We asked our brilliant sleep expert, Dr Sophie Bostock to share her tips on how to unlock the power of sleep…
If you work hard, and play hard, when do you find time for sleep? Sleep is frequent casualty in the race to squeeze more into our waking hours.
But sleep is making a fighting comeback, and it’s down to the latest sleep science. Sleep is an incredibly active time for the brain. If you put electrodes on the skull and measure the electrical activity pulsating while you sleep, there is a lot going on.
The first half of the night is rich in deep sleep, which is particularly physically restorative, bathing the body with growth hormone to repair damage and recharge our immune system. Toxic proteins like beta-amyloid get flushed out of the brain, helping to protect us against Alzheimer’s disease. The second part of the night involves more REM or dream sleep, which boosts emotional intelligence and generates ‘ah-ha’ insights that drive innovation.
The brain has evolved to interpret sleep deprivation (whether it’s caused by predators, kids or a Netflix addiction) as though it’s facing a threat to survival, so staying up late means we are constantly in ‘fight or flight’ mode, on high alert. We struggle to relate to others, we make mistakes, we get angry and frustrated. We are more likely to act impulsively to choose quick wins, at the cost of strategic longer term gains.
Lack of sleep is basically taking the Healthiest Human System, and putting in a mental straightjacket.
Unlocking the power of sleep.
So what can you do if you’re struggling to protect the recommended 7-9 hours of nightly sleep? Here’s a quick formula for unlocking the POWER of sleep.
P = Plan for a 7-9 hour sleep window every night, without fail. Sticking to a regular routine means the body knows when to release the hormone, melatonin, which signals that it’s time for sleep. Haphazard timing means melatonin production is shifted back, and our sleep is lighter.
O = Get Outdoors. Our internal body clocks are co-ordinated by light. Sunlight is thousands of times more intense than office lighting – get plenty of exposure to natural light during the day to keep your body clocks acting in synchrony. Conversely, before bed, dim the lights. Bright light suppresses melatonin and keeps us awake.
W = Wind down. We often make ourselves over-tired by pushing ourselves to stay awake when our body clocks are telling us to sleep. Adopting a familiar set of ritual behaviours before bed can help with the pattern recognition that it’s time for sleep. Aim for a 1 hour digital detox before bed – set an alarm to remind you to switch your phone off, or at least on airplane mode!
E = Energize strategically. Do you really need caffeine? It masks the body’s sleep drive, and interferes with sleep quality. Switch to decaf unless you really need it, and take a brisk walk or a nap to pep up your energy levels during the day.
R = Relaxation. Practice relaxation techniques to switch off the stress response and dial down hyperarousal. Progressive muscle relaxation is a good place to start. Scrunch up all the muscles in your toes for a count of 5… and then relax. Concentrate on the feeling of tension leaving the body. Work your way up from your toes to all the major muscle groups, finishing up with the eyes. Every tension and release movement leaves the body more relaxed, and can take your mind off intrusive thoughts.
Sleep habits are often highly entrenched, so give yourself the best chance, and just choose one behaviour to change at a time. Keep a sleep diary to track your progress, and allow two weeks and see whether you feel the difference.
For a more detailed blueprint for unlocking the power of sleep, you can read more at www.thesleepscientist.com/blog or if you would like to discuss Sophie talking at your workplace get in touch with our team.