Regular Sleep Healthy Future

This past year has shone a global spotlight on our health and immunity like no other year, writes © Sleep Recovery Teacher, Nicky Dye.

But do people understand why sleep is so important, and what it means for our lives if we don’t prioritise sorting out our sleep issues?

World Sleep Day aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. The chosen date, which for 2021 is March 19th, is always the Friday before the Spring Equinox – the date that marks the start of Spring and the clocks going forward. This is the weekend that we all get an hour’s less sleep and notice the brighter, lighter evenings. Adjusting to these time changes and light levels are both significant in management of our natural sleep rhythms.

This year’s focus for World Sleep Day is ‘regular sleep – healthy future’ which is a reminder to us all how important good sleep is for our wellbeing. There are many reasons for not sleeping well – physical, mental, and emotional. Perhaps past or present life events are keeping us awake, or life phases such as puberty or peri/menopause. There are some relatively simple steps you can take to improve your sleep which are important to try, although sometimes it is necessary to delve deeper with the help of a professional.

Why is sleep important?

routine sleepGood quality sleep plays an essential role in memory, cognition, immunity, inflammation and hormone regulation. Hormones such as cortisol, serotonin and melatonin affect our ability to sleep and therefore to thrive.

When we feel stressed, the levels of cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline rise in our bodies, preparing to fight or run from danger. Blood is sent to the large muscles and away from digestion. The brain is designed to function in a way to optimise our survival. It doesn’t matter to the brain whether the threat comes from a snake or a deadline; the reaction is the same. Our autonomic nervous system switches ON, ready for action. Not ready for sleep! Our autonomic nervous system is responsible for functions which we do not consciously control, such as our heart pumping.

Our natural state is to be less active in the hour or two before we go to bed, while the daylight recedes to dusk and dark. Our eyes send a message to the master clock and a few steps later, communicates with the pineal gland. As a result, serotonin is converted into the sleep hormone melatonin, which continues to be released until about 7.30am (unless you’re a teenager and it carries on until 10am).

Circadian rhythm healthy sleep

However, if we are feeling stressed, rushed, or busy until we get into bed, our body receives signals that we do not want to go to sleep, and keeps us alert. Even if we are exhausted, what we do before we go to bed will determine whether we will be able to move from our “tired, but wired” state into a sleepy state. As we relax our bodies and minds, our brainwaves start to change from the choppy beta alert state, to the more curvy waves of alpha. It is much easier to get to sleep from an alpha state, than trying to jump straight from active beta to sleep (made up of daydreamy theta then deep sleep delta waves).

The biological master clock, or circadian rhythm, has evolved for different functions throughout each 24 hour period:

9pm: melatonin is secreted > 2am deepest sleep > 8.30am intestinal motility > 10am greatest alertness > 3pm drop in alertness > 5pm greatest muscle strength > 6.30pm highest blood pressure > highest body temperature.

The body is always trying to get back to homeostasis, where everything is in balance and health is optimised. Our autonomic nervous system moves from sympathetic (awake, alert, active) to parasympathetic (rest, digest, heal) states throughout the 24 hour period.

Many people sabotage their sleep by using bright lights until bedtime, or drinking too much caffeine during the day, a nap in the afternoon or even taking cardio exercise in the evening.

coffee alcohol stimulants sleep

If you drink a double espresso at 8am, it is only half gone by midday, a quarter gone by 4pm and traces are still present in your system at 8pm.

Perhaps you’ve noticed how a glass of wine can make you feel relaxed in the evening? You’re absolutely right…however, just a couple of hours later, the neurotransmitters, including GABA, that told your brain to relax are now experiencing a bounce-back effect. Your body temperature rises, your heart beats faster and if you suffer from hot flushes or anxiety, your sleep can be disturbed. This is due to the liver, which is most active between 1am and 3am, breaking down the sugar in your alcoholic drink(s).

How would you feel if you made a few tweaks to your schedule to align with your circadian rhythms? Being active or restful in line with your master clock, whether that’s mental or physical activity, will take less energy off the grid. Why not try eating breakfast by 8.30am in line with when your digestion is most active. Dim the lights after 9pm and go to bed when your body gives you a signal – it will, you may just need to practice listening to the cues. Wouldn’t it be nice to be on the same team as your biological clock?

Top Tips for Regular Sleep

Putting specific practices into your day will re-balance your energy levels. If you haven’t slept well, a wake-up stretch, which focuses on taking bigger inhales than exhales, will energise you. Try some squats when the kettle’s boiling, followed by some side-stretches and chest (pec) openers. If you’re feeling low on energy after lunch, you could take a minute or two to breathe and notice 3 things that you can see, touch and smell. At the end of your working day, you could escape for 15 minutes and lie in a restorative yoga pose, such as feet up on a chair. It’s incredibly effective and particularly useful if you haven’t taken a break for ages and your brain has come to a standstill. Trust me, I know!

Keep calm, change what you can control and accept what you can’t. No matter how well you’ve slept, it’s good to start the day afresh.

© Sleep Recovery Teacher, Nicky Dye, offers an evidence-based holistic 5 week programme to restore your ability to sleep. If you don’t sleep well, or your energy levels are struggling, simply get in touch to arrange a discovery call. Email