Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Missing the window

As per my last blog I'm prioritising sleep at the moment. During times of stress or when there are bigger demands on your time sleep becomes more important to help your body recover from and cope with the extra stressors.

Even if you're not particularly stressed, getting insufficient sleep can lead to increased appetite, disregulated blood sugar, impaired immunity, low mood, impaired brain function and accelerated ageing so it's pretty key to good health.

But it's not just about getting more sleep, the quality of sleep is also important and that's why I'm making an effort not to miss my sleep window too often.

'The window', as I call it, is the time in your day when your body naturally wants to go to sleep. Your natural sleep and waking patterns are part of the cicardian rhythm in which cortisol levels vary throughout the day controlling how asleep or awake you are.

Morning waking is triggered by a rise in cortisol levels, cortisol production then increases rapidly on waking (to get you out of bed)! Levels then gradually decrease throughout the day, which is why we're generally more energetic in the morning than in the evening.

Towards the end of the day cortisol levels will drop to a level at which you start yawning and can easily fall asleep. For most people this is between 9.30pm-10.30pm.

The reason I refer to this period of time as a window is that if you don't go to sleep during this period, your body will perceive this as you not being in a safe situation to go to sleep and so will produce an extra amount of cortisol to wake you up again giving you a second wind. The rhythm is then disrupted and it can be 2-3hours before your cortisol levels revert to the sleep level.

Even if you do go to bed when you've woken up a bit, your sleep may not be as deep or restful and you may even find that you wake up earlier than if you'd gone to sleep earlier!

Bearing in mind you'll usually need 15 minutes to get to sleep, catching the window means being in bed by 10.15, which I appreciate is pretty early for city folk. Still if you can manage this 2-3 times a week you can help make up for any sleep deficit you've built up.

Generally you should stop any chores or stimulating activities (watching tv counts as stimulating) at 9.30pm. It's a good time to read or take a bath and get ready for bed. Once you start yawning then that's your cue to go to sleep, and you've probably got 30 minutes until the window closes.

I started yawning an hour ago, but I'm still yawning now so maybe I'm just still in it. Goodnigjt!

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