regulates our serotonin levels. Healthy serotonin levels are critical for managing our internal circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle).

Andrew Huberman, Neuroscientist and Ophthalmologist (The Hubermanlab Podcast) recommends getting at least 10 minutes of daylight within an hour of waking up and a further 10 minutes during the hour that the sun going down.

Light photons at those times of day have a particular colour that we can’t detect with our naked eye. However, we know they have the most beneficial effect on our circadian rhythm.

People who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) often do so because of a lack of natural daylight. Little/no sun affects our vitamin D3 levels and our serotonin production. The side effects include anxiety, depression, low mood, lethargy, etc.

Most of us like to think that we are so sophisticated. However, WE ARE STILL ANIMALS! We are not built to be indoors all day. It’s unhealthy and can have severe side effects on our physical and mental health, including depression, anxiety, low mood and lethargy when we don’t spend time outside.

2. Regular Exercise

Again, I can’t stress enough that we are animals. Our bodies are meant for movement, not to be sedentary. However, that doesn’t mean you must flog yourself in the gym. Our bodies are tailor-made for walking. Our ancestors populated Earth by travelling long distances on foot. Our bodies are specifically designed for it!

If you’ve been following me for a while or been on training events with me, you’ll know I’m a massive fan of the 15-minute walk. Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to walk 10,000 steps (although that’s fabulous if you can!) to get fantastic benefits. In just 15-minutes:

  • You burn off the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline
  • You regulate your serotonin levels, positively affecting your sleep/wake cycle
  • You will produce ‘happy’ biochemicals dopamine (the reward chemical) and endorphins (the natural painkiller), making you feel happier and more content
  • When you walk forward, the lateral movement of your eyes reduces stress and depression. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), used in treating trauma, depression and other mental health issues, is based on the same lateral eye movement.
  • You will alleviate feelings of overwhelm.

When stressed, our view narrows as our brain attempts to focus on the one perceived threat, i.e. sabre-toothed tiger. However, today, we tend to have multiple perceived threats, our brains find it difficult to cope, and we feel overwhelmed. 

However, when we walk, run or cycle outside (not on a static bike or treadmill), our view has to widen to spot physical threats from all sides. 

Managing Jet Lag

Both getting 10 minutes of natural daylight at both ends of the day AND exercise is clinically proven to improve the effects of jet lag for all the reasons mentioned above. They help recalibrate your circadian rhythm more quickly than if you didn’t do those things.

Better Sleep Hygiene

Many people experience trouble falling asleep. I saw it a lot during lockdown when people went to bed at the same time but got up later because they didn’t have the same work commute. As a result, their sleep became dysregulated.

If you struggle to fall asleep, here are my clinically proven top tips:

1. Avoid Bright Light

When bright light hits the back of our eyes, our brain thinks it’s daytime and will inhibit melatonin (the biochemical we need for sleep).

Therefore, you should avoid bright lights for at least 40 minutes before bed, wherever possible. That includes bright overhead lights and electronic equipment, e.g. phones, laptops, and iPads. 

Stick to low lights, e.g. dim table lamps, as they mimic the angle of the setting sun, which helps trigger melatonin release.

If using electronic equipment is unavoidable, consider using blue-blocking glasses (you can buy them online and have blue-block added to your regular lenses. However, you don’t need to use these all day long; you only need them after sunset.

2. Create a Regular Sleep Schedule

Go to bed and get up at the same time every day for at least two weeks – even at weekends. This will reset your circadian rhythm. Your brain likes consistency.

3. Other Top Tips

Further top tips for creating better sleep hygiene:

  • Give yourself time to unwind. Create a simple but relaxing bedtime routine, including a warm (but not hot) bath, reading, meditating, etc.
  • Avoid eating, drinking caffeine or alcohol or exercising too close to bedtime.
  • Avoid overstimulation of your nervous system, e.g. arguments, gaming, and disturbing films.

What Next?

Next week I’ll cover a topic that came up in a webinar I delivered this week, handwritten vs typed notetaking. It was quite the talking point, even though the session technically had nothing to do with it

If you think this article would be helpful to others, please consider forwarding it. It takes seconds and assists me in getting this free content in front of more people. Plus, you never know who you may be helping with that small act of kindness!

If you’ve never considered coaching or would like to hear more about my unique approach, please contact me at jo@jobanks.net for a complimentary 15-minute discovery call.

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As always, thank you for your continued support.

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