Finding it hard to sleep in this heatwave….me too!

 

Struggling to sleep in the hot weather? Or perhaps Love Island has seen you break your digital curfew and all that ‘recoupling’ drama has upset your bedtime routine. Whatever the reason, poor sleep even for just night, can wreak havoc with your best intentions to eat well and exercise consistently, not to mention contributing to a whole host of other health risks from memory loss to reproductive issues.  As highlighted in Matthew Walker’s (Internationally best selling book), ‘Why we Sleep’, the upshot of the evidence in terms of weight management, shows that short sleep (i.e. 5-6hours/night which is typical of the type that many adults in first-world countries commonly and routine report, will:

  • Increase hunger and appetite
  • Compromise impulse control within the brain-i.e. loss of thoughtful judgement and controlled decision making- meaning you’re more likely to grab for the donuts and pizza over the wholegrains and greens.
  • Increase food consumption (especially high calorie foods!)
  • Decrease food satisfaction after eating
  • Prevent effective fat loss when dieting

As so eloquently described by Van Couter,A Sleep deprived body will cry famine in the midst of Plenty’

So what can we do about it? I have complied a list of 12 tips to help establish better sleep habits and get you into a bedtime routine year round. Without full blown central air-conditioning or at least one of the latest snazzy Dyson fans, sleeping during the UK’s current heatwave may be a challenge. However, if you can tick off as many of the below as possible, you know you are doing everything in your power to control your sleep environment and thereby are giving yourself the best chance to a good’s night kip!

  • Stick to a sleep schedule. This is number one on my list for a reason and if you take one piece of advice from this list- take this one. Try and go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday and we should be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Often we sleep in later on weekends to try and make up for lost sleep during the week but really all this serves to do is makes it harder to get up again on Monday morning! Set an alarm for bedtime. If you have an iphone- you can set a bedtime reminder for winding down and time to turn off electronics!
  • Dark bedroom, Cool Bedroom.Easier said than done in a UK heatwave as so few of us have air conditioning, but it’s super important to prepare early. Room temperature is so important to control and the ideal is bedroom temperature is a cool 16-18 degrees. Your core body temperature forms a big part of your circadian rhythm so a higher body temperature signals to your brain that it is daytime and will keep you restless.
  1. Cool your room during the day by actually keeping bedroom windows closed and curtains and blinds drawn to keep the room from overheating.
  2. At night- open windows up to create a cross-breeze through the house and it’s fans on. If fans are too loud to sleep with- blast them for a good 30mins before your bedtime to cool the room much as possible.
  3. Use Cotton pajamas and thin but high quality cotton sheets for breathability and ensure good ventilation under your bed frame through to the mattress.
  4. Try using ice cold water-bottles and placing them on wrists and ankles, elbows, knees and pressure points to help cool down or wetting a flannel in ice water for your head.
  5. Moisturise with Aloe Vera-based After-sun kept cool in the fridge for a nice cooling feeling.
  6. Avoid having a cold shower before bed as this will actually bring up your body temp- a tepid shower or warm bath will act to bring your body temperature down before bed. The drop in body temperature after a hot bath may help you feel more sleepy and the bath can help you relax and slow down- 1 step closer to sleep. Try putting in Epsom salts and lavender bubble bath to relax your muscles. Dreamy.
  7. Some go as far as to put their bed sheets/pajamas in the freezer before bed- I’m not quite on board with that one yet but needs must!
  8. Do turn off the electrical sockets which pump out a huge amount of heat too and turn off anything that emits light (bedrooms should be gadget free!)
  • Gadget-free bedroom and digital Curfew.Blue light submits an artificial signal to the brain that it is daytime and prevents the release of melatonin (the hormone that signals you are ready to sleep) by up to 50%, keeping you up for hours.
  1. Try and switch off all electronics- including phones, kindles and the TV at least an hour before bed.
  2. If you are addicted to Love Island or certain TV shows on late- try recording it and watching it the next day when you can skip through the tedious adverts, or better still catch up on the weekend. Thankfully it should be over in a week or so!
  3. For those who really struggle to get off to sleep you might want to try the Blue-light blackened glasses- wear for an hour or two before bedtime and you might find the time taken to fall asleep decreases. Note: not for the fashion conscious!
  • Control your light environment. Daylight is key to regulating daily sleep patterns. Try to optimise exposure to natural outdoor light early in the day as possible. This tees you up for more restful sleep later on because you are giving your body that signal that it is daytime and therefore you are now in the waking/active phase.
  1. This is certainly less feasible in the winter-so you might want to invest in light box like the Philips goLITE Blue or an SAD lamp – if you put it on for 30minutes-in the morning in winter and within arms reach, these help replicate daylight.
  2. These are relatively cheap and effective and are used in Scandinavia where they are popular in winter to help regulate that circadian rhythm.
  • Exercise is great- BUT not too late in the day before bed. Try to workout in the morning or afternoon and avoid exercising 2-3 hours before bedtime. It will raise your core body temperature and cortisol levels making it harder to wind down before attempting to sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and Nicotine: Caffeine is a stimulant found in coffee, colas, certain teas and chocolate and its effects can last up to 8 hours in your body. Therefore a cup of coffee at 4pm can still be keeping you awake well past your bed time. Nicotine can also act as a stimulant and often causes smokers to sleep only lightly and often means heavy smokers wake early due to nicotine withdrawal.
  • Avoid Alcoholic drinks before bed. It might feel that a nice little night cap helps you relax but alcohol is merely a sedative and it’s intake can prevent restorative REM sleep- and keeps you in a very light sleep stage. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to early waking or waking in the middle of the night as the sedative effects wear off.
  • Avoid large heavy meals late at night. A light snack is ok if you are honestly hungry but eating heavy meals and beverages late at night or within 2 hours of sleeping can cause indigestion, which interferes with sleep. Eating too much protein can bring about a thermal response aka ‘the meat sweats’ so best avoided late in the evening. Plus drinking too much late at night can mean more frequent trips to urinate! Keep hydrated on ice water throughout the day instead.
  • Avoid Naps after 3pm I love a nap myself and they can sometimes make up for lost sleep but the research shows that late afternoon naps too close to your bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep at a sensible time in the evening.
  • Relax before bed- reading (a real book!), listening to music, lighting candles or having a bath so you feel relaxed and have slowed down from the rush of the day. Try not to overschedule your evenings. Perhaps try a chamomile and lavender sleep spray (my favourite is the ‘This Works’ Deep sleep pillow Spray) do some meditation or talk to loved ones about the simple pleasures in your day. Turn down the lights in the living room and prepare the house for night time.
  • If you tend to wake up at 3 or 4am with a crazy, whirring monkey brain; In the words of Alan Flanagan, it might worth having a ‘word vomit’ into a diary or journal before attempting to sleep. If there are issues from the day that you are ruminating on- get them down and out of your thought space.
    1. Write a to do list for the next day to provide structure and prioritse the urgent matters.
    2. Try and list 3 things you are grateful for- the simpler the better.
    3. End with a ‘thought of the day’ to provide closure can help that overactive imagination at night.
  • Don’t lie in bed awake and full of worry/anxiety
    1. If you find yourself awake after staying in bed for over 20minutes or if you are starting to feel anxious or worried, get up and do something relaxing.
    2. Write down issues on your mind.
    3. Try a meditation on an app like Headspace or Calm or an audio book (do this on Aeroplane mode so you aren’t tempted to check your phone!)
    4. Go downstairs and sleep on the sofa- likely to be cooler too!

If you’ve made it this far without falling asleep then I salute you (you may actually have insomnia!)

Hopefully it’s been helpful.

For more information I highly highly recommend:

  • ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. The Best book you might ever read.
  • ‘The Four Pillar Plan’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee and his Podcast ‘Feel Better, Live More’ where he talks to Matthew Walker about sleep research and findings.
  • The Food Medic Podcast by Dr Hazel Wallace- Episode 5 with Alan Flanagan ‘What to eat and When to Eat it’