In today’s fast-paced world, sleep often takes a back seat to our busy lives. Yet, the quality of our sleep can significantly impact our overall well-being. To delve deeper into this subject, we had an enlightening conversation with sleep expert Dave Gibson, in partnership with Vitabiotics. From the role of temperature in sleep patterns to the importance of sleep hygiene, Dave shares invaluable insights that could transform the way you approach bedtime.
The influence of temperature on sleep
“Cooler temperatures can make falling asleep easier since our core body temperature needs to drop, typically by about 1 degree Celsius, to initiate deep sleep. This aligns with the advice to keep your bedroom environment cool, dark, and quiet – creating an ideal setting for restful slumber.
However, if it gets too cold, it triggers us to wake up in the night. What’s intriguing is that this sensitivity to temperature changes may be deeply rooted in our evolutionary past. Research among hunter-gatherer communities has unveiled that vasoconstriction, the narrowing of blood vessels due to cold, acts as a trigger for the ‘wake cycle’ in the later part of the night. So, as the weather cools down in the UK, simple measures like wearing socks in bed can help you maintain an uninterrupted night’s sleep.”
Prioritising sleep hygiene – even on the weekends
Dave explains, “Sleep hygiene is the practices, habits and routines we put in place to make sure we get the best possible quality and quantity of sleep. If you can maintain good sleep hygiene, you are more likely to get the right amount of sleep, in terms of both quality and quantity, no matter what sort of stress you are under.
We know, in terms of overall sleep quality and quantity, that consistency is key and improves your ability to get to sleep quickly and to stay asleep during the night. If you do want a lie-in at the weekends, limit it to 90 minutes maximum and then take a siesta nap to catch up on lost sleep later in the day.”
How to master the art of switching off
Dave explains, “Switching off is essentially a process of getting out of your brain and into your body. There are a variety of what is known as Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR) techniques which can help you switch off. These include meditation, breath work, breathing exercises, and relaxation techniques, like Yoga Nidra and mindfulness.
This process of winding down takes around an hour, during which ideally we should avoid all use of technology and screens although watching something we find relaxing is allowed.”
How to rewire bad sleep habits – it’s never too late
Dave assures us that it’s never too late to improve our sleep habits, “There is no age limit at all to relearning the art of sleeping, but the longer you have had any habit, the harder it tends to be to break. However, we now know that our brain retains its neuroplasticity right throughout our lives. This means we can rewire new habits no matter how old we are and how bad the existing habit is.
The key to re-learning the art of sleeping is repetition. This means creating a regular nighttime routine, typically in the last hour before sleep, and sticking to a regular bed and wake time.
Having a calming wind-down routine such as taking a warm bath, doing some gentle stretches and relaxation techniques and then reading a book will all help you to switch off and, when done in the same sequence, will signal to the brain that sleep is coming.”
Seeing improvements in sleep habits
“Modern research suggests that for a behaviour to become automatic, it takes from around 3 weeks to 3 months. That said, improvements can be achieved very quickly depending on the changes which are being made.
For example, changes such as avoiding using your phone in bed can have an almost immediate impact on improving your ability to get to sleep easily and on time.
In terms of length of time to see improvements depends on the circumstances such as how long you have had the problem, how severe it is, the levels of stress you are under.”
The pineapple before bed myth
“Pineapple is one of the foods which has a reasonable level of natural Melatonin which is then absorbed into the bloodstream and then crosses into the brain where it can help reset our body clock.
The brain itself also makes Melatonin, which helps signal to us that it’s time for sleep (it’s produced by the pineal gland in the brain in the absence of light). If you have lower-than-needed levels of Melatonin being produced by the Pineal Gland, then eating pineapple could help.
However, Montmorency Tart cherries have the highest melatonin levels of any fruit and would be my recommendation if aiding sleep is the aim of eating the fruit in the first place.”
Ditch the tech
“One of the main changes in the last few decades which has contributed to a lack of sleep is our 24/7 access to technology. Allowing time off technology to wind down before sleep is probably the key change to make if you aren’t already doing this.
Equally, never use your phone in bed as it is literally a sleep disruptor, especially when it’s used for social media, with the fear of missing out subsequently keeping us awake and alert long after the phone is switched off.”