• A woman sleeping peacefully in her bed


Adopting a more natural sleep cycle

Bad sleep ruins everything

No matter how balanced your diet, or how healthy your exercise regime, if you don’t sleep well, it will all be for nothing. When you don’t sleep well, you wake stressed and tired. You are likely to compensate by drinking caffeine and eating sugar to temporarily boost your energy. Then, when you get home, you are too tired to cook or go for a walk so you crash on the couch with a pizza instead. Followed by a few glasses of wine, because they help you get to sleep.

This leads to a vicious cycle. Caffeine and alcohol disrupt your sleep the next night and cause you to wake up even more tired the next morning. And so you double up on caffeine and sugar because you feel you can’t function without them. If you want to be healthy, it is essential to restore a healthy sleep cycle.

Sleep cycles

During your sleep, you go through a number of 90-120 minute cycles. In the first part of each cycle, often referred to as the “deep sleep” phase, your muscles are repaired and your body releases hormones to regulate growth and appetite. This phase is essential for maintaining a healthy body and takes up a larger proportion of your sleep early in the night.

In the second part of each cycle, the REM phase, you dream and your memory is consolidated. This phase is important when you are trying to learn complex tasks. The REM phases start short but get longer as the night progresses.

During a healthy sleeping cycle, people will wake up several times. Normally, these waking moments last for 1 or 2 minutes and are not remembered the next day. However, stress, alcohol and caffeine can cause you to fully wake. If that happens, it often takes a full sleep cycle (90-120 minutes) to fall asleep again.

Slave to the rhythm

Our sleep cycle is based on a circadian rhythm which reacts to the natural light/dark cycle of the day. When night approaches, the red light of dusk signals to your body that it is time to produce the sleep hormone melatonin. Then, the next morning, the cold blue light signals that it is time to decrease your melatonin and increase your cortisol levels again.

But we have disrupted these patterns by allowing blue light to become an integral part of our evenings. We stare at computer and phone screens right up to the moment we go to sleep (often when we are already in bed), making it impossible to fall asleep quickly. And because we get bored staring at the ceiling, we are continuously tempted to reach for our phone again. And so we lie awake, unable to fall asleep, staring at our Facebook feed.

To make matters worse, we spend our days at offices that get little outside light. Even a well lit office space has a light intensity that is 10-100 times dimmer than daylight. And so we sit in office twilight, fighting sleep and confusing our circadian rhythms even further.

Fix your sleep

If you have trouble getting to sleep or are often waking up during the night, try the following measures:

  1. Go to bed at the same time every day – Ideally, you pick a bed time that allows you a solid 8-9 hours of sleep before your alarm goes off again. 10:30PM is a healthy bedtime for most people.
  2. No caffeine after noon – Obviously, it would be best to eliminate caffeine altogether. But for most people, this is a good start.
  3. Install blue light filters – There are free blue light filters available for your computer and phone. They will gradually change the colors on your screen to match evening colors.
  4. No screens in the bedroom – Create a special place outside your bedroom to put your smart phone at night. If you have a TV in your bedroom, get rid of it.
  5. Allow your brain to wind down – Are you often busy right until bedtime? Go offline an hour earlier. Go for a nice evening walk or read a book.
  6. Go outside during the day – If you spend most of your day in artificial light, deliberately go out into daylight, especially in the morning.
  7. Take naps – Although naps cannot compensate for bad sleeping habits, they can improve mood, alertness and performance. Famous nappers include Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill.

  • Grassland indicating the end of the page
  • Grassland indicating the end of the page