With cooler autumn months come shorter days, which means you'll experience darker mornings and evenings with little sun in sight. Bensons for Beds and The Sleep School's Dr Guy Meadows have compiled their top tips to stay well-rested, feel energised and avoid the 'winter blues' through a great night's sleep.
How to cope with the shorter days:
Light plays a vital role in maintaining our circadian rhythm, the 24 hour cycle responsible for maintaining everything from our levels of sleep and wakefulness, daily mood and mental health, as well as our body temperature and digestion.
As the amount of available daylight diminishes with the arrival of winter it is common to experience a lowering of mood or the 'winter blues'. Not getting enough light influences mood in a number of ways. It can knock our internal body clock out of sync leading to poorer night time sleep, daytime tiredness and lower mood. Light also has a direct impact on mood, with exposure to sunlight boosting the release of serotonin, the happy hormone. Serotonin levels have been shown to reduce in the winter months.
- Light therapy in the morning – In the winter months when the mornings are at their darkest it can be a real struggle to wake up and get going. This is because the brain needs light to tell it to stop producing the sleep promoting hormone melatonin and start producing the waking hormone cortisol. Sitting in front of a light box, which emits light at the same wavelength as the sun, can help to tell your brain that it is time to wake up and boost your mood at the same time. Aim to do it for 20 – 30 minutes whilst eating breakfast.
- Get outside in the day – If you’re feeling tired or low during the day then get outside for a quick sun light fix. Even if it's a cloudy day, the combination of the natural light, fresh air and exercise will help to wake you up and boost your mood!
- Light up your office – Most of us spend a long time at work and so it makes sense for it to benefit us as much as possible. If you can, position your desk as close to a window as possible to reap the benefits from natural sun light. If this is not possible or your office simply doesn't have any windows then make sure you get outside regularly into direct sun light. Alternatively ask your boss to fit special LED lighting, which changes the wavelength in accordance with the time of the day. Having a light box on your desk is also another great way of ensuring you get enough light every day.
- Go orange – Whilst sunlight is helpful for waking you up, its blue wavelength needs to be avoided in the evening if you want to sleep well. Aim to switch off all blue light emitting devices such as smart phones and lap tops at least 40 minutes before going to bed. Opt for warmer orange lighting such as that emitted by side lamps.
Preparing for the clock change
On the last Sunday in October the clocks go back one hour, ending British Summer Time. Whilst for many this means you can enjoy an extra hour in bed, for some it can lead to a worsening of sleep! Either way, Bensons for Beds and The Sleep School have created top tips on how best to prepare your body for the time shift so you still achieve your best night’s sleep and feel great the next day.
- Enjoy a lie in – This is the one day of the year that you can actually lie in and at the same time not get up any later, so make the most of it! Having said that aim to keep your sleeping pattern regular before and after the clock change, especially the time you get up in the morning, as this will help limit its impact on your night time sleep quality and daytime energy levels.
- Gradually transition – If you know you're sensitive to the clock change then it is best to ease your body into the time shift. Go to bed and get up 20 minutes later three days before the change. This way your body clock will already be synced to the new time when it happens. For time-sensitive individuals like babies and toddlers it can be helpful to delay daytime naps, meals, baths and books.
- The perfect sleep environment - Since Daylight Savings is out of your control, perfect what is in your control – your sleep haven. For best-quality sleep, ensure your room is quiet, cool, dark and comfortable.
- Stow away electronics - Since the clock change can disrupt your circadian rhythm, minimise any other disruptions that may prevent you from achieving the perfect night's sleep. Put away mobile phones and tablets, or put them on silent to reduce sleep interruptions.
- Go for a run – Exposure to morning sunlight helps to synchronise your internal body clock and adapt it to the new time. Get your light fix by going for a run or a brisk walk outside. The added tiredness will also help you to sleep better the next night.