During difficult times, it is not uncommon for your sleep to take a turn for the worse. The complete change of rhythm and the uncertainty all around, as a result of the global threat of Covid-19, can easily impact your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
However, if you are staying at home in confinement like me, this is also a time to find a new balance and to take notice of how what you do during the day impacts your ability to sleep well at night. Without the constraints and commitments of everyday life, you get to choose how you spend your time (at least to a greater extent than before).
As our daily life becomes more repetitive, it is easier to spot the differences from day-to-day. For example, how watching a film in bed leads to a restless night’s sleep, or an afternoon coffee leads to a late night. This could be a good time to learn about the keys to your own sleep and personal wellbeing.
Over the next 3 weeks, I am going to provide three ways that you can easily improve your sleep, by making the most of the situation we are in.
I wrote these articles to give you my personal recommendations based on what I am doing to protect our well-being and sleep during this time as a sleep coach, entrepreneur and mother of two children in confinement. These articles are particularly for people who are following the social distancing rules at home, but who are otherwise healthy.
This article is about living in-line with your circadian rhythm. Next week I will share tips for creating healthier habits to improve sleep and in the third week, how to proactively manage anxiety. Sign up to your newsletter (at the bottom of the page) to stay informed.
1 – LIVE IN-LINE WITH YOUR CIRCADIAN RHYTHM
Why is your circadian rhythm so important to sleep?
A positive way to look at the lock down, from a sleep perspective, is that this is a rare moment when you can live completely in line with your own circadian rhythm. Good sleep is all about your circadian rhythm and your daily routine.
Your circadian rhythm is your master clock, that controls various physiological functions in the body and creates a sort of daily agenda of activities. In an ideal world – biologically speaking – we would do the same thing at the same time every day! When we have an irregular routine, for example going to bed and waking up at different times every day, your body doesn’t know when to prepare for sleep or when to prepare to wake up again. This impacts your quality of sleep.
Given the amount of distractions and commitments we have in “normal life”, keeping a consistent routine is hard. Right now, it’s fairly easy. You decide when you wake up, when you work, when you exercise and when you go to sleep. Ask yourself, how would you design your day, if you had a blank page?
My routine has become very consistent over the last weeks that we have been in confinement. The key, for us, has been to find a routine that works for all the family. Our routine is based on keeping the kids happy, myself sane and everyone healthy (which all depends on good sleep, by the way!)
For example, while I may be tempted to go to bed late and wake up late, having nowhere that I need to be in the morning, I know (given that I’m an early bird) that I feel at my best when I go to bed early and wake up early. I have made an extra effort to turn off the light at 11pm every single night while in confinement and I feel great for it.
You may be wondering how you know what your own circadian rhythm is. There is no magical scientific formula, but you can take a scientific approach of observation and experimentation to work it out. Here are some tips…
How to live in-line with your circadian rhythm?
1. Learn about your own circadian rhythm
To learn about your circadian rhythm you need to ask yourself three questions:
- How many hours of sleep do I really need to feel good?
- Am I more of a morning person or evening person*? Was I more of a morning or evening person as a child?
- When do I naturally feel sleepy in the evening? This is your sleep gate!
*Statistics show that 25% of the population are “early birds”, 25% are “owls” and 50% are somewhere in between. So, don’t worry if you are neither one nor the other.
These questions will give you a good starting point for learning about your own circadian rhythm. Using your answers, create yourself a sleep plan and follow it for a week or two. You will notice if you feel tired earlier than you thought, wake up earlier than you thought or, find it very hard to wake up at that time. You can adjust your sleep plan until you find the right timing for you.
It’s also important to get to know your “sleep gate”. This is when different biological processes coincide to give you the optimal time for you, personally, to go to sleep. It happens around the same time every day and only once a day!
One way to find out when your sleep gate occurs is to arrange some quiet evenings, without screens or other activities, and to pay particular attention to when you start to feel sleepy. As you start to pay attention, your sleep gate will become more and more obvious. When you feel a surge of sleepiness, take advantage, and hurry to bed!
2. Embrace your circadian rhythm
Given that our circadian rhythm controls the flows of hormones that trigger different physiological processes through the day, it is perfectly normal to feel a bit sleepy in the morning, to enjoy high levels of concentration mid-morning and to feel “a dip” in the early afternoon.
Your body needs to have moments of energy expenditure and moments of energy conservation during the day. If you can (and it might not be the case for everyone) try to use your natural peaks to do the hard work and enjoy some quieter activities in your natural dips.
While napping might be tempting, it’s best to limit naps during the day when you are staying at home, especially if you didn’t nap before. Daytime naps will reduce your need for sleep at night, so enjoy a quiet moment without napping if you can.
How can you arrange your daily agenda in line with your circadian rhythm? Below is an image illustrating key moments of the day for a typical person. You can use this as inspiration, but we recommend that you take notice of your own natural rhythm and let that be your guide!
3. Help your circadian rhythm!
Your circadian rhythm is an internal body clock, but it also reads signals from the environment to keep us coordinated with the world around us. For example, the sunlight in the morning tells your body that it’s time to wake up. In fact, getting enough sunlight is really important for keeping your circadian rhythm on track.
In the evening, the presence of natural darkness is the trigger for the production of melatonin, the hormone that is the starting gun for the process of falling asleep. Even the time of day that we exercise, drink coffee, eat meals and socialise send signals to the body about what time of day it is.
The circadian rhythm makes adjustments based on different external signals. For example, if you watch films at night, your body will interpret the blue light from the screen as a sign that the day has not yet ended, which will delay the production of melatonin and make it harder to fall asleep. This is why it’s so important to avoid screens and especially in the evening.
One of the first things to check when you are not sleeping is your caffeine consumption. Drinking too much caffeine – or drinking it too late in the day – will trigger your body to produce cortisol, which is an alerting hormone signalling wakefulness, and decrease your sleepiness when evening comes.
The morning and evening times are particularly important moments that can influence how well you sleep:
- How you start your day is important for ensuring that the body is wide awake and fully functioning so that you will expend enough energy during the day in order to fall asleep easily and get the sleep you need at night. It is the start of a new day, a new cycle.
- How you end your day is important because you need to calm the body and mind in preparation for sleep. An agitated state in the evening makes it harder to fall asleep and sleep soundly until the morning.
It is particularly important at this time, given that our normal routines have suddenly disappeared, to review (and maybe even re-invent) your morning and evening routine. Take 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening to ensure you have consciously and positively prepared for your day and your night, respectively.
I would love to know about your own morning and evening routines for fulfilling days… and peaceful nights! Please feel free to leave your comments below.
Take the time over the next days and weeks to pay attention to your own circadian rhythm, through observation and experimentation! We recommend keeping a sleep diary (sign up to our Newsletter below to get your free Sleep Diary) so that you can spot patterns emerging.
If you would like more support to help you sleep better…
You can either book a Discovery Call with one of our sleep coaches or sign up for the Sleepability Challenge. The Sleepability Challenge is an online sleep coaching programme, giving you all the tips and techniques to systematically improve your sleep over 37-days.
This is the first of three articles about how to sleep well during Covid-19 confinement. The next ones will be about creating healthy habits and proactively managing anxiety. Make sure you don’t miss out by signing up to our Newsletter below, or follow us on Facebook or Instagram.
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