Sleep – Things You Can Do To Improve It
We all want to be like this….
but often clients tell me that they’re more like this….
If you know why things work the way they do, you can see if your habits might be making things worse
Amongst both clients and in general on social media, I have seen a lot of discussion around sleep problems. This seems especially so now, when we’re in the current Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown situation. I made some comments to a local Support Group – Surviving The Menopause, and the lovely founder, Karen Ashworth, asked me to put them as a general post for members. I’ve decided to expand on this post and write a blog for clients and others to explain a few things around sleep and why you might be finding it more difficult to sleep at the moment.
If you know why things work the way they do, you can see if your habits might be making things worse. Then, with this knowledge, you can make an informed choice:
- if you decide you’d rather not change then you at least know why it’s worse
- or you can also choose to make changes that can help and make a difference
What You Can Do
I’ll be discussing 4 main topics around sleep in separate blogs, this is the first;
- Blue light and electronic screens
- Caffeine and alcohol
Sleep: My Client – A Success Story
I’d like to given an example of this. I have a client who mentioned at his treatment consultation that he had problems with sleep, and regularly only had 3-4 hours broken sleep a night. This was in part a symptom of Parkinson’s Disease and he considered that he might just have to change or increase his medication to deal with this. We had a discussion as I felt that it was worth looking at whether we could do anything else to help.
The conversation immediately showed that, aside from his condition, his habits actually had a lot to do with his poor sleep:
- He was drinking caffeinated coffee all day and even as a milky bedtime drink as late at 11pm at night! I explained that, whilst milk contains an amino acid called Tryptophan which aids sleep, the Caffeine in coffee is a stimulant drug
- Stimulants help to keep you alert and focussed – but they stop you from sleeping, make you fall asleep later and disrupt your ‘deep sleep’. Deep Sleep is absolutely crucial for brain health and function, memory and maintaining proper hormone levels. It helps you to feel more rested, allowing your body to replenish & recover properly
- Caffeine has a half-life of 12 hours, so 12 hours after you’ve drunk it, a quarter of it is still in your body. So my client always had caffeine in his system and although he could fall asleep, his quality of sleep was being affected
Caffeine affects deep sleep, which is crucial for brain health and function, memory and those all important healthy hormone levels
- He was watching TV late at night, right up to and before bed
- He was using his mobile phone and tablet late into the evening and before bed.
I immediately suggested some changes that he could make to help his sleep.
What He Did
- gave up caffeine – I suggested that he could have a cup in the morning and then switch to decaffeinated but he was so impressed with the results that he gave it up completely
- stopped the use of electronic devices 2-3 hours before bed
- did other things in the 1-2 hours before bed – reading books, doing crosswords or jigsaw puzzles
- used blue light blocking glasses when watching TV past 9pm
- Sleep is less broken
- He now regularly gets 5-6 hours sleep a night, sometimes even more, increasing his sleep levels significantly
- He even has a lie-in in the morning on occasion, something he was not able to do before!
His example shows just what you can achieve if there are changes you can make and you do so.
Light & Its Effects On Sleep
So why have I started with the topic of blue light and electronic screens? Simply because in the current Covid situation many of us are looking a lot more at electronic screens during lockdown and self-isolation. This can be on mobile phones, TV, tablets, iPad, laptop, computer etc.
This is understandable. I myself don’t normally look at the news at all (a client had to tell me about the last general election!) and stayed away from electronic devices previously. Now I, and everyone else, all need to keep aware of the current situation and latest news. We also want to keep in touch with all the people we can’t see in person – friends and family, and others we may not have contacted before such as neighbours, to offer help and support in this difficult time. Unable to get to the shops we go online to order shopping, and due to Covid many more people now have to work from home or may have the time to watch TV series and films.
So, we’re online and on electronic devices a lot more in lockdown and especially in the hours before bed and late at night. Why is this a problem?
Simply because the light in electronic screens and devices wakes us up and stops us from sleeping
Blue Light – How We Sleep
Simply because the light in electronic screens and devices wakes us up and stops us from sleeping.
Why is this?
You’ve possibly heard of Circadian rhythms – these are various natural cycles our bodies have developed throughout human evolution so that we work properly. The most fundamental one is the Light-Dark Cycle where our bodies wake up when it’s daylight and get sleepy when it’s dark. It’s a pretty basic thing. This is why
Light plays one of the most important roles in our sleep
When it gets dark, special receptors in eyes register the darkness and levels of a hormone called melatonin rise, which helps to prepare us for sleep (you may have heard of people taking melatonin tablets to help them sleep). The reverse happens when it gets light – melatonin levels fall and we wake up.
All light can wake us up (which is why it’s best to sleep in as much darkness as you can) but the best is blue light, the light found in sunlight. It is also therefore the worst for helping us to sleep – medical studies have shown that:
Blue light can literally delay sleep and stop sleep
What Is ‘Blue’ Light?
Light is made up of all the colours of the rainbow and the blue light
within it is what helps to wake us up, boosts our attention, increases our ability to focus and can even improve our mood. Daylight and sunlight are also mostly blue light. This is why a walk outside wakes us up, why a sunny day makes us feel better and why children wake up earlier in the summer.
Medical studies have shown that without light, or for people with total blindness, their ability to sleep properly and have a normal day and night rhythm is completely disrupted.
Children & Blue Light
It’s also important to note that children’s eyes are more sensitive to blue light, because as we age our blue light vision decreases. So if you have children, it’s particularly important to limit their screen time before bed. With technology in the modern age it’s actually more likely that children will be using electronic screens.
Light & Waking Up – Morning & Night
Of course, you can use this to your advantage as well. A top tip – if you ever feel sleepy in the morning or need to wake
up, go or look outside for a few minutes and you’ll feel more awake. If it’s still dark outside – look at your mobile phone screen for 30 seconds – you’ll soon wake up!
This is also why you should never look at a electronic screen if you wake up a night and want to get back to sleep. Similarly turning the light on to read is not ideal.
If being in the dark and quiet makes you fearful or stops you sleeping because you’re not distracted and your fears/worries come up then listening to an audiobook or radio is better, although bear in mind you’re still stimulating your brain and body.
Try listening to some nice quiet repetitive sleep music or a spoken meditation. This is some relaxing music I often use during treatments: Relaxation Music – click here
Screens & Electronic Devices
For almost all of human history the sun was the main source of lighting and people spent their evenings in relative darkness, e.g. firelight, candlelight. Now, with the advent of artificial and electric lighting in much of the world, evenings and nights are brightly illuminated and this light throws the body’s biological clock completely out of whack.
The problem is that to make electronic screens bright and easy to read the light in them is mostly ‘blue light’. So put electronic screens together with general electric lighting and you’re giving your poor body entirely the wrong signals – you’re telling it to wake up rather than sleep. Imagine being in a room lit with bright fluorescent light, you’d struggle to fall asleep right?
If you can, the best thing for sleep is total darkness
What Can I Do?
The best thing is to avoid as much light as you can in the hours before bed.
Light & Lighting
- use dim lamps rather than bright or a main overhead light
- don’t use fluorescent lights
- keep the lights off elsewhere in the house – it’s better for the environment and saves you money
- try not using electronic equipment for 2-3 hours before you go to sleep
- do the old-fashioned things – read a book, write a letter, do a crossword
- in particular I suspect that during lockdown people are using their mobile phones and laptops much more in the evening and before bed
Night Shift/Night Mode
- if this isn’t for you, or you just can’t bear not to use your electronic device, but sleep is a problem, most devices now allow you to change your settings to ‘night shift or night mode’. This won’t work as well as not using the device, but is much better and should improve your sleep. I’ll show you how to do this a bit later on
- This dims the brightness, removes the blue light and uses red light for your device instead
- You can see the dramatic difference in the photo above. Red light still disrupts sleep and melatonin (all light does which is why we have developed to sleep at night in the dark), but the least of all light frequencies
Blue Light Blocking
- if you don’t have a more recent electronic device (like a TV) where you can adjust the settings to night shift, never fear, you have options
- you can buy removable blue light filter screens for most devices or blue light blocking glasses that you can wear for £20-£30 – just type ‘blue light blocking filters for tv/laptop’ etc or ‘blue light blocking glasses’ in Amazon or an online retailer
- it might seem a pain to have to wear glasses (they are designed to fit over normal glasses), but if sleep really is that much of a problem for you, I imagine you would want to look at all your options
Light & Dark Mode
- having cocooned yourself in a darker environment you probably don’t want to be blinded by a white screen, even with the blue light blocked – this is where Dark Mode comes in
- it simply changes the background of your screen from white to black, which means less eye strain and fatigue (and in the long run, less probability of eye disease) and a chance of better sleep
iPhone – Night Shift & Dark Mode
Settings – Display & Brightness: Night Shift and Dark Mode are both here – you can switch them on/off, set specific times or select (as I do) ‘Sunrise To Sunset’ which means that after sunset and the coming of night your phone will automatically have a dark background and block blue light, which switches off as soon as the sun is up
Android Smartphone – Night Light & Dark Mode
Settings – Display – Night Light: again you can enable it and choose times
There are too many individual devices for me to list. For most if you go to Settings – Display – you should hopefully find something here. If not, the best thing is to type ‘how to turn on night shift/dark mode on my ….’ and then list the specific device you have into Google or a search engine. If you get stuck please contact me and I’ll find out for you.
Next Blog: Sleep – Caffeine & Alcohol
This is some basic information for you, but if you have any questions please contact me. I hope that this helps and look out for my next post on caffeine and alcohol:
- how they both have an effect on sleep
- how they have an effect on each other
- why using alcohol to help you sleep in the evening and caffeine to wake you up in the morning becomes an ever-decreasing circle – and is actually losing you sleep